Yet of all the borderline Hall of Famers who have been overlooked by the Baseball Writers Association of America and the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee, the groups that vote on Hall membership, none stands out as much as Oh. Yes, he played in smaller parks than U.S. major leaguers do and hit against pitchers of less than big league caliber, but he loomed as a giant among his peers. His tater total is not only 113 more than Henry Aaron's but also 211 greater than that of Japan's second-leading homer hitter, Katsuya Nomura. Oh had 2,170 RBIs and 5,862 total bases, figures that once again dwarf Nomura in both categories. Oh says he is proudest, however, of his 2,504 walks, a figure that surpasses Babe Ruth's major league mark by 448. "It shows how the pitchers were afraid of me," says Oh.
Included in their number were most of the U.S. pitchers Oh faced in exhibition tours. He hit home runs off Hall of Famers Bob Gibson, Jim Palmer and Tom Seaver. "He was something," Dodgers great Don Drysdale, who faced Oh in the '60s, once said. "He was ready for everything we threw."
The 229 players currently in the Hall span vastly different eras and styles. And not until 1971, the Hall's 36th year of existence, did Satchel Paige become the first Negro league player inducted. With Asian players such as Hideo Nomo and Chan Ho Park proving that their nations' best can excel in the big leagues, why not expend the Hall's reach to an alltime great? It's not as though the election of Oh would lead to an influx of Japanese league players. The voters know that Oh, a nine-time MVP and 15-time home run leader, was a fantastic exception. "Oh's being elected hasn't been discussed, because he isn't eligible under our rules," Says Hall publicist Jeff Idelson, "but it's an interesting idea."
An Original Hangs It Up
With Dale Brown as the LSU coach, one did not so much visit the Tigers' basketball offices as enter the skewed universe of Dale World. Go in intending to talk about the upcoming season and Brown would take off on the evils of the NCAA, his favorite topic. Ask a question about his biggest star, Shaquille O'Neal, and Brown would suddenly grab his coat, take your arm and drive you to his house to listen to his motivational tapes. At last week's press conference announcing his retirement at the end of this season, Brown touched on the following subjects: Martin Luther King Jr., Jonas Salk, Jesus, Pope John Paul II, Noah's ark, Walt Whitman, Jim Brown, Mount Kilimanjaro, his grandson Christopher, Pete Maravich, Nelson Mandela and mustard seeds.
On the frequent occasions when Brown poured out his fire and brimstone, he was blissfully unaware of contradiction. He once launched into a monologue decrying high recruiting costs and the volume of horse crap and flattery that a coach must use to cajole high school stars into playing for him and then took me to the gym and introduced his new freshman prize. John Williams, upon whom Brown had fawned during recruiting trips to Los Angeles. In recent wars he railed against spoiled athletes, yet when his own young star, Lester Earl, left the team in a huff last month, Brown excused it by saying it was because Earl "was mad at himself as a person." Brown preached against under-the-table dealings in college basketball yet specialized in unseemly player-coach package deals, such as the one that brought Rudy Macklin and his high school mentor, Ron Abernathy, to LSU in 1976, or the Howard Carter-Rick Huckaby twofer in 79.
While Brown bent the rules from time to time, I doubt that he was a big-time cheater, and he was honestly infuriated about the NCAA rules that he thought were unnecessarily punitive to athletes. The best thing about him was his refusal to become jaded. Each time you met him he seemed determined to let you in on some new aspect of life that had gained his attention. He's one of the few coaches I ever met who seemed to respect journalists, partly, of course, because he was seduced by publicity, but also because he felt he could learn something from them, just as he could learn something from the custodial workers at the Maravich Assembly Center. He mentioned them at his press conference, too.
Like many of the messianic types in his sport, Brown was much better at convincing weak talent that it was strong than at taking strong talent and winning big. But he has won 445 games (and lost just 288) in 25 years at LSU and in the process has become an institution, if a bit of a loony one. And in college basketball today there isn't nearly enough loony.
Soccer Salad Days
Since the 1950s, when significant numbers of women began attending soccer games in England, lads in many stadiums have sung the Celery Song, with such ribald lyrics as "I'll tickle her bum with a lump of celery."