Athletes who cheat should be allowed to receive awards and honors. Discuss. Show examples.
OK, it gives me a sharp pain in my left ventricle, but I’ve decided Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens belong in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and Lance Armstrong should keep all his Tour de France trophies. I do not come to this decision lightly, and it’s not just a mental exercise for me — I actually have to (get to) vote for induction in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
On a gut level, I recoil at the idea that cheaters should be allowed to prosper. And there’s almost no doubt that Bonds and Clemens used PED’s (performance-enhancing drugs), which gave them an unfair advantage. So why not lock them in the Pete Rose Wing of the Shoeless Joe Jackson Memorial Prison for Immoral Ballplayers? Two reasons: (1) we’ll never know for sure who used PED’s and who didn’t, and (2) if you banned every player who ever cheated, the Hall of Fame might be empty.
Also, I’ve finally come to realize that baseball’s love of tradition and consistency is a crock. Baseball likes to pretend the game is the same today as it was in 1916, when Babe Ruth went 23-12 with a 1.75 earned run average as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox (you could look it up). The Game scoffs at the NBA for adding a 3-point line, the NHL for giving everybody helmets, and the NFL for introducing the forward pass. “These sports are not pure,” Baseball scoffs. “You can’t compare statistics from one era to another. But we remain straight and true.”
Or, as James Earl Jones said in Field of Dreams: “The one constant through all the years Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again.”
Sadly, it’s a myth. Cy Young pitched in the dead-ball era and started a third of his team’s games. Babe Ruth hit homers in a time when pitchers like Satchel Paige were banned because of the color of their skin. Sandy Koufax threw from higher mounds into larger strike zones than we’ve ever seen since. Everything’s changed over time: ballpark size, jet travel, schedule length, designated hitters, wild-card playoffs, interleague games, instant replay, juiced-up baseballs and juiced-up players.
Cheating? Athletes have always cheated and always will. Corked bats, stealing signs with cameras, watering down basepaths. One pitcher told me, “It ain’t cheating if you’re not caught.” Ed Walsh threw spitballs when they were legal, had the lowest career ERA ever (1.82) and is in the Hall of Fame. Gaylord Perry and Whitey Ford threw spitballs after they were outlawed, and they’re also enshrined in the Hall.
Gambling Pete Rose got more hits than any man ever, but because he bet on baseball, he’s banned for life from the Hall of Fame. Yet Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker gambled on baseball and even made bets with each other, and both their plaques hang proudly in the Hall.
Does it bother me that Sammy Sosa (allegedly) not only used PED’s but also swung a corked bat? Yes. But it all comes down to this: he played in an era when (allegedly) more than half the hitters in baseball were shooting up steroids. If you only ban the ones who admitted it, like Mark McGwire and Alex Rodriguez, you just encourage the kind of (alleged) lying we saw from Roger Clemens.
So I toss away my Rose-colored glasses and say screw it, let ‘em all in. Everyone who’s accomplishments merit it.
There’s a line in the Hall of Fame Rules for Election that says voting “should be based on a player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the teams” on which he played.
Integrity, sportsmanship and character are among the reasons McGwire has not gotten a Hall of Fame vote from me. I regret to admit now that when it comes to sport, those qualities shoulde be taken on a sliding scale, judged in relation to place, time and culture.
There, I said it. Now I
think I need a drink.