Orlando Cepeda was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999, after a 15-year ride of voting futility that seemingly dead-ended him seven votes short of election. He lurched back and forth for the full 15 years between 1980 and 1994, and then the San Francisco Giants intervened with a full-bore marketing campaign that included a strong but not entirely supported suggestion that he was blackballed by the electorate because of a marijuana possession conviction in Puerto Rico. While there wasn’t much proof offered that voters had colluded to keep him out (the conviction happened in 1981; his vote total rose from 12.5 percent to 73.5 percent by 1994; baseball writers couldn’t conspire to agree on lunch), the Giants assembled a national marketing campaign on Cepeda’s behalf that was sufficient to get him inducted into the Hall through the Veterans Committee in 1999. It was to anyone’s knowledge the first time a marketing campaign had been introduced into the induction process, and it quite clearly worked.
It probably should have, frankly; this is not an argument that Cepeda should not have been inducted, or that people should not have stumped for his induction. He is in, and the Hall is certainly not diminished to any measurable extent by his inclusion.
What was altered, though, was the form of advocacy in the wake of the success of the Cepeda campaign. Individual support alone became insufficient to public relations needs, and if it hadn’t been Cepeda as the first beneficiary, it almost surely would have been someone close behind. Candidates like Tim Raines and Edgar Martinez, the last two players elected in their final year of eligibility, got late, organized pushes (Raines gained 110 votes in his final two years, Martinez 73) that might have swayed otherwise reluctant voters. Again, their inclusions have been merited and quite likely took too long to happen, but the late shove wasn’t just based on kindhearted voters. The system just got more coordinated.
All of which brings us to Tom Flores, who is a Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist for the third time, and being named as the sole coaching finalist (a procedural change from previous years, which allowed more than one) means he has a decent chance to get plaqued after the January 19 virtual vote. Given the nature of the 48-person electorate though, who are in non-virus years locked in a room the day before the Super Bowl and fueled by coffee and pastries, nothing is sure until it’s sure. Thus, it makes perfect sense that the one to close the deal on Flores’s candidacy is a beer company.
A certain Colorado beer shot an ad with Flores, now 83, sitting in a lounge chair by a pool purportedly his, quaffing one of Golden’s finest, and awaiting the call, which as we said won’t come for another 26 days. His grandson is there as well, doing whatever grandsons do when their principal job is to watch Grandpa drink. The message is clear: Tom Flores is close enough to getting the 39 votes he needs that a beer company thinks it can move product with him as a sedentary spokesman.
Like Cepeda, Raines, and Martinez, Flores has his bonafides. He was the first Hispanic coach, he led two Raider teams to Super Bowl titles and did it while working for Al Davis, and his overall record (108-90 including postseason) is better than Hall of Famer Sid Gillman. He isn’t at the top of anyone’s list and might or might not get in on raw numbers, but for a more inclusive Hall trying to tell the story of the sport, he’ll more than do. It’s just a hilarious notion to see his advocates include a beer company.
To which, fine. The Hall of Fame isn’t church, and it isn’t a museum either, but bits and bobs of each. It’s a place where friends are rewarded and enemies punished and the history of the game is bent and re-fashioned to serve the needs of the proprietors. It is also in some ways a gift shop with bronze heads. If football can embrace virtual slime as a next-generation Terrible Towel, it can embrace a Hall of Fame candidacy brought to you by affordably priced domestic beer. We could make a parlor game out of matching Hall of Fame candidates with endorsement products. Which is to say, YOU could.
Essentially, there is no future in being a snooty purist. Coaches who punt in short yardage situations are becoming an endangered species, midweek practice is no longer a foolproof aid to victory, and even head coaches are becoming optional now that Kevin Stefanski can win playoff games from his rec room. This is the brave new world that football is learning to embrace. There’d be a COVID-19 Punt, Pass and Kick competition if someone could monetize the virus.
The beer company paid its money, it bought its ad time, and if Alan Faneca could get Home Depot to put him in overalls and pretend to sell hammers to weekend DIY freaks, he could boost his chances of induction too. In the end, everything’s an ad, and everyone is not just for sale, but the salesman to boot. And if you have to sell yourself, it’s good to be able to drink on the job. Even if Tom Flores doesn’t make it into Canton this go-around, at least he had a good time advocating for himself, made some cash, had a couple of pops on the set, and didn’t have to wash slime out of his hair.