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Wednesday, October 11, 2006
SI forgot Paige and Clemente

By Scoop Jackson
Page 2

If you stare too long at it you might miss it -- just like they did. It happens that way in life -- in baseball -- sometimes. Some things are so unhidden they go beyond being missed -- they get totally overlooked. And like most situations that resemble this, those in the "we didn't know" will tell you that in this moment it really doesn't matter because, in time, the untold truth will come out.

When I picked up Sports Illustrated's Oct. 9 issue, I didn't know what to think of the All-Time All-Star baseball team with 11 legends on its cover. On the inside, the team stretched to 25 players over four pages. The greatest, by position, that the game has ever seen. An amazing visual. Baseball's official Dream Team.

Buck O'Neil and Roger Clemens
The Rocket (pictured here with Buck O'Neil) made SI's Dream Team, but the great Satchel Paige was left off.

But once I got past the names, past the digitally constructed illustration, un-caught up in the mystery of the greatness of this fictional squad, I saw the reality in the history that was missed. Or purposely forgotten. It wasn't until I stopped looking at the picture and began to look into it that I noticed how unbeautiful the picture -- and what the picture was saying -- really was.

And how the picture told the true story of baseball.

I ask, is one player bigger than the game? How about two? Three? The answer to that question is yes. In sports there are certain players who are omnipresent in the sport they played during the time in which they played.

For baseball, Babe Ruth was that player. And he stands there, dead center in that picture, one leg outside of the dugout, in front of Willie Mays, next to Walter Johnson, looking into nothing, knowing that no one around him, even in this fake picture, can touch him.

But Ruth is not the only player whose representation in baseball is larger than the game itself. There are two others, and it's interesting -- funny in an oversensitive, cryptic, culturally paranoid type of way -- how both were not chosen for the picture. Or the corresponding roster.

I'm talking about Satchel Paige and Roberto Clemente.

How did two of the game's greatest players at their positions (or any position) and ambassadors of baseball -- and their influence on the influx of minority contributions to the game -- get so conveniently overlooked? How does this happen to those two particular players who are larger than life, bigger than the game, but doesn't happen to the only other one?

The one who meant the same to one set of people that the other two meant to their people?

Is it that obvious? Are we supposed to be that oblivious?

Tom Verducci wrote in the beginning of the corresponding story that "baseball is often held up as an exact science." Well, where's the exact science in this? Or is SI's science that exact?

On the 25-man roster, nine pitchers (seven starters, two relievers), seven infielders, seven outfielders, one coach and one manager were selected. Twenty-two experts, editors and analysts were on the committee who made up the team. At what point did Clemente and Paige get cut?

Roberto Clemente
Clemente was simply one of a kind.

How can "experts" hold against Paige the fact that baseball made it illegal for him to pitch in the majors until he was 42 years old? (And still he helped the Indians win the pennant as a rookie in 1948.) How can they put up the numbers of Christy Mathewson (373 wins, 2.13 ERA, four 30-win seasons), Sandy Koufax (three Cy Youngs, .655 winning percentage, 0.95 postseason ERA, 1963 MVP), Walter Johnson (3,509 strikeouts, 417 wins, 12 20-win seasons, two 30-win seasons) and Dennis Eckersley (390 saves, 197 wins, 1992 MVP) and not Paige's estimated 300 career shutouts, estimated 2,000 wins, 64 straight scoreless innings, 21-game winning streak, and 1939 MVP? Just because most of it was done outside of Major League Baseball?

How can "experts" not take Clemente's four batting titles, .317 batting average, 12 Gold Gloves, 1966 MVP, 1971 World Series MVP and World Series batting averages of .310 (1960) and .414 (1971) -- but take Ted Williams' math (.344 BA, 521 HRs, two MVPs), Willie Mays' math (660 HRs, 12 Gold Gloves, two MVPs), Ty Cobb's math (4,189 hits, .366 BA, 892 steals) and Mickey Mantle's math (536 HRs, 1,509 RBI, three MVPs) into the equation?

How can these experts not take into full consideration what these two meant to the sport, in and outside of the sport, to America, when they were creating a team that embodies baseball's complete history of the greatest ever?

Despite the fact that there are only six players in the photo who started their career after 1960, despite the fact that nine of the 25 players are in Yankees uniforms (11 played for the Yankees at one time in their career if you include Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez), despite the fact that Barry Bonds is nowhere to be found -- even though Verducci assures us that Bonds' suspected steroid use had no impact on why he wasn't included (what about his seven MVPs?), despite the fact that Josh Gibson's name is the only one mentioned of any Negro Leaguers who didn't make the majors, despite the fact that Mariano Rivera is the only Latin American-born player (Rodriguez was born in New York City) acknowledged, the omission of Paige and Clemente from the illustration says more about baseball and how it really feels about its history than SI's presentation of that history.

And its present.

Paige and Clemente represent more than what their stats show, even though their stats hold strong against all. Having them in the illustration would represent all the Negro League players and all the Latin players who for so many years were held out of the game, and now dominate the game but continue to go unrecognized. Satchel's image on that team would not be about him -- it'd be about Gibson and Cool Papa Bell and Roy Campanella and Larry Doby and Biz Mackey and Oscar Charleston and Peanut Johnson; Roberto's image would stand for Ortiz and Pujols and Pedro and Johan and Vlad and everyone in between, including all those who will eventually make it into baseball's Hall of Fame because No. 21 was a pioneer who changed the game forever.

And neither one of them can be found in the 25-person fantasy dugout. Which makes you wonder if they were even considered. Or is this "science" strictly based on mathematics? Are numbers all that matter in baseball?

Satchel Paige
Can you imagine if Paige had pitched his entire career in the majors?

It's a problem MLB has been dealing with for years and doing nothing about. Yet they continue to tell us that they'll get it right. That they'll right the wrongs that have been done to those who contributed to making baseball the game they claim truly represents this country. That they'll prove to us that baseball's history is more than just the game.

A thousand words. That's what a picture's supposed to be worth.

What about a digitally enhanced photo illustration on the cover of a sports bible?

One with a cover line that reads, "A Team For All Time" -- one comprised of Aaron, Ruth, Hornsby, Cobb, Mays, Bench, Gehrig, Clemens, Musial and Robinson, but that compromises Paige and Clemente. One that is close to perfect, but far from perfection. One that is so incomplete.

One that was digitally put together to tell the story of baseball's history.

It's interesting that this issue of Sports Illustrated came out the same week the great Buck O'Neil passed away. Guess it's only right. Just as O'Neil died without the Hall of Fame recognizing him and his contribution to baseball by inducting him into Cooperstown, it's only fitting that Paige got the same injustice by not being represented in the visual representation of the game's history.

It's written in the SI story that "you're likely to find your own beef in what you see." If you look at Aaron Goodman's illustration that will be easy, but not from the art work. The problem is what's not there. A beef is not what you should feel when you look at that picture. You should feel a slight sense of illness and disgust at how the game of baseball and those that tell its story still refuse to make the story complete, even inside of an image so beautiful.

Scoop Jackson is a national columnist for Page 2 and a contributor to ESPN The Magazine. He appears regularly on "Quite Frankly" and other ESPN shows. He resides in Chicago. Sound off to Scoop and Page 2 here.