The Buck Stops Here: Hall of Fame change-up, NFL, non-handshakes & more - The Buffalo News
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The Buck Stops Here: Hall of Fame change-up, NFL, non-handshakes & more

The voting process for the Baseball Hall of Fame always seemed odd in that it allowed for opinions to shift while statistics and other variables remained the same. Baseball writers agonized over their ballots, sometimes altering their views several times about the same player for a decade.

To me, such decisions should be relatively easy. If a player belonged in the Hall, it should have been obvious during his career. Certainly, there’s enough time for deliberation in between his last game and his first year of eligibility to determine where he fit during his time, then where he stacked up all time.

Add up the evidence, make up your mind, yes or no.

Tim Raines? Yes. I thought he deserved a place in Cooperstown long before the doors were opened Wednesday on his 10th attempt. Pudge Rodriguez, who received enough votes on his first try, was a no-brainer. Jeff Bagwell: Yes. Larry Walker:  No. Vladimir Guerrero: Yes. Curt Schilling: No.

The error of my ways, and why I’m thankful that players remain on the ballot after falling short, is that perspectives can change over the years. (Note: I am not a member of Baseball Writers of America and do not get a vote.) There are enough knowledgeable opinions and different layers to a system that works overall.

In Bagwell’s case, it seemed voters waited to see if there was a clear indication he used performance-enhancing drugs. After seven years and no hard evidence convicting him, they returned to traditional criteria. Mike Piazza had Hall-worthy statistics but ran into the same issue before he took his place in Cooperstown.

We generally don’t throw people in the slammer for life based on suspicion. There comes a point when yes-or-no decisions need to be made. To their credit, the writers opened the doors for Piazza and Bagwell. They still haven’t resolved Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, who were directly linked to PEDs.

It’s here that I have reversed field, reluctantly so, after years of believing both should be eternally locked out of Cooperstown. My 180-degree turn, from letting them rot to letting them in, has little to do with the idea that both were Hall of Famers before they started using PEDs. It’s more about the flawed system that enabled them and, on some level, encouraged them.

Simply, they couldn’t break rules that didn’t exist.

As much as people want to blame Bonds and Clemens, and they should, they cannot absolve Major League Baseball for looking the other way when it came to PED use. The big leagues didn’t test for steroids and human-growth hormones when they were at their height, beginning no later than 1998 and continuing to at least 2002.

To me, there’s a huge difference between a player who knowingly broke rules and understood the penalty for breaking the rules (see: Pete Rose, gambling) and players who violated ethical standards (Bonds and Clemens) without breaking baseball’s official bylaws.

Remember, the big leagues were trying to rebuild the fan base after labor strife cut short the 1994 season and wiped out the World Series. Four years later, the home-run chase between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa accelerated baseball’s recovery. Bonds wanted the same success. Guys like Clemens combatted guys like Bonds.

When it became apparent players were using drugs, people leaned on their morals. It’s difficult to vote for PED users because they had an unfair advantage. Their stats are skewed. Looking back, it was a systemic problem. The Hall of Fame is a museum of baseball history – its entire history, not just eras that made us feel comfortable.

Baseball’s past includes racism, ant-Semitism, womanizing, cheating, recreational drug use and scores of players you wouldn’t invite to your home. And it also celebrates the game’s greatness. When the lines intersect, it becomes a scribbled mess that paints a big picture that’s looks fuzzy from up close.

Sometimes, you need to take a step back.

Upon further review, my initial response was wrong.

Bonds and Clemens belong in the Hall, preferably right next to an exhibit that explains where baseball went wrong at the turn of the 20th century and explains the role of both players, and others, in a dark period in baseball. If their induction taints the Hall, well, it’s one more chapter in its tainted history.

If that means they’re inducted after their deaths by the veterans’ committee, thereby taking away their joy, fine with me. But they can’t be locked out forever. If voters made room in Cooperstown for Commissioner Bud Selig, who presided over the PED era, they can make room for the players who used them.

Hockey Valley

Local college hockey fans (me!) who wish for the University at Buffalo to start a Division I hockey program and believe it would succeed can point toward Penn State’s meteoric rise for proof. An elite program can be built in short order so long as enough money and the right people are in place.

Penn State (16-2-1) was ranked No. 1 in the country less than six years after starting the program as an independent and less than four years after helping the formation of the Big 10. PSU can thank Terry and Kim Pegula, who donated $102 million to start the men’s and women’s program and fund a 6,000-seat arena.

