Look, I’m beyond expecting the Baseball Hall of Fame to make the correct decisions. Years of disappointment — hello, Ron Santo — have inured me. But to have Walter O’Malley and Bowie Kuhn — Bowie fucking Kuhn — elected in the same year, in which Players Association leader Marvin Miller got barely a quarter of the vote, well, it only confirms that the more things change, the more they stay the same in Cooperstown.
O’Malley, of course, is the man who moved the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. In that, he is the butt of a couple of the greatest jokes in baseball history. The first concerns New York newspaper writers — and Brooklyn loyalists — Jack Newfield and Pete Hamill sitting down in a bar and making a list of the three worst human beings of the 20th century. What they both arrived at: Hitler, Stalin, and Walter O’Malley. The other joke no doubt grew out of that legendary incident and is included in the HBO documentary Brooklyn Dodgers: The Ghosts of Flatbush: You’re in a room with Hitler, Stalin, and Walter O’Malley, and you have a gun with two bullets. Whom do you shoot? The answer: Walter O’Malley, twice, to make sure he’s dead.
The latest revisionist history has cast O’Malley as a visionary who wanted to keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn but was denied by New York City building czar Robert Moses, who preferred to put a ballpark in Queens, where Shea Stadium was eventually built. But I have little sympathy. If O’Malley had wanted to keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn, he would have found a way. Sure, he’s the force that brought major league baseball to the west coast, and for that reason his election is at least defensible. No doubt about it, the move of the Dodgers to LA changed the game — for the better.
But Kuhn? He defined the commissioner’s position as a place for mediocrity. He basically argued the owners’ interests for decades — and got his ass handed to him every time in collective bargaining player-owner negotiations by Miller, who genuinely changed the game by placing the players in charge of it. That’s made baseball a better game than football, in my opinion, but Kuhn gets elected to the Hall of Fame first. It’s like electing Tito Landrum ahead of Cal Ripken Jr., or Craig Show ahead of Tony Gwynn. So here’s my variation on an old joke: You’re in a room with Walter O’Malley and Bowie Kuhn and you have a gun with one bullet. Whom do you shoot?
O’Malley. Kuhn you can just flip over onto his back and leave for dead.