Baseball Hall of Fame should have Bonds, Clemens, Rose in
One night in Midtown, when I was still deeply in love with baseball, I sat at Mickey Mantle’s bar in New York City. To my far right, a professional umpire was passed out, his head resting on the countertop just inches from a half-empty of pitcher of beer, his third of the evening. But, hey, who’s counting?
In front of me was a leather-bound edition of the Baseball Almanac, which the bartender had pulled out from underneath the counter.
“Wanna see something?” he said with holy reverence.
He sped through pages, landing on former Yankees star Joe DiMaggio.
“Look at this,” he said, jabbing the page with his finger. “DiMaggio had only eight more strikeouts than home runs … for his entire career!!!”
This game of Show-and-Tell went on for 20 minutes.
The Major League Baseball record book is a treasure trove of wondrous absurdities, like how Stan Musial retired as the National League hits leader with 3,630, with precisely as many hits on the road (1,815) as he had at home (1,815); how Greg Maddux once threw a 76-pitch complete game, reaching two balls in a count only once the entire game; how more men walked on the moon (12) than scored earned runs on Mariano Rivera in the postseason (11); and how Jamie Moyer faced 8.9% of all MLB hitters in history over his 25-year career.
Barry Bonds ruined all of that for me. So did most prominent achievers in the Steroid Era who defiled and desecrated the sacred record book, which is the Holy Grail of sports statistics; the database that spanned generations, linking old-timers with their grandchildren; birthing rotisserie baseball and thereby the entire industry of fantasy sports; and spawning the Big Data analytics movement currently ruining the game for much sleepier reasons.
At least baseball was fun to watch during the Steroid Era, when America stopped and stood transfixed whenever Bonds, Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa were at the plate.
This is all relevant because I have come full circle on Major League Baseball, its spectacular hypocrisy and its selective morality. Today, I strongly believe Bonds belongs in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Same with Roger Clemens. Ditto for Pete Rose. Especially Rose. My perspective has been shifted and smoothed over by a handful of seminal events. To wit:
Former commissioner Bud Selig gained entrance into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2017, even though he presided over the Steroid Era, the same dark cloud currently blackballing the era’s greatest players. Selig pulled it off by skillfully burying his head in the sand while riding the wave of McGwire-Sosa mania, making his fellow owners filthy rich during the sport’s darkest moments.
Next, the Houston Astros, a filthy team that cheated their way to a World Series title by banging garbage cans, wearing wires and stealing signs in a brazen display of intellectual thievery. You would think something as cataclysmic as the Steroid Era would spark an ethical renaissance in baseball, marking a return to innocence, fair play and newfound respect for the game.
Terrible assumption. And while Bonds and Clemens remain shut out of Cooperstown, no player from the Astros has ever been disciplined for badly damaging the sport.
Finally, Rose. The all-time hits leader remains banned from baseball for gambling on baseball. But that was ages ago, and long before MLB jumped into the sports gambling business, benefitting financially from the very behaviors they once feared and abhorred.
The runaway popularity of sports gaming in 2022 is all about legality and convenience, of not having to fly to Las Vegas or find your own bookie. But for some reason, the easy access doesn’t seem to bother MLB … as long as the sport is getting a fair cut of the proceeds. Just like Selig did during the Steroid Era. And that’s when you realize that baseball is just another hatful of hypocrites, rarely deserving of the special status it once commanded as America’s Pastime.
Over the years, I have learned the only constant in baseball is cheating. I have learned that hitting a baseball is so hard that cheaters rarely feel like they’re cheating. I believe Bonds and Clemens are easy targets for villainous behaviors that define the entire industry. And I’ll always respect how that drunken umpire at the bar got up, went back to his hotel room In Manhattan and worked a flawless game at third base the very next day. Without steroids or performance-enhancing drugs. Even if he spent most of the afternoon with his hands on his knees.