To be fair, Happy Valley is a different beast than Western New York. Penn State is the No. 1 source for sports entertainment in the region, and students are deeply committed to their major programs. Nobody is dropping that much money for college hockey in Buffalo, which also lacks support on campus.

Penn State’s success, however, shows that it doesn’t take long to build a competitive program from scratch. Geographically, UB is a natural for college hockey. UB is closer to winning a national title in hockey, in terms of time needed, than another major team sport – and that’s without currently having a D-I program.

The difference between the Pegulas’ two professional sports franchises and Penn State hockey is simple. They handed Penn State a pile of money and didn’t get involved with daily operations. The Bills and Sabres are businesses, so they’re intimately involved with both. Check the results. Coincidence?

Jones placing his bets

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones can continue public posturing about the uncertainty of Tony Romo’s future all he wants, but all indications suggest that the veteran quarterback has played his last game for Dallas.

The Cowboys aren’t taking the offense away from Dak Prescott, who led them to a 13-3 record. Prescott is set to pocket $635,848 next season, which means he’ll be playing for peanuts. Romo is scheduled to make $24.7 million, and he has no reason to restructure his deal. It’s a hefty price for insurance.

Jones sounded like he was mulling over Romo because he would rather trade the quarterback than release him. Jones is playing poker. He has an ace in his hand and is holding his cards tight while hoping another team makes an offer.

Dallas would save about $10 million against the cap by dumping Romo one way or another. It would allow the Cowboys to spend less than $2 million total on the position while most teams spend more than 10 times that amount. Twelve quarterbacks made more than $20 million this season.

Patsos gets last laugh

Hats off to hilarious Siena hoops coach Jimmy Patsos, who pretended like he was going through the handshake line after a 78-68 victory over Rider. Rider coach Kevin Baggett sent his team to the locker room after the game without shaking hands following a skirmish with about two minutes left.

“With five seconds left, I'm starting to walk toward the (scorer’s) table, I look up and nobody's there,” Patsos told WTMM Radio, via the Associated Press. “I didn't know what to do. OK, I'll just shake hands with nobody.”

With his oversized personality and quick wit, Patsos is a unique character and part of a dying breed. He also understands there’s more to life than the game, which is why he often takes his team on city tours when they play on the road. “The only reason I got into coaching,” he told me two years ago, “was I didn’t want to leave college.”

No matter what happened against Rider, which also included Patsos being held back in the fight and subsequently reprimanded by the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, it should have ended when the game ended.

“Shake hands like you're supposed to,” Patsos said. “It’s a sport. You go on to the next game.”

Quotable

“I’m not on SnapFace and all that so I don’t really get those. I’m really just worried about getting our team ready to go. I’m not really too worried about what they put on InstaChat or whatever it is.” – Patriots coach Bill Belichick, when asked on WEEI Radio, about whether he was bothered by a disparaging comment Mike Tomlin made that Antonio Brown captured on Facebook Live.

Stats Inc.

3 – Career games in which Evgeni Malkin had a hat trick in one period. Malkin had three goals in the second period in an 8-7 overtime win over the Capitals, marking the first time he accomplished the feat without an empty-netter.

3 – Turnovers committed by the Celtics in their 117-106 home loss to the Knicks, the fewest turnovers by an NBA team this year. Boston tied a franchise record set March 4, 2015, in a 85-84 win over Utah.

3 – Shots missed in 16 attempts by Warriors star Kevin Durant while scoring 40 points in a 121-100 victory over the Thunder. Durant became the first player since Boston’s Paul Pierce on Dec. 19, 2012 (13-for-16 vs. Cleveland) to score 40 points while missing three or fewer shots.

Extra Points

Novak Djokovic’s exit from the second round of the Australian Open did little to help indifference toward men’s tennis. Djokovic lost to Denis Istomin, some joker from Uzbekistan who was ranked 117th in the world. The 30-year-old had a 194-209 career record in singles matches before Australia.

Shame on me for not revealing who held one record that Canisius guard Kassius Robertson broke in a win over Marist last week. His nine three-pointers equaled Alshwan Hymes on Dec. 29, 2010. His .900 shooting percentage from long distance (minimum of five attempts) topped Hodari Mallory (.875) from Dec. 3, 2002.

Something is wrong in this world when Johnny Manziel can schedule an event during Super Bowl week in Houston and charge $99 an autograph. For an extra $29, he’ll write four words, such as “to my best friend,” in addition to his signature. Selfies will cost $50. Good heavens, people, spend the money on a book.

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