College Bowls and Baseball’s Hall

We have here a couple of issues to kick around while waiting nervously for the baseball world as we have known it to end with the cataclysmic revelations of the Mitchell Report.


The Bowls

Whatever, it’s football time after all and we have just endured another college season full of the wretched excesses of the high-powered football factories in the fast lane that so greatly overwhelm the traditional “sis-boom-bah” stuff that makes the very same game in the lower divisions so delightful.

Congratulations are in order to the 64 Division I-A universities that once again get to carve up the many millions of soiled bucks that litter the 32 bowl games that will be played over the 18 days of Christmas. The corruptions of big-time, college, alleged “amateur,” sport have never been in fuller flower.

Ever lusting to march in the Grand Parade, Boston College will partake of something called “The Champs Sports Bowl.” It will be played at 5 o’clock on a Friday night in neighboring Orlando against a mediocre Michigan State team that lost five games and with whom BC has neither traditional ties, nor common ground. They will play in the “Champs Sports Bowl” -- not to be confused with the “Chumps Bowl” -- because they aren’t playing in the Meineke, Outback, Chick fil-A, Papa John’s Pizza, or Orange Bowls. There’s a sad story connected with all of that but out of deference to the many brokenhearted scholars up at the Heights who thought they’d be vacationing in New Orleans celebrating a national championship, we’ll tiptoe around that little matter.

Meanwhile, USA Today reports that at least 50 college football coaches at the 120 Division I-A schools that dominate the ratings and the television schedules and the bowl lineups and everything else connected with the subject are making more than a million dollars a year in “reported” income. Many make significant amounts more in income that is ‘‘unreported,’’ possibly even to the IRS. This monumental absurdity is justified by the fact that there are no other department chair-persons at any of these academic groves generating as much revenue let alone such lusty publicity as the football coach. Case closed.

Of course, making it to a bowl game affirms a college coach’s worth and justifies his outrageous extravagances in the eyes of cheerleading alums and doting boards of trustees. In that all the bids go to Division I-A schools, more than half of them are conveniently redeemed every year and the wonder of it is that you don’t even have to have a good season. A remarkable 23 of this year’s bowl contestants have lost at least five games, which has generally been the definition of a mediocre team, and an amazing seven of them have lost six games to finish at 6-6.

Highest paid coach, according to USA Today, is that walking ethical nightmare, Nick Saban. He’s now with the University of Alabama but old Nick has never signed a contract he couldn’t break so don’t hold your breath, dear Crimson Tide. For $3.5 million, Saban has just produced a 6-6 season which earned ‘Bama an almost insulting bid to the undistinguished Independence Bowl where they’ll meet another perennial, the University of Colorado, also 6-6. Now there’s a scintillating match-up.

But at least they’ll be able to belly up to the trough at Bowl time, once again. All the usual suspects will be there; USC, Ohio State, Michigan, Florida, Florida State, Penn State, Auburn, Clemson, LSU, Oklahoma, our own local wannabe, Texas, BYU, Georgia etc, ad nauseam. It’s their divine right, don’t you know. Among the schools that won’t be there -- again this year -- are Tufts and Williams, Colby and Bates, Georgetown and Holy Cross, Dartmouth and Brown, and some 350 odd other colleges and universities where the football coach doesn’t make the wretched pedagogue who chairs the English Department look like a pauper.

Must be a message there, somewhere.

The Hall

The fallout from last week’s Hall of Fame selections brokered by the new and special veterans committee has been astounding. Outrage sparked by the foolish rejection of Marvin Miller has stunned even Marvin’s many admirers. We had thought he was an acquired taste. Who suspected the old union lion was so widely beloved? Or is there no one associated with baseball who can not eventually become a sentimental favorite, given the passing of enough time? Which is why, I suspect, even Pete Rose will be eventually forgiven. And Mark McGwire, too.

But there’s one chap I’ll never forgive. He’s Walter O’Malley who, along with that now eternal punching bag, Bowie Kuhn, got elevated by the special veterans committee that’s presently incurring so much wrath. Did they think no one would notice or recognize the inconsistency of it all? Maybe it’s petty and personal and has nothing to do with the salient issue of merit. But I’d anoint Hal Chase -- the most outrageous grifter in baseball history -- or Chick Gandil -- the most unrepentant of the Black Soxer’s -- before Walter Bloody O’Malley.

Obviously, this is mostly (but not all) about the Dodgers’ business. There’s been a lot of conflicting revisionist history lately conjured on the subject, too much of it seeking to absolve O’Malley while coyly blaming others, principally Robert Moses, New York’s equally legendary and tyrannical urban renewal czar, for the betrayal of Brooklyn.

No thanks, pal. I prefer to listen to such admirable scholars on the subject as Pete Hamill and Dave Anderson who were there and who are pleased to tell you that all the excuses for O’Malley’s duplicity and deceit are hogwash. O’Malley saw an opportunity to make a historic score and he jumped on it. It was all about the money. And it was as simple as that. As usual!

Wrote Brother Hamill, just last week: “Forget the dithering about Barry Bonds. Send apologies to Pete Rose. Warm up a place for Shoeless Joe Jackson. All moral arguments about who belongs in Cooperstown are over forever. Walter O’Malley has been voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.”

Believe the ad hoc hall of fame veteran’s committee. Believe what you want. Believe in the tooth fairy. But understand this much. O’Malley was a villain.

Nor was it a trifling matter. O’Malley’s clever transfer of the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles marks the great divide in baseball history. Sure, teams had been transplanted before, with questions of profit and loss the sole motive; the A’s, Browns and beloved Braves in just the five years prior to O’Malley’s caper. Moreover, would neither blunt nor delay the inexorable march of baseball to the Pacific. The time had come. It was the national game and the fact that by 1957 the cozy cartel that ran the show was still able to cut all of the country west of the Mississippi out of the action was a scandal.

Yet to cast O’Malley as the white knight who rectified all of that is silly. His agenda had no room for rectifying wrongs or promoting equity. He was just another rapacious rascal who was smart enough to spot a killing and quick enough to leap upon it. After that epic nationalization of the game that he authored baseball became ‘‘all about the money.’’ O’Malley baptized the modern era.

Does that mean he had great ‘‘impact’’? You better believe it. Does it also mean he was a helluva guy? I don’t think so.

Subsequently, he became the most intimidating of the owners. He big-footed his way through a whole generation of baseball history. Many of the reactionary blunders some now blame on Kuhn might be ascribed to O’Malley. He, by his choosing, had greater influence than any mere commissioner.

Why is Bowie Kuhn in the Hall of Fame and not Marvin Miller? That’s a legitimate question.

Why is Walter O’Malley in the Hall of Fame and not Marvin Miller? That’s a better question.