Bill James called it the "Halo Effect." It's the tendency to turn the recently-deceased into angels. And he didn't mean Gene Autry or Lyman Bostock or Donnie Moore. He was referring to the near-deification in the public eye and mind of someone who has passed away. James originally coined the term in conjunction with Hall of Fame voting, pointing out that some players' vote totals have received a boost in the election process just after they died. (Herb Pennock was an example, he was voted in a couple of months after he died.) However, it's not always a lock that a baseball figure will benefit from the Halo Effect, and it's not limited to Hall of Fame voting. Let's look in on a half dozen or so individuals who did not have, or deserve, the Halo Effect.
von der Ahe was a brewer who consumed almost as much as he made. He once told a
group of visitors that Sportsman's Park had the largest diamond in the world.
When told that all baseball diamonds were the same size, he claimed that he had
the largest infield in the world. When the Browns refused to play an exhibition
game against the black Cuban Giants, he ripped the team because they were
refusing to play out of spite towards him, not due to "honest prejudice."
(He really said that.) Of course, the players might have had something there…
von der Ahe was notorious for fining players for routine errors. He also
withheld the Browns' share of World Series receipts not one, not two, but
three times, mainly because they had the gall to lose the Series. Von der Ahe
was the owner of the St. Louis Browns, and he was often off the wall or over the
top in his actions and pronouncements.
Dreyfuss was a hard-boiled cuss. Even Fred Lieb, who almost never said anything
bad about anybody, said he was hard-boiled. Despite the fact that Dreyfuss built
one of the great teams of the turn of the last century, he didn't get any Halo
Effect for the Hall, even though he died in 1932, shortly before the whole Hall
idea got started. (He wasn't voted in until 2007, when everyone who knew him
was also long dead.) Dreyfuss once got into a shouting match with a rival
manager, at the ballpark, over whether or not Dreyfuss had welshed on a bet.
(The famous "Hey Barney" incident.) The manager was John McGraw, who
would do almost anything, but still... This same Barney Dreyfuss manipulated the
National League councils in a fashion so that his flunky, Harry Pulliam, was
named president of the league. Pulliam had taught Dreyfuss how to speak English,
Dreyfuss then taught him how to run the NL to the Pirates' benefit. Dreyfuss was
also the character who turned on his team's greatest player, Honus Wagner, when
the Flying Dutchman became too old to play effectively. Nice guy, that Dreyfuss.
He was owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates and he was often off the wall or over the
top in his actions and pronouncements.
Fogel had a checkered career as a sportswriter, manager and finally owner. As is
the case with most checkers sets, he was either red (handed or necked) or black
(hearted). As a sportswriter, he wrote with a stiletto dipped in battery acid
and bile. As a manager, he was a better sportswriter. He tried, while running
the New York Giants, to turn Christy Mathewson into a first baseman. And as an
owner, he became the first of his type to get kicked out of baseball...
permanently. As the front man for a group that bought the Phillies in 1909,
Fogel tried to get the team's name changed to the "Live Wires." (May
Danny Ozark come back as the Phillies manager if I'm making this up.) A few
years later, he accused the National League and its umpires of favoring the
Giants, leading to his banishment for undermining the integrity of the game.
Horace Fogel was, at least in name, the owner of the Philadelphia Phillies and
he was often off the wall or over the top in his actions and pronouncements.
Fuchs was a judge and a friend of the aforementioned John McGraw. He ended up
running the Braves, thanks to McGraw's influence (which was considerable...
Fogel wasn't too far wrong, he just flunked Diplomacy 101.) He also agreed to
just about any trade McGraw wanted while he was running the Braves. As a result,
it was no wonder that he wasn't satisfied with how the Braves were doing in 1929
(all their good players were in
Finley... what can be said about Charlie O. that hasn't been said a thousand
times before? Despite the fact that he built one of the great teams of the early
and mid-1970s, he's not in the Hall and no one much seems to care. Maybe that's
because... he called the Commissioner of Baseball "the village idiot,"
he fired Mike Andrews in the middle of the World Series for making a couple of
errors (shades of Chris von der Ahe) and he also fired Ken Harrelson, making
him, in effect the first valuable free agent. Maybe because, his team hated him
so much that, when free agency became a reality (thanks in part to Finley trying
to stiff Catfish Hunter out of $50,000), they deserted in droves from the best
team in baseball. (He also hired the first designated runner, Herb Washington,
neglecting to include the ability to play baseball in the job requirements.)
