Rose and ‘Roids

A recent report has revealed that Pete Rose probably used a corked bat during his quest to unseat Ty Cobb as Baseball’s all-time hit king. If you know about baseball, you know that Rose received a lifetime ban for betting on the game while he was a manager: he can never play, coach or enter the Hall of Fame.

Some have argued that the sluggers from the so-called steroid era–McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, etc.–should likewise not be permitted to enter the Hall of Fame. There is a lot of question as to whether the writers will in fact vote for these guys when they’re up for election in a few years.

I think Rose’s transgression—betting on the game—is in a different category from those of the steroid crowd. I don’t have a problem with letting those guys in for several reasons:

  • There is no conclusive evidence that “PEDs” actually enhance performance. The explosion of power in the late ‘90s can just as easily be attributed to the expansion and the dilution of the pitching talent. Even if steroids have the potential to make you stronger, that wouldn’t give me the hand-eye coordination that Bonds has. They still had to hit/throw the ball.
  • A lot of the PEDs these guys were taking were not illegal or against the rules at the time. You can’t fault them for trying them, especially if their opponents were as well.
  • Let’s be honest here: MLB executives are equally to blame for the steroid abuse, because they banned stuff and then didn’t test for it. That’s like a professor who gives a take-home, closed-book exam—it punishes the scrupulous and rewards the cheaters. The execs liked the HRs because they attracted (weenie) fans. Again, let’s be honest: McGwire and Sosa saved baseball after the strike.

Betting on the game affects the integrity of the contest in a different way from the way PEDs do.

When I watch a sporting event, I want to know for sure that the performers are trying their hardest and that the game will be called as fairly as possible by the officials. I expect the athletes to do all sorts of things to increase their chances of winning. Some are judged to be within the rules (training, practice, weightlifting, vitamins, cortisone shots, stealing signs while on second base, etc.) and some are judged to be outside the rules (hurting one’s opponent, taking steroids, stealing signs with binoculars from the bullpen). As a consumer of entertainment, I assume that the athletes would do all these things if they could, but the officials limit these behaviors for the purpose of improving the sport and maintaining the health of the players.

Betting one’s own sport, however, is a different matter—that casts doubt on whether the games were contested fairly. Even if Rose bet on his own teams, it will never be possible to know whether he was managing to win, or to cover the spread. Baseball was right to kick him out and keep him out. Maybe someday he should go in the HoF, but he definitely should never be involved in the sport again.

I would vote McGwire, Bonds, Clemens, Palmeiro, Sosa et al into the HoF if their numbers and achievements were judged to be extraordinary compared to their contemporaries. Stats always have to be judged in context. That’s what makes them so much fun and yet so debatable. There’s no question that Bonds hit more HRs than Ruth. Bonds played many more games at night than Ruth did. Bonds walked many more times than Ruth did. Ruth had Lou Gehrig protecting him in the lineup for most of his career. Conversely, Ruth was a pitcher (an excellent one, BTW) for the first years of his career. He also played before the live-ball era, and played 154-game seasons.

The debates are endless. I think steroids should be part of the debate, but not the only component.

About Benj

I’m a native North Jerseyan, transplanted to Pennsylvania...lived and taught in Eastern Europe for six years…Old Testament professor, ordained minister, occasional liturgist…husband to Corrie…father to Daniel and Elizabeth.
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