When Does Cheating Overshadow Greatness?

Look at these set of career statistics:

  • 769 runs/2016 hits/138 HR’s/853 RBI’s/.260 Avg /.667 OPS
  • 877 runs/1588 hits/38 HR’s/563 RBI’s/.273 Avg./.706 OPS
  • 687 runs/1692 hits/28 HR’s/734 RBI’s/.281 Avg./.741 OPS

Now look at these career stats:

  • 2165 runs/4256 hits/160 HR’s/1314 RBI’s/.303 Avg./.784 OPS
  • 1544 runs/2574 hits/555 HR’s/1831 RBI’s/.312 Avg./.996 OPS
  • 2227 runs/2935 hits/762 HR’s/1996 RBI’s/.298 Avg./1.051 OPS

What’s the difference between the two? The first set of sad stats are all Hall of Famers (Bill Mazeroski, Phil Rizzuto and Rick Ferrell, whose brother hit more home runs in his career, and his brother was a pitcher!) The second set? Pete Rose, Manny Ramirez and Barry Bonds, who quite possibly will never reach the Hall, some would argue for good reason, because they cheated, because they ruined the “pure” game of Baseball and should never be considered for such an honor. I don’t agree.

Baseball is a sport obsessed with numbers. Records are more sacred in baseball than in any other sport, and often fans fight the breaking of almost any records, no matter the player or the team (and I’m not just talking about Bonds breaking the all time Home Run records, Roger Maris was booed and threatened BY HIS OWN FANS for breaking Babe Ruth’s single season Home Run record). So when we see a record obtained by a cheater, the inner baseball purist in all of us (and we all have one), reacts with vicious anger; Pete Rose may have the all time hit record, but he gambled dang it! Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s record, but only because of ‘roids! (And trust me, this is an issue that is still quite sensitive in Atlanta where I currently reside. I don’t wear my Barry Bonds shirt to any Braves/Giants games for a reason) but does cheating eliminate you from being eligible for the Hall of Fame?

Let me say two things to clarify my opinion: first this is not the Baseball Hall of Morality and Character, it’s the Baseball Hall of FAME. Your ability to play the game should take precedent over almost any other characteristic that baseball writers looks at. Second, the steroid era of baseball is hardly the first era where people cheated, and cheated in a way that affected the outcome of games. Since its inception, baseball has been full of cheaters and scoundrels, a lot of whom are admired to this day for their ability to play the game, and many more are in the Hall. Don’t think cheaters back in the day are comparable to steroid era players? Gaylord Perry made his whole career out of throwing his magical “splitter,” which was in actuality a Vaseline covered baseball. He was so good at it that he was never caught, even though everyone KNEW he was cheating. He won over 300 games and is in the Hall. Don Drysdale did it also and countless other pitchers used nail files or sandpaper to alter their ability to throw the ball and fool batters and don’t even get me started on the rampant availability and usage of amphetamines during the 70’s and 80’s, including Willie Stargell and allegedly Willie Mays.

The motto of the Hall of Fame is Preserving History, Honoring Excellence and Connecting Generations. This includes the parts of history that you are not proud of. I’m in no way advocating, ignoring or sweeping under the rug the abuse of steroids during the 90’s and 00’s, nor am I so naïve to think that my favorite player (Barry Bonds) didn’t take any steroids, but steroids do not teach you how to hit a curveball, steroids don’t turn scrubs into superstars and betting on games doesn’t negate your skill. Pete Rose, Manny Ramirez, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Roger Clemens are some of the greatest to ever play the game. They were great before steroids and with steroids, before betting on games and after betting on games, and to try to black list an entire generation of baseball players because of it is wrong. We’ve learned to deal with Ty Cobb, Gaylord Perry, John McGraw and other famous cheaters in the Hall. List on their plaque that they played in the steroid era, heck make a whole wing of the museum dedicated to that 15ish year period, but to keep them out is irresponsible to the history of the game and the only people it’ll really make happy are all the sports writers who vote for the Hall who can stick it to the players who never treated them well.

I, for one, did not lose any enjoyment from watching Barry swing the bat knowing he took ‘roids. How could I? Nothing could top the excitement of watching him slowly step into the batters box, adjust his gloves and send a ball flying into McCovey Cove. Does that cloud my judgment? Maybe. But greatness can’t be taken away just because a group of people don’t vote you into a Hall of Fame. Barry is the home run king and one of the greatest hitters in baseball history. Pete Rose was better at getting hits than anyone else, Manny Ramirez was one of the greatest right-handed hitters ever, and nothing can take that away. It’s the same thing as saying the USC football team is no longer national champions from a few seasons ago because one of their players took money under the table. They’re still the best team in College football for that year, whether it’s official or not. This past generation of ball players have some of the greatest of all time, whether some people make it official or not. I can only hope that as THIS generation of outstanding players grow, players like Albert Pujols, Tim Lincecum, Evan Longoria and Adrian Gonzalez, that the stigma of the 90’s and early 00’s fade and the greats of the game get their due.

By the way, in 1961 there were two different Yankees chasing Babe Ruth’s single season Home Run record, Roger Maris, who eventually broke the record, and Mickey Mantle. Mantle missed the end of the season due to an infection which took him out of the chase. An infection caused by using an unclean steroid needle. I’m assuming the petition to get him removed from the Hall got lost in the mail, right?