- The Washington Times - Friday, August 26, 2005

Washington Nationals manager Frank Robinson’s contention that Rafael Palmeiro’s records should be erased because he took steroids set off a firestorm of debate within baseball about an issue that will have to be dealt with sooner or later.

What do you do with the records of these proven, and even suspected, steroid users?

Robinson told MLB.com he would “wipe out” Palmeiro’s records — very impressive records, with 569 home runs, 3,020 hits and 1,835 RBI.

Such a move might seem improbable, as if implying Palmeiro never existed. But baseball does that all the time, so it shouldn’t be difficult.

In fact, baseball can make players disappear and reappear at will.

Six years ago, when baseball’s All-Century team was selected through fan voting, not one single Latin player made the team, which of course supposedly meant that in the first 100 years of the game of baseball, no Latin player made enough of an impact to merit a place among the top 30 players. They were simply invisible.

Now, poof, just like that, baseball is going to make them reappear. Major League Baseball officials announced this week they will be selecting a “Latino Legends Team,” with fans voting from Aug.29 through Oct.10. Sixty players will be on the ballot and 12 will be selected.

It is not clear if the Latino Legends Team will be on separate but equal footing with the previous All-Century team.

“This is an acknowledgement of an entire area of the world and a heritage and multiple countries,” said Bob DuPuy, baseball’s chief operating officer. When asked why baseball had not run the same promotion for black players, DuPuy said, “This is not a racial thing … the Latin American influence in baseball has been pervasive.”

If it is not a racial thing, instead of naming it “Latino Legends,” why not just call it “The Players who should have been on the All-Century team but weren’t?”

If that were the case, here’s the first name that should be on the list — Frank Robinson.

It is hard to believe, but when voters were naming the best players of the 20th century six years ago, Robinson didn’t make the cut. In fact, not only did he not make the list of the top nine outfielders ever to play the game, he finished 16th in the balloting, two spots behind Tony Gwynn.

Maybe now you can understand why Robinson, with 586 career home runs, 2,943 hits and 1,812 RBI in the non-steroid era, is sensitive about his legacy, although he won’t come out and say so. And he should be, given the fact that his legacy ranks among the elite of the game. Really, when people talk about Ruth, Aaron and Mays, Robinson’s name should roll off the tongue next. But it doesn’t, and to see players who are clearly at least a notch below him — Pete Rose, Ken Griffey Jr., Carl Yastrzemski, Reggie Jackson and Gwynn — finish ahead of him was a disappointment to Robinson.

“Of course it bothered me,” Robinson said. “I thought I deserved to be on it.”

Of course he did. So maybe MasterCard, the sponsors of the All-Century team, could do some sort of recall or rebate and get it right this time — and even leave a few names off as well, such as Mark McGwire, who made the team as the second greatest first baseman of the 20th century.

What was everyone thinking? Were we all on drugs in 1999?

Since then, Robinson’s legacy has only been diminished by inflated numbers from the likes of Palmeiro and the Baltimore Orioles’ other cover boy fraud, Sammy Sosa. Of all the absurdities, Sosa moved ahead of Robinson on the all-time home run list while wearing the Orioles uniform Robinson represented so well. And now there will be another list of great players promoted by baseball that Frank Robinson won’t be on.

If baseball is in the mood for righting some wrongs of the All-Century team, they can start by amending the list to include Robinson. How would they explain it? Just call it a case of identity theft. They made a list of the greatest players of the 20th century, and Frank Robinson wasn’t on it. That’s identity theft.

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