We live in the age of instant quotes and misquotes thanks to social media sites. I came across this heavy hitter in a recent online rant against alleged PED-user Lance Armstrong:
“I would prefer even to fail with honor than to win by cheating.” – Sophocles
Cute, but I’ve got news for this good-intentioned quote fiend; Sophocles never lived in the era of the $100 million dollar contract. He also never lived in the era of the front page fandom that comes with hitting home runs that switch zip codes in air, collecting Cy Young awards like Adele collects Grammys, or winning games more consistently than Wilt Chamberlain won with the ladies (sorry Quentin Tarantino).
The Baseball Writers Association of America must be suckers for Sophocles’ work, as they famously took a hard stance a few weeks back when they voted nobody into the Hall of Fame for just the eighth time in the Hall’s history. It certainly wasn’t for lack of viable candidates that nobody was enshrined as this year’s ballot boasted MLB’s all-time home run king, and the man with more Cy Young awards than anyone else, among other notable players. No, the BBWAA pitched a shutout because they wanted to send a message to these players, most of whom had more than casual ties to PEDs- there’s no place for cheaters.
It’s the same message we heard 23 years ago when Pete Rose accepted a lifetime ban from then commissioner Bart Giamatti. Apparently Rose was giving new meaning to the ‘hustle’ in Charlie Hustle by profiting from betting on the outcomes of MLB games while still managing the Cincinnati Reds, some alleged (although never proven) to have been made against his own team. Several appeals later, the man with more hits than the King of Pop and absolutely every other human being is still looking for someone to let him into the Hall of Fame.
Dante had a special place in his vision of purgatory for Rose and all the superstars of the steroid era (as well as those dastardly Black Sox). Many sportswriters fall in line with this cut and dry thinking. ‘Cheating is cheating,’ they cry with pitchforks and torches raised high into cyberspace. Truthfully, if we’re painting only in black and white, then there is some validity to that argument.
Many avid fans, however, disagree. In fact, the common sentiment among many seems to be that Rose, and not Bonds, Clemens, or any other PED user is the one who belongs in the Hall, as though his transgressions were far less extreme than any of the Steroid Era players. A quick Google search reveals that you can order t-shirts, posters, and replica HOF plaques with Rose’s likeness plastered all over. Hardcore baseball fans have been loudly begging current commissioner Bud Selig for years for to lift Rose’s ban.
When it comes to the PED guys, however, there’s not much sympathy. Maybe it’s too fresh in our minds, but the majority of fans and writers seem perfectly content letting Bonds, Clemens, Palmeiro, and others live without joining The Club, as though their sins were far too great to even comprehend. Are we losing our minds!? We’re talking about the greatest hitter (non-Babe Ruth category) who ever laced them up and arguably the game’s greatest pitcher whiffing on Hall of Fame canonization! But they cheated…Well, I hate to break it to you, but so did many (most?) of the players we’ve put on all-time lists. Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver uttered this immortal gem: “If you know how to cheat, start now.” Weaver gave us this quote in the ‘70’s. Whether it’s pine tar, steroids, corked bats, greenies, scuffed balls, or HGH, cheating has and probably always will be part of the game. If baseball is America’s favorite pastime, then cheating is its second favorite.
When we start trying to play baseball god and rank which form of cheating is worse, we open up a slippery slope that oftentimes does away with common sense. But, alas, we’re human and we like to put things in order, so we continually ask these kinds of questions. Questions like: which was worse, Rose’s transgressions or those of the guys who were juicing for a decade or two before getting caught? It’s dumb, really, but we ask these questions anyway and so they deserve to be answered.
Look, if it were up to me, they’d all be in the Hall. Like I said before, baseball players have been cheating since the inception of the game. You cheat to win, as the cliché goes, so I don’t care who it was. If their qualifications pass the test put ‘em in. But, that still doesn’t answer the question of who committed the greater crime against baseball. I’ve found that it’s easy to answer this question with another question:
Who would you rather have on your team- the guy (Bonds) who was applying the cream, the clear, and any other substance that would enable him to be an even better player and help win his team more games or the manager who may or may not have been betting against your own team? Do you want the guy who cheated for personal AND team gain, or the guy who cheated only for personal gain?
Unless your name is Jeff Kent, the answer is pretty clear.