Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Rant #879: Ban Rolls On

In 1991, 22 years ago today, Pete Rose was officially banned from Major League Baseball due to his gambling activities.

Baseball's all-time hits leader was banned from the game he excelled in because he bet on the game he loved, put wagers on games even while he was a manager.

Rose may not be the nicest person ever to play the game, but he certainly wasn't the worst. But betting on baseball--while in a position to affect outcomes of games--made him a pariah.

He claimed he never bet on games involving his own team, the Cincinnati Reds. But what difference did it make? He bet on baseball games as an active manager of a team.

The ban was a good one, one that has withstood more than two decades' time.

And since he was effectively banned from baseball, he was also banned from ever being voted into the Hall of Fame.

Today, baseball's erstwhile Hall of Fame will have to deal with another matter.

Steroids seeped into baseball in the 1990s, and for all intents and purposes, still ravages the game, even though MLB has a substance abuse policy in place.

Whether it is "the cream," andro, or some other foreign agent, baseball was infected with this virus starting about 20 years ago, and it affected everything having to do with the game, including personal performance.

Today, the Hall of Fame will vote on who should get into its hallowed halls, and for the first time, many prominent players from that era will be on the voters' ballot, many players who defined the era--even though they weren't convicted of doing anything illegal.

Names like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, and Mark McGwire are all on the ballot this year.

They either took performance enhancing drugs (PED) openly or were heavily suspected of taking them during at least part of their careers, leading to heroics related to offensive statistics, and in Clemens' case pitching statistics.

Bonds is the all-time home run leader, the others put up gargantuan numbers.

If you are a Hall of Fame voter, what do you do?

Do you take into account that these players may have taken steroids, may have been so ahead of the curve that they did it when it wasn't illegal to do so, or do you simply judge these players by the edge that they gained by taking these substances, and discount them totally?

Today we are a bit more enlightened about the use of steroids than we were way back when.

We know that the use of steroids for performance enhancement can damage parts of your body, make your mood swing abruptly, turn you into a walking/talking pharmaceutical chest, and ultimately, their use can kill you.

So what do you do with these players?

Not all ballplayers who took steroids excelled. For every Bonds, there were probably hundreds of players who really didn't benefit from their use.

But these guys did.

As a baseball fan since a very young age, I hate the fact that steroids tarnished the game. I hate the fact that steroids might have boosted certain players' statistics through the roof.

But they are a fact. And they are part of an era that we can't ever take back.

Certain players deserve to be in the Hall of Fame because of the cumulative wallop they made during their careers. They may have used steroids, but even prior to using them, they were absolutely gifted players who performed at a level that was almost beyond comprehension.

And that is why if I were voting for entrance into the Hall of Fame this year, I would put Bonds and Clemens on my ballot. Maybe not at No.1 and No. 2 on my ballot, but they would be on there.

They have never been convicted of anything, if they did use steroids--which is open to guess, but by all accounts they used something to boost their performance--they excelled while using them. They had long careers and very productive careers.

I won't lean to including McGwire or Sosa, because I don't think they had careers like Clemens and Bonds did. They were terrific players, but not Hall of Fame material.

Look, you can't take back that era. Every player who played during that era is, unfortunately, suspect.

But players have been using "substances" for decades to get them "up" for games. Read Jim Bouton's classic "Ball Four" and you will find that players had been using uppers and downers in the 1960s and early 1970s to get themselves ready for games, later drowning everything out with drink.

Not all players, mind you, but many players.

Again, uppers and downers are not steroids. They don't push performance. But many players, for decades, have been using things that the average weekend athlete would never think of to get read for games.

I would put Bonds and Clemens in.

And decades after Rose was banned, I might look at his story again too.

I think he has paid the ultimate price for what he did. Maybe it is time to re-examine him, or maybe the time hasn't come yet.

Whatever the case, I think baseball, and the other professional sports, must continue to attack this steroids plague, which still goes on today. New and better--and less detectable--substances are being created every year, and players are still being found out through drug tests.

I don't think this is going away anytime soon, and no, I don't think that either Clemens or Bonds will be getting in anytime soon, and the same goes for Rose.

It's just my opinion that it is time to not forgive and forget, but to take the whole ball of wax into account when judging players from that era.

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