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Voters got it right twice this year

| Tuesday, March 6, 2001

The sporting gods have a curious sense of timing. After allowing Lynn Swann and Bill Mazeroski to dangle in selection purgatory for all these many years, they have seen fit to allow the two icons of Pittsburgh sports to be voted into their respective sports' halls of fame within a six-week time span.

In a further puckish twist, both votes were conducted in Tampa, Fla.

Swann, the long-suffering former Steelers wide receiver, had received his affirmation Jan. 28, the day before Super Bowl XXXV. It had taken 14 years of eligibility for him to be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Mazeroski, whose Hall fate had long since been commended to the Veterans Committee, a sort of oversight group created to re-consider players passed over in the regular phase of Baseball Writers Association of America balloting, was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Tuesday. He had been passed over for 15 years of BBWA consideration and five previous years by the Veterans Committee.

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It took a while for Swann and Mazeroski to receive their due. But, as in the case of that other recent Florida election decision of note, the Hall people eventually got it right in both cases.

Swann had cried at the news of his election. The 64-year-old Mazeroski, too, shed a tear yesterday.

These guys might have been outwardly smiling and fatalistic regarding past votes, but inside the rejections had hurt. Tears of joy seemed only fitting now that the rejections were past.

'I thought it would be fun and I'd have some laughs, but everything else has happened,' Mazeroski said. 'I guess when you have to wait two or three years, things well up inside you.

'You wait and you wait and you don't know what's going to happen. When it does happen, it hits you pretty hard.'

There had been a sense or urgency regarding Mazeroski this year. Former Pirates teammate Nellie Briles had spearheaded a big push last year, and Mazeroski was thought to have come within a single vote of 14 committee members present in 2000 of making it. Now, with former Cubs third baseman Ron Santo about to become eligible for Veterans Committee consideration next year and Detroit Tigers left-handed pitching great Mickey Lolich to follow in 2003, some were thinking it was now or possibly never for Maz.

Thankfully, it is now. Mazeroski, generally acknowledged as the finest-fielding second baseman in the history of Major League Baseball, belongs. But, as had been the case with Swann, detractors made statistical arguments against him. They couldn't fault Mazeroski's defense, so they harped on his .260 career batting average.

In the end, eight Gold Gloves and seven All-Star selections, plus the virtually universal acclaim for his defensive prowess, swung the tide in Mazeroski's favor.

Yesterday, Mazeroski received the final affirmation of his greatness. He is at last headed to the Hall of Fame, for induction Aug. 5. That his emotions would surge to the surface on this occasion was understandable.

Celebrations were touched off in the Great White North, too.

Calls began flowing into the sports department soon after the scheduled 2 p.m. announcement time. 'What about Maz?' they asked.

Word of Mazeroski's Hall selection served as validation for his fans, too. Like him, they had agonized through past snubs. They had campaigned for him. They had hoped that eventually a perceived slight would be reconciled.

At last, that is the case.

Swann, and now Mazeroski, have gotten their due. And fans of two sports franchises that have been struggling of late, have reason to celebrate.

Sam Ross Jr. is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

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