Saturday, January 21, 2006

For Pete's Sake

Since I joined this blog, I have been trying to reconcile my feelings on steroids in baseball specifically, and cheating in sports generally. As events have unfolded, I recognize that my feelings have changed. I was quick to come to the players’ defense during the Congressional hearings on steroids in baseball, but as time has passed, I have felt more angry at the lack of honesty coming from the players.

I still don’t think I have a clear position on this issue. I definitely resent that Mark McGwire doesn’t want to be candid about his use of performance enhancing drugs. But I don’t know if that should keep him out of the Hall of Fame completely or even prevent him from getting inducted on the first ballot.

I recognized my inconsistencies recently when I read an interview with Pete Rose on ESPN’s website. For so long I have been completely against Rose ever getting into the Hall of Fame or being allowed back into baseball. He broke one of the cardinal rules of the game by betting on baseball while he was still involved. For a decade after he was banned from baseball by then commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti (father of actor Paul Giamatti), Rose tried to maintain his innocence. Only recently, through the release of a book, has he taken responsibility and admitted he had bet on baseball. After reading the article, I came to feel a little differently about him. He comes off repentant, but while also expressing the right reverence for the game and an understanding of why different people feel differently about his situation.

When I think back on all the great memories Mark McGwire has given me, I become more willing to forgive him. And I know I would definitely forgive him if he actually owned up to what he did. So maybe my unwillingness to forgive Rose (as well as Shoeless Joe Jackson) is based on the fact that they were before my time. Those who saw how hard Rose played every day might understandably want to see him take his honored place in Cooperstown, New York.

The argument for Rose's reinstatement in baseball and eligibility for the Hall of Fame is even more convincing if you think of gambling as an addiction and think of all the other players that are in the Hall despite their own character flaws and battles with different addictions. Integrity of the game is so important to fans, but so are the experiences we take away from it. Mickey Mantle could have been an even better baseball player had he taken care of himself. Instead, his expectation of dying young gave him a reckless attitude that showed some disrespect for the game (often playing hung-over). But he was still a larger-than-life athlete, and had given so many great memories to baseball fans. I could actually go on and on about the flaws of many Hall of Fame players; Ty Cobb was a racist; Gaylord Perry was a known spitball pitcher.

In the end, I think my feelings are changing. The National Baseball Hall of Fame is a memorial to the game of baseball and the athletes that have done the most to make this game great. There is inherent problem when you have someone who has given to the game, but also taken away from the game. Since we don’t expect players to be perfect, maybe we should punish players who take away from the game without making the punishments permanent. Maybe there should be no such thing as a cardinal sin in baseball. Maybe Rose and Jackson's time is finally approaching.