ENGSTER: Performance should trump politics

With six national titles collected on the baseball diamond and three more championship banners in football, it might be presumed that LSU’s most famous athletes would be dominant in those sports. Yet basketball with zero national titles in the modern era has produced the three greatest professional athletes in LSU lore in Shaquille O’Neal, Bob Pettit and Pete Maravich.

LSU Baseball has no Hall of Famers ensconced with plaques at Cooperstown even though Albert Belle has a strong case with his 381 career homers. The slugger from Shreveport blasted 373 home runs in his last ten years in the Majors and reigns as the only MLB star to produce 50 doubles and 50 homers in the same season. He accomplished the feat in a strike-shortened season of 1995.

Belle’s other numbers show a .295 batting average, .564 slugging percentage and an OPS of .933. Albert’s former teammate Harold Baines was just elected to the iconic shrine in New York with a career batting average of .289, slugging percentage of .465 and OPS of .820. Baines out-homered Belle 384-381, but had 9908 career at-bats to 5853 for Belle. Harold hit the ball out of the park every 25.8 at-bats to every 15.4 at-bats for Albert.

Belle has not been voted into the LSU Athletic Hall of Fame despite being the best player in the history of the school and the first man to lead the Tigers to the College World Series. In his final two seasons with the Bengals in 1986-87, Belle had 435 at bats, 21 doubles, eight triples, 42 homers, 132 RBI and 36 stolen bases. His batting average in those combined seasons was .352 coupled with a .726 slugging percentage. If these are not HOF numbers, the selection panel needs a course in remedial math.

Belle boasts a degree in accounting so the bogus reason for keeping Pete Maravich out of the Hall has no validity in assessing the merits of the mercurial man who insulted scribes with the same frequency he launched prodigious clouts over the left field wall.  Personal failings of this fabulous duo have caused those who vote on the qualifications for the shrine at the PMAC to blackball both Belle and Maravich.

This drill has been observed before. As it has been noted, passions are so intense in academia because the stakes are so low. More than a decade ago, a committee assigned to select members for the LSU Journalism Hall of Fame nominated John Ferguson, the legendary Voice of the Tigers. Ferguson obtained a master’s degree in journalism at LSU after completing 144 missions as an Army Air pilot during WWII. His admission to the Manship School Hall was rejected in its final stage because an extra-marital affair was revealed about this bona fide war hero, who was saturated with enough testosterone to drench Death Valley.

Interestingly, the individual responsible for Ferguson’s rejection was also suspected of extra-marital relationships. Imagine this kind of hypocrisy at the Ole War Skule. Shocking, just shocking.

The current occupant of the Oval Office has done America a favor with the condoning of side friends as acceptable within the bounds of holy matrimony. A fling with an adult film star has no bearing on performance as president, and nobody was hurt when Donald Trump checked into the Beverly Hills Hotel under the name of David Dennison to partake the wonders of Baton Rouge porn star Stormy Daniels. If his wife does not mind adultery, why should we care if our leader enjoys the pleasures of a nice Southern belle he affectionately calls “Horseface?”

It is long past time to install Ferguson, Maravich and Belle to rightful places in their respective shrines. They were among the best at what they did and brought national acclaim to LSU. Any sins should have been absolved long ago.

Every now and then a fine man survives political heat and receives appropriate recognition while still alive. Former LSU offensive line stalwart Kevin Mawae was thought by many to be a no go for the Pro Football Hall of Fame because he was head of the NFL Players Association during the contentious NFL lockout of 2011.

Eight years later, Mawae has been honored by selection for the Pro Football Hall. He was an eight-time Pro Bowler and seven-time first team All Pro selection and named to the NFL 2000s All Decade Team. Mawae is of Hawaiian descent and played high school ball at Leesville. He proposed to his wife Tracy over the public address system at Tiger Stadium in the summer of 1992 at LSU fan day before 3,000 fans. 

The Mawae marriage has held up better than the ’92 season, which was the worst ever for LSU as Curley Hallman and Co. went 2-9. Hallman was 16-28 in four years, but he becomes the first head LSU football coach to produce a professional Hall of Famer since Paul Dietzel, who coached Jim Taylor and Johnny Robinson.

Robinson, who was elected with Mawae, was the greatest safety in the history of the American Football League and led Kansas City to Super Bowl I and Super Bowl IV. Robinson intercepted 57 passes in 164 professional games and is the only man to lead the AFL and NFL in interceptions in a season, doing this in 1966 and again in 1970 as he picked off ten passes in 14 games in both years.

Johnny Nolan Robinson and Kevin James Mawae bring the total to five for LSU players elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They join Stephen Wood Van Buren (1920-2012), Yelberton Abraham Tittle Jr. (1926-2017) and James Charles Taylor (1935-2018).

These are the 27 other Pro Football Hall of Famers from current SEC schools.

Alabama (8) John Hannah, Don Hutson, Joe Namath, Ozzie Newsome, Ken Stabler, Bart Starr, Dwight Stephenson, Derrick Thomas

Arkansas (3) Lance Alworth, Dan Hampton, Jerry Jones

Georgia (3) Champ Bailey, Fran Tarkenton, Charley Trippi

Auburn (2) Frank Gatski, Kevin Greene

Florida (2) Emmitt Smith, Jack Youngblood

Kentucky (2) George Blanda, Dermontti Dawson

Missouri (2) Roger Wehrli, Kellen Winslow

Ole Miss (2) Gene Hickerson, Frank Kinard

Tennessee (2) Doug Atkins, Reggie White

Texas A&M (1) Yale Lary

Mississippi State (None)

South Carolina (None)

Vanderbilt (None)

Notre Dame has the most Pro Football Hall members with 13 while USC has a dozen. Grambling has four members, Louisiana Tech has three and Southern University has two in Charlie Joiner and Aeneas Williams.

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