Cheaters and Baseball's Hall of Fame

What areas of life are exempt from morality?

Baseball Writers Association members are now voting on who should be inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame. However, there is a giant 800 pound gorilla in the room called steroids. The ballot is chocked full of stars who used performance enhancing drugs (PED's) during their careers.

If morality is given the boot as has occurred in so many sectors of American life, then Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa are easy recipients for baseball's highest honor, the Hall of Fame.

One writer at ESPN says morality and ethics are of no account, "[S]o the baseball writers ought to get out of the way rather than acting like overzealous crossing guards empowered by their ballots..." and "[T]he writers' work should always reflect history, not determine legacies; that's the work of the players, the good and the bad."

Another writer asks this question, "[I]s the Hall of Fame meant to enshrine the best players to ever play the sport of baseball? Or is it really more of a museum, constructed to tell the history of the game?" 

Yet another writer says that history trumps morality and to emphasize his point he employed all caps, "THE HALL OF FAME IS NOT CHURCH. IT IS THE HISTORY OF BASEBALL." This writer reminds me of those who maintained that Bill Clinton's judgment in governing was completely and unequivocally unaffected by his escapades with Monica Lewinski and others.

Many people including the young look up to professional sports figures. The selfish path for these athletes is to accept the elevated rewards that professional athletes are afforded and jettison the responsibility of being a role model for the young and old alike.

The heat seeking surgical strike that renders the anti-moral arguments impotent is the following phrase by sages of a different era, taken from the criteria for Hall of Fame inductees;

Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the team(s) on which the player played.

If "integrity," "sportsmanship," and, "character" describe the use of PED's then those drugs would not have been obtained from shady back-alley characters and the administration of those drugs would not have been a matter of behind-the-scenes closet-type applications.

The greatest statistic in all of sports is now tainted.  Barry Bonds has surpassed the iconic Babe Ruth and the highly talented Hank Aaron on the all time home run list.  It is obvious to even the casual observer that Bonds employed steroids. In the interest of full disclosure I am a four decade plus San Francisco Giant fan and when Bonds came to bat I paid attention. Upper deck homes runs at Yankee Stadium and splash hit home runs into the San Francisco bay at the gorgeous AT&T park elicit in any real baseball fan a sense of awe.

But the values of fair play, an equal playing field, and the scourge of cheating mitigate the issue.  It doesn't matter that steroids were widespread in the 70's and 80's. That my neighbor cheats on his wife does not license me to do the same.

One hypothetical solution would be to vote the steroid users in -- they accomplished much -- but only after they were dead and gone as a statement to all that in every area of life morality matters.  Bonds, who confessed , "I never read a book before," probably won't get it but a few kids will and some parents will pay attention and teach the obvious lesson to young adoring fans.  Likewise this would make a clear statement to current and future players on consequences of wayward behavior because the opportunity to cheat always presents itself somehow.

The problem with this solution is that eligible players are on the ballot from 5 years to 20 years after their retirement so the rules would have to be changed.  This is why Roger Clemens pitched in the minor leagues (still professional) this year at age fifty.  The theory is that his eligibility extends a few years in hopes that the steroid issue becomes distant, forgotten and diluted history.

Life is full of messy issues and this fiasco is no exception.  Is Hank Aaron the home run champ if Bonds doesn't cheat?  Who knows?  That is what cheating produces -- confusion and illegitimacy.  Consider all of the havoc that Lance Armstrong's tactless lack of judgment has produced.

Since the rules do not allow the hypothetical above of voting them in after they are long gone then an alternate compromise could be to vote them in on the last eligible year (20th). If a genuine sorrow occurred by these cheaters then one could vote them in earlier.  But arrogance, a sense of entitlement, and a winking eye of disdain towards moral principles should lock them out.

We can always expect some players and some writers to not get the character and integrity paradigm but if most writers jettison those values then the integrity of the game suffers greatly.

Sophocles of Greek philosopher fame said it very well, "Rather fail with honor than succeed by fraud."

Morality matters in every area of life. Look for voting results on January 9th.

Ron Hunnicutt

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