Cheaters Must Prosper

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.

17 thoughts on “Cheaters Must Prosper

  1. Great stuff…………….one thing about Babe Ruth though is how much he led the league in HR’s over the next guy. Wasn’t it like 59 to 12?…………….I love Joe Morgan’s take on the Hall of Fame. (Everyone’s is slightly different of course)……Did he dominate his position during that era? Re: Big Mac, I most certainly would put Rafael Palmero in ahead of Big Mac. McGwire was hurt a lot and he had several dreadful seasons. IF Roger Maris isn’t in, then no way should he. Heck he hit 70 homers and wasn’t even MVP. And didn’t Luis Gonzalez hit 59 or 60? Maybe you could put Wally Joyner in. He said he tried it during his last season to hang on but felt so dirty after, he never tried it again. He could be in the new wing: Could have been in the Hall if took steroids. Jeff Kent could be the leader but I think he will get in the real one. He was the only outspoken player that wanted testing. Gotta love that even though it sounded like he was a dick.

  2. We often hold players up to a different standard. We expect them to be pillars of the community and put them on the hero’s mantel. They are entertainers and are paid an entertainers wage, nothing else.

    Pete Rose bet on baseball, so what. Joe Jackson was accused of throwing a series (even though his series BA was higher than his season average), so what. The players should be judged by their on filed achievements and nothing else. It is the “Baseball Hall of Fame” not some humanitarian or Good Samaritan award. To judge it on more than baseball is giving baseball far to much meaning.

    If a player has warts, fine they are human. Ty Cobb had a few warts as did Babe Ruth. You can include the warts in their bio as a warning to others that may follow in their foot steps.

  3. Entertaining story – found it through you’re hall of fame voting link. While you addressed your reasons for voting for “tainted” players – there is no mention of why you chose NOT to cast a vote for 3,000 hit man, Craig Biggio. How disappointing!
    Perhaps it was because…”if he wasn’t cheating….he wasn’t trying”. Consistently playing the game all out, hitting double after double (yep some of those were definitely “hustle” doubles), a willingness to play wherever his team needed him (even though the outfield was DEFINITELY not where he should have roamed) and staying with one club for his career when many have left just for the $$$$ just wasn’t good enough for you. Was hoping to get your thought process on this one!!

    • MaryCarol, I was going to wait to reply to you in a couple weeks because I’m out of the country now and don’t have access to all my notes about my HOF decisions. I listed specific reasons for and against voting for the top candidates. But this much I know: Biggio and Bagwell came very close to winning my HOF votes. Standout players, but 3,000 hits isn’t an automatic ticket, and they just fell a tick short of the kind of careers I consider the greatest of all time. Bonds and Clemens clearly had HOF numbers, but I wrestled long with the steroids issue before reaching the conclusion I did.

      • Numbers only tell part of the story. Anybody who watched Biggio and Bagwell day in and day out could see that they are CLEAR CUT hall of famers. They excelled at all aspects of the game (hitting, hitting for power, plate discipline, speed, defense, baserunning, instincts) and were great teammates and people. I actually believe Bagwell has a greater resume than Biggio, although they both deserve to be in the hall. Bagwell’s career avg #s are .297, 34hr, 115rbi. He also had 202 SB’s (for a 1B) and his career WAR is 36th ALL-TIME, tied for Pete Rose. The only players with a higher career WAR are active players (minus Ken Griffey Jr.)

  4. While you do make a sad, sick, dark sense, I prefer to look at the world not on a stormy day, but an Ernie Banks let’s play two day! None of the other cheating you note hanged body composition. If you cheated, and we know it, your out. We hold players who get into the HOF to a high standard because we should! And your philosophy sir, not only lost the day, but I truly hope they revoke your voting privilege, as you would probably vote for Charly Manson if he had the numbers!
    Paul Caron

    • As you know, Paul, many of my most esteemed colleagues agree with you. I, too, much prefer Ernie Banks’ attitude. It was the toughest HOF ballot I’ve ever faced, and I don’t take the honor of voting lightly. It’s the proverbial slippery slope. What sins demand automatic exclusion? Does the all-time hits leader deserve to be banned from the HOF for gambling? I think not.

  5. Getting 3000 hits is not worthy? I thought all you voters who didn’t vote for Craig Biggo are nuts until I did some more digging and realized that over the history the voters are just biased to the little guy. Yes what Bonds and Clemens did was amazing using PED’s or not, but if you look up the list for the 3000 hit club only 3 people (unless I missed someone which I don’t think I did) in the HISTORY of MLB have not gotten in on their first attempt into the hallow halls of Cooperstown. What really amazed me was that there were all 2nd basemen. To top if off only Joe Morgan and Jackie Robinson were the only first ballot second basemen period. So going to give you a pass this year but like they say on ESPN…COME ON MAN!!!

    • Certain numbers used to be considered an automatic ticket into the Hall, like 3,000 hits and 300 victories. When Don Sutton was on the ballot, I decided that unusual longevity of a very good player can lead to HOF-like statistics for a player who was never even among the best of the best during his own era, let alone all-time. So Sutton didn’t get my vote, although I liked him personally and he was an outstanding pitcher. But as one of my colleagues said, the HOF is defined by who is NOT in it. If Biggio and Bagwell fall just a tick short, it must truly be for the elite of the elite. And I actually give extra credit for middle infielders because I played the game and know the value they bring to a team.

  6. Just remember Biggio has the most doubles by a right handed hitter ever. Most HBP ever. 4 Gold gloves. 7 ASGs. Compare him to others. Understand it was near impossible to really dig and look into every player because of the giant monkey on your back as a voter with all of the PED mess and the incredibly tough decisions that come with it. I have confidence you will vote for him next year.

    • Not counting Palmerio, there are only 3 of the 3000 Hit Club Members who are eligible who were not elected on their first ballot. Shock, shock they were all second baseman. It’s a power sport and the little guy never gets what he deserves. The other two were elected so by 2014 I SURE hope you figure out it’s the right thing to do.3000 hits is a guaranteed HOF plaque no if’s and or butts.

    • I’m not one of those who think a player can “deserve” to be in the Hall on his second or third ballot if he wasn’t worthy on the first. He didn’t get any more hits or RBIs in the interim. The exception to that rule is, because we can only vote for 10 players in any given year, you might have 11 or more players who are worthy, so you have to leave somebody off and vote for them in the subsequent year. In reality, I’d never seen a ballot with as many deserving players as I did this year … nine or maybe even 11. I decided to think about it for a couple weeks. Biggio and Bagwell got my votes at first blush. On reflection, I felt they were not quite there. But I can’t guarantee I won’t change my mind and put both of them on my ballot next year.

    • Damn good question. Here’s how it went: I voted for Steve Garvey for the wrong reasons, and Mattingly’s numbers compared favorably with Garvey’s, so why shouldn’t he get in, too? The wrong reasons were intangibles like leadership (Mattingly) and always being a good interview for me (Garvey). We live and learn. Garvey didn’t get in, which was proper, and I figured if Mattingly was worthy on the first ballot, he’s still worthy, so I keep voting for him out of principle (probably an errant principle). For this same reason, I’ve refused to vote for a player who wasn’t on my ballot the first year he was eligible (his numbers didn’t get any better in the last year). But on careful reflection, Biggio and Bagwell may well get my vote next year, now that the PED mess is shaking out one way or another.

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