Charlie Finley was owner of the
Turner was the second coming of Emil Fuchs, not just with the same team, but
also with the same credentials for running a baseball team. None. Like the
Judge, he tried to take over as the Braves manager. However, NL President Chub
Feeney would have none of that nonsense, and ordered Turner out of the dugout
after one game during the 1977 season, a loss that marked the 16th consecutive
such result for the Braves. Turner was also the individual who got tossed from
baseball for a year for tampering with Gary Mathews, and threatened to give
Commissioner Kuhn's attorney a "knuckle sandwich" (he really said
that) during the proceedings. He also tried to get Andy Messersmith to change
his name, not to ME109 or Focke Wulf, but to "Channel" so he could
wear it above his number, which was 17. (Guess what frequency Turner's TV
station was.) He also popularized the infamous "Tomahawk Chop," the
stupidest and most offensive fan action since the Wave. Ted Turner was owner of
the Atlanta Braves and he was often off the wall or over the top in his actions
yet, none of these six individuals could top... Andrew Freedman, owner of the
New York Giants in the late 1890s and the first couple of years of the 20th
Century. A Tammany Hall insider, Freedman was, in James' words, a mean S.O.B. He
went through managers (including Fogel) like water. He got into shouting matches
with opposing players during games. He withheld his star player's salary,
causing him (it was Amos Rusie) to sit out a year. He canceled free passes to
Giants games, including those of sportswriters who displeased him, notably the
venerable Henry Chadwick. He sued the New
York Times 25 times for libel. (Guess how many he won.) He suggested
that the Brooklyn team leave the NL and go into a minor league, so that he could
is where we came in... the Halo Effect and George Steinbrenner... who was really
the second coming of Andrew Freedman, and not an angel. Hey out there, have you
forgotten -- the pas de deux (or trois, or however many times he fired him) with
Billy Martin; the fight in the elevator with a couple of Dodgers fans during the
1981 Series; the illegal campaign contribution to Richard Nixon, which got him a
two-year suspension from baseball; accusing umpire Lee Weyer of calling plays in
favor of National League teams (shades of Horace Fogel), which drew him a
$50,000 fine; the outburst against AL President Lee McPhail for reversing the
decision in the Pine Tar Game (that was worth a quarter of a mil in fines);
engendering such hatred among his players that Graig Nettles publicly stated he
hoped Steinbrenner's plane would crash; alienating a much-beloved former player
-- Yogi Berra; paying a sleazy gambler $40,000 to get evidence against his own
player, Dave Winfield (who must have a very bad memory), an action that also
bought Steinbrenner a year on the sidelines.
addition to all that, there was a lack of baseball knowledge shown by ordering
the signing of such stiffs as Rudy May, Bob Shirley, Doyle Alexander, Ed
Whitson, Britt Burns, Steve Trout, Rich Dotson, Ruben Sierra, Kenny Rogers, Kevin Brown, Hideki Irabu, Ken Phelps, Jaret Wright, Tony Womack, Rondell
White, Pat Kelly, Hensley Mullins, Tony Fernandez, Steve Karsay, Jack
McDowell, Mel Hall, Jesse Barfield, Felix Heredia, Chuck Knoblauch, Cecil
Fielder, Carl Pavano, Jason Giambi, Jeff Weaver, Denny Nagle, Drew Henson, Hal
Morris, Steve Balboni and Timothy Leary (no, not the one who's dead, according
to the Moody Blues in "The Legend of a Mind," the other one), mainly
because they once were big names.
In other words, Steinbrenner committed all the combined sins of the other seven off the wall or over the top owners previously mentioned... all by himself. Plus, he added a few new ones as well. And yet, remarkably, all those wretched excesses weren't his most grievous crime against baseball. All they did was embarrass, in order, himself, the Yankees, baseball. No, the worst part of George Steinbrenner was attempting, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, to subvert the competitive charm of the game, basically by means of throwing money at it (or rather at the players) with no restraint or scruples in an era of untrammeled free agency. The only thing worse than a do-anything-to-win mentality is… a do-anything-to-win mentality with basically unlimited resources. Yeah, the Yankees won seven World Series while Steinbrenner was owner, because they could, and did, outspend their mistakes, thus grossly driving up the cost of hired hands in baseball. And for that wretched excess alone, to say nothing of his other off the wall or over the top actions, there should be no Halo Effect. Pete Rose (no angel himself) damaged baseball far less than George Steinbrenner.