December 21, 2011
When it comes to the accusations of child sexual abuse leveled against former Philadelphia Daily News columnist Bill Conlin, the last thing anyone should worry about is how the case affects baseball.
And yet, here we are. The secretary/treasurer of the Baseball Writers Association of America released a statement Tuesday that defended Conlin, who was the recipient in 2011 of the BBWAA's most prestigious award. Jack O'Connell presumably has been getting inquiries, official and otherwise, ever since the accusations were published. So, O'Connell has made a reply:
"Bill Conlin has been a member in good standing of the BBWAA since 1966. The allegations have no bearing on his winning the 2011 J.G. Taylor Spink Award, which was in recognition of his notable career as a baseball writer."
Hopefully after reading that statement, many BBWAA members are muttering the old Groucho Marx line: "I don't care to belong to any club that will have me as a member." (UPDATE: BBWAA member Andy Martino of the NY Daily News has a problem with the statement.)
O'Connell seems to be saying that because Conlin hasn't been accused of molesting children (including relatives) while also writing about baseball, it's irrelevant to the Spink Award and (presumably) whether the honor can be revoked. He wasn't accused of doing anything untoward in a press box, or a clubhouse, or on the field, so who cares? Conlin could have been accused of treason, murder, war crimes — you name it — and it would not matter because none of it fits the description of a baseball writer's job. John Wayne Gacy might have raped and murdered all of those boys, but don't let that muddle his accomplishments as a clown painter.
O'Connell presumably wants to believe Conlin is innocent, and that the BBWAA didn't reward a monster. Perhaps a "no comment" might lead some to infer that the BBWAA thinks Conlin is guilty. But "no comment" would have been more prudent than saying, basically, that being accused of child molestation is irrelevant. O'Connell is kidding himself; if this news had broken before the Spink vote happened in 2011, it wouldn't have had "no bearing" on how the electorate voted.
Based on the Philly.Com Daily News story, the alleged crimes are every bit as horrible as the accusations against Penn State's Jerry Sandusky. Not that Conlin has been proved guilty by court standards, nor will he, probably. But the BBWAA doesn't need to apply the same due process Conlin would be subject to within the justice system (if the statute of limitations sadly hadn't expired). After having a meeting of its officers, the BBWAA presumably could vacate Conlin's award for any reason. It is the BBWAA's award, after all.
Baseball writers aren't actually inducted into the Hall of Fame, but the Spink Award gets them close. There have been 62 Spink winners since 1962 and, this past summer in Cooperstown, N.Y., Conlin appeared on the dais with player inductees and returning Hall of Famers. He got to make a big speech, the whole bit. It was like he got inducted into the Hall. Apparently, the BBWAA thinks he belongs no matter what.
Sometimes, the right thing to do is hard to know. But it's definitely not right for the BBWAA to act like the accusations against Conlin aren't there.
(UPDATE II: Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times, the BBWAA president, has made another statement on the organization's behalf):
"We were shocked and saddened to learn of the allegations involving Bill Conlin and we extend our sympathies to everyone involved. This is a matter far more serious than baseball and, at this point, a matter best left to the proper authorities."
That would have been the thing to say in the first place.
Follow Dave on Twitter — @AnswerDave — and engage the Stew on Facebook