By BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Since the steroid cat is out of the bag, so to speak, many true baseball fans are applauding the national fraternity of sports writers for asserting their moral stance against cheating by voting no on their Hall of Fame ballots. The question: “Who should and should not be enshrined in professional baseball’s Hall of Fame?” is popping up more frequently among fans these days. Ken Burns might need to add another extra inning to his critically acclaimed PBS documentary, “Baseball.”
I hadn’t thought about Rocco Domenico “Rocky” Colavito Jr. in years until Heber Stafford mentioned his name during a conversation we were having last week. When I asked Heber if he thought some of the star players whose names have been linked to steroid use should be reconsidered for the Hall of Fame, he sharply answered, “No.” When I mentioned that the slender Bobby Bonds was putting up Hall of Fame numbers when he played for the Pirates, Heber replied that most great baseball players start losing their skills in their early 30s and steroid use altered that decline.
Then he changed the subject and mentioned that he met Rocky Colavito and his wife a few years ago when their son was playing for the (then) Bluefield Baby Birds. He said that the Colavitos spent the entire season living at a local motel so they could provide moral support for their son. Heber said he brought his copy of Colavito’s book, “Don’t Knock the Rock,” (1966) to Bowen Field and asked the great Cleveland Indian right fielder to autograph it.
“He offered to personalize the autograph, but I told him his autograph was all I wanted,” Stafford said. “He signed autographs for a lot of people, I thought he was a nice guy.”
I had a small baseball card collection as a kid growing up and I considered my Rocky Colavito card as one of my prize possessions. I started my collection in the mid-1950s and at that time, Rocky started every game for me in right field. I liked Ted Kluszewski for his short-sleeved shirts, but in the statistical way I played baseball on my bedroom floor, I could count on the Rock to deliver a home run when I needed it. He was one of the stars among the precious few baseball cards I could afford.
After my dad took me to a Pirates game at Forbes Field in the early summer of 1960, I only had eyes for the Pirates after that and I lost track of my baseball card collection and accepted Roberto Clemente as my eternal right fielder and my baseball hero. Rocky Colavito’s play remained consistent after Cleveland traded him to Detroit, but began to unravel when he was in his early 30s. He finished his career with the Yankees in 1968, but his highlight came on June 10, 1959 when he hit four home runs in the same game.
After refreshing my memory about Colavito I had a better appreciation for how Heber had answered my question with respect to whether or not the statistics of a player suspected of steroid use should be considered as part of consideration for Baseball’s Hall of Fame. During 10 years of his big league career, Rocky Colavito compiled Hall of Fame worthy statistics, but his name has only been on the ballot for Cooperstown twice and he didn’t attract much interest among sports writers either time.
There may be more deserving ball players who are not in the hall of fame, but surely a guy who gave his all, did it straight and continues to represent the game in a positive light deserves to be considered on the ballot instead of continuously lacing the ballots with names of folks who skewed the statistics and tainted the game.
I played baseball as hard as I could for as long as I could, but the motor scooter wreck I had on Dec. 16, 1966, ended what might have been a promising career for me. I had an accurate arm from right field, and I started making good contact on breaking balls, getting around on fast balls and consistently pulling them for line drives into left field. I had the tools and the desire, but the wreck took away my wheels when my right kneecap was split in half.
Seventeen years later in 1983, I tried playing softball on the (then) Bluefield Community Hospital team. I soon found out that all of my skills had disappeared and one time when I hit a ground ball to the shortstop, I fell flat on my face as I tried to run up the first base line. My brain sent my body into motion long before my feet got the message. Perhaps steroids might have helped me leg out a grounder back then, but I’ll never know for sure. I did learn something from the fall. I learned that my competitive playing days were over. That’s OK though. There are always plenty more halls of fame left to conquer.
Bill Archer is senior editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.