Saturday, October 24, 2009

PEDs and HOFers

I was 9 years old in 1994. I loved baseball then. I played on my Little League team (several seasons with the Giants and several with the Yankees), and I looked forward to games every weekend. My friends and I had a vast amount of hero-worship for the Giants slugger, Mr. Barry Bonds. Whenever someone asked me who my favorite player was there was no question. Barry. Barry. Barry.

1994 was not a good year for baseball fans. The players went on strike and the season ended. I won't endeavor to comment on why the strike was held and whether I agreed with it or not. I will say how I felt though: devastated. How could baseball go on strike? How could they not play? I remember feeling slightly betrayed: I had to go and support my team even when I was sick. My mother made me. Because that is what a good teammate does. You always show up to play the game unless you physically can't. Yet, in 1994 all of my heroes walked off the field.

I was angry. And so were a lot of other baseball fans. I fell out of love with baseball for several years because of the strike.

The changed in 1998.

Mark Mcgwire, Sammy Sosa, and Ken Griffey Jr. were all in the race to break Roger Maris's homerun record. It was exciting. Players in my time were breaking records. My friends and I watched games routinely throughout that season. The storylines. The drama. The record! It was simply an amazing thing to watch. When it was over, I was suddenly back into baseball.

But I wanted more.

Barry Bonds, my old favorite, gave it to me. Bonds broke the record that Mcgwire set. He also broke the all-time record several years after that. But, unlike with McGwire, suddenly people wondered.

What the hell is wrong with baseball? And why does Barry Bonds look like a body-builder? Is this right?

And so the great steroid drama ensued. People were mad. They called Bonds a cheater. They worried about the sanctity of the game. They threw syringes on the field. They hated the monster we had all created and allowed to come into fruition. And so now, with the steroid-era at a close one question remains: what do we do about the players who broke old records? Should those records stand?

This question is not new to anyone who has followed baseball, even in the most casual sense, over the past several years.

There are two rules which help me form my opinion on the matter:

1) Baseball is not a fair game;
2) There is no crying in baseball.

Following these two golden rules I come to the conclusion that those players who used PEDs should not be barred from entering the hall of fame, nor should their records be suspect or marked with asterisks. This is not simply because of Barry Bonds. I do not believe Manny Ramirez, Alexander Rodriguez, or any other player should be demonized for the steroid-era, or their accomplishment be cheapened.

Many people who believe that baseball players who used PEDs should not be allowed in the Hall of Fame, because they "cheated." I cannot say that using PEDs was not cheating. I think it is wrong, I think it is foul, and I think it is immoral. However, this brings me to Rule One: Baseball is not a fair game. It is true. Baseball is not a fair game. No one can sit with a straight face and say Major League Baseball is fair. Big market teams dominate playoff spots, since they have the most money to sign the best players. There is little parity in baseball. However, just because the New York Yankees have the most money to buy the best players does not mean their championships are tainted. Yes, the Yankees have a huge advantage over the Oakland A's. Yet, we accept that as fans of MLB. Baseball is not fair.

Let's look at another dark era in baseball history and at the stars who played during the time. The star of segregation-era baseball, for many, is Babe Ruth. Babe Ruth is still considered by many to be the true homerun king. He is certainly one of the top five most recognized names in American sports, let alone baseball. Yet, Babe Ruth had an advantage that a lot of players today don't have.

He didn't have to compete with some of the best competition. Up until Jackie Robinson broke down the color-barrier, black players were not allowed in MLB. Today, many of the greatest baseball players are black (see Barry Bonds). Babe Ruth had a distinct advantage during his era. He did not have to play against many people who may have become the best baseball players of the era.

Now, was it Babe Ruth's fault that black players could not play in MLB. Of course not. He wasn't in charge of that. However, he still benefited from a system of racism. Yet, we do not (and should not) fault him for it. Babe Ruth accomplished what he did and he did it during a time when that was considered acceptable and "how it was."

Jump forward to the steroid-era. The difference here is that Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez, Alexander Rodriguez, and so on, all made a personal choice to use steroids. Yet, at the same time, using PEDs was characteristic of the times. Just about every single big name of the time was using PEDs. If you wanted to make it in MLB during those years, you probably had to use PEDs, unless you were Heracles.

Just like segregation was not fair, so too is PED use. However, baseball is not fair. Steroids, like segregation, is a dark part of baseball's history. Despite that, we cannot cast shadow over the players who thrived during those times. We should put an asterisk on their records, to denote that their records are tainted, or were created in unfair conditions. If that were so, nearly every World Series winner would have an asterisk that would read: "WS Champs. Although, they had a lot more money than the team they beat."

No comments:

Post a Comment