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Littlefield: Imagining An Otherwordly Baseball Hall Of Fame Debate04:42
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A young baseball fan looks at plaques of players inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on July 26, 2008 in Cooperstown, N.Y. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
A young baseball fan looks at plaques of players inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on July 26, 2008 in Cooperstown, N.Y. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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The coffee, when the waitress in the red apron set it down in front of him, was too hot to drink.

“Good,” Adam thought. “More time for talk.” Then he said, “Walter Johnson.”

He didn’t think he’d have to defend his choice of a pitcher from a century or so ago who’d gone about winning over 400 games for the Washington Senators, almost always a bad team.

“Long time before he ever won a World Series game,” said Robbie.

“Long time before he ever had a chance to do it.”

“Still …” said Robbie.

“OK,” Adam said. “Ty Cobb.”

“Character clause,” Robbie said. “Bragged that he killed a guy, whether he did it or not. Plus he beat up a fan for heckling him. Guy didn’t even have all his fingers.”

“Made Cobb more famous,” said Adam.

“Made him suspended.”

“Lots of guys got suspended, got into the Hall of Fame, anyway.”

“Right, but off the point,” Robbie said. “Point’s who should have gotten in on a unanimous vote first time he was eligible. That’s what we’re talkin’ about.”

“Babe Ruth.”

“Character clause.”

“That’s just stupid. Nobody wrote about character when Ruth was playing. Otherwise fans would have known his bellyache wasn’t a bellyache.”

“What was it?”

“The clap, I heard.”

“Something else that probably hasn’t kept anybody out of the Hall of Fame. Anyway, you’re right. The vote on Ruth should have been unanimous.”

“What about Willie Mays?” asked Adam.

In a house in San Francisco, Willie Mays, 85, stirred in his sleep and smiled.

“Right,” said Mickey Mantle, who was dead.

In New York in the '50s and '60s, people used to argue about who was better, Mays or Mantle. In the afterworld, nobody argued about who’d been the best center fielder. Nobody argued about anything. In the afterworld, Mickey Mantle had learned to be gracious.

“Right ... What?” said Walter Johnson, who’d been dead even longer than Mickey Mantle had.

“Willie Mays should have been a unanimous pick for the Hall of Fame the first year he was eligible,” said Mantle. “He could hit as well as anybody who ever played the game, and he was a better fielder than I was. Much better.”

“Who gives a damn?” said Ty Cobb, also dead.

“You should, Tyrus,” Walter Johnson said.

“Why?”

“Because as long as they argue about this stuff, you’ll be remembered. Me, too. Also Mr. Mantle, here, though there’s plenty of people still alive who saw him play, which is not the case for you so much.”

“Who gives a damn?” said Cobb, who had not learned anything much in the afterworld.

Adam took a small sip of his coffee and found it had cooled off some. He took a larger sip, and said, “Pete Rose.”

“Right,” said Ty Cobb. Quietly.

“Pete Rose will never get into the Hall of Fame,” said Robbie. “Gambling on the game’s the one thing that will keep a man out forever.”

“Right,” said Walter Johnson, who had not gambled or indulged in other vices, and had earned himself a reputation of which a church deacon could have been proud.

“That’s crap,” said Ty Cobb, who had not, and who had also gambled on games, and made a lot of money gambling on the stock market, too.

“No, Pete Rose shouldn’t be in,” Walter Johnson said. “He disgraced the game.”

“Ha!” laughed Ty Cobb. He declined to explain further.

“If Ty Cobb, then Shoeless Joe Jackson,” said Robbie.

“Him, too,” said Ty Cobb. “Joe Jackson ought to be in.”

“He took money to fix games,” said Adam.

“So did a lot of guys,” said Ty Cobb.

“Don’t listen to that business about a lot of guys gambling,” said Walter Johnson to Adam and Robbie. Walter Johnson cared how people felt about baseball, and he’d forgotten for a moment that Adam and Robbie hadn’t heard that business about a lot of guys gambling, because he and Ty Cobb and Mickey Mantle were dead.

“A lot of guys did a lot of bad things and got into the Hall of Fame anyway,” said Robbie.

“But let’s stick with unanimously, on the first ballot,” said Adam. “Let’s limit it to that.”

“OK,” Robbie said. “Willie Mays.”

“Willie Mays again,” Ty Cobb said. “How many times do I have to listen to this?”

“What you have, is you have time, Tyrus,” said Walter Johnson. “That’s about all you’ve got at this point.”

Ty Cobb thought about that for a minute. He decided he wouldn’t say anything more.

“You want more coffee?” Robbie said.

“Sure,” Adam said. He hoped that when it came, it would be too hot to drink.

This segment aired on January 28, 2017.

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