If you don’t deal with your problems, they tend to get bigger. This applies to Major League Baseball, who watched and did nothing while its sluggers swelled to unfathomable enormity and home runs began reaching area codes they didn’t originate from.
Recently, sportswriters around the country took it upon themselves to patch up baseball’s blemish, the “steroid era,” a period we can roughly place between 1985 and the early 2000s. Some of the prominent players of this era are finally eligible to enter baseball’s Hall of Fame, but have been unable to win over the sport-righteous baseball writers who get to do the voting. Their omission of Hall of Fame caliber athletes speaks for the belief that it is these men who put baseball into rehab. They want players like Mark McGwire (sixth all-time in home runs) and Jeff Bagwell (hell of an all-around career) to be cast into the archives of the game: footnotes rather than headlines. Cheaters (maybe).
Oops, we forgot to mention here that one of these players was never proven to be a steroid user. And before you scream, “Look at his head! Look at his jaw! The thing dropped like pants on prom night! Do you really expect us to believe … ” please pause and decide whether any fan, sportswriter, nobleman or magistrate has the right to orient the history of the game in this way. Make no mistake about it folks, there is plenty at stake here.
The Hall of Fame is more than just a museum. It is a place where the game’s finest achievers are enshrined, and I understand trying to preserve its integrity and prevent people of questionable character from being applauded. However, if the Hall wants to make a responsible and real attempt to chronicle baseball’s history, it shouldn’t fail to recognize the players of the steroid era for the same reasons history textbooks shouldn’t ignore the fact that there was once a trans-Atlantic slave trade. Our ancestors committed some acts that were morally reprehensible, and an entire race of people suffered. Is anyone going to try to tell me that that information should be made as inaccessible as possible for someone exploring the history of humanity?
So what do we tell future generations about the steroid era and its prominent players? Do we tell them it never happened? Do we tell them Homer Bush was the best player of that time? In the words of Jason Aldean, do we “tell ‘em anything [we] want to, just don’t tell ’em all the truth?”
Or perhaps we should ask ourselves this: Are we really so ashamed of ourselves for gawking at all 136 of McGwire and Sosa’s homers in ‘98 that we’d try to cover our tracks in this pathetic way? Because here’s the thing, and there’s really no getting around this as far as I’m concerned: Any baseball fan who succumbed to home run hysteria, anyone who felt that raging madness inside themselves when either Bonds, Sosa or McGwire came to the plate in baseball’s dark ages should acknowledge that the steroid era and the players associated with it are a part of baseball, and a part of anyone who identifies himself with the game. To deny this, to allow a vice-police squad to take up residence inside oneself now would be highly hypocritical. Ballplayers were simply doing what was tolerated by everyone — this is not the same as an Olympian failing a drug test. We put a few cider house rules in place for baseball and 20 years later are crucifying the suspected deviants. Let’s acknowledge now that we were a part of it. Let’s acknowledge the men who were the best in a period when we all let the game down. Your grievances with these players are about as real as Ramen Noodles and about as useful as a Monet to Ray Charles.
There is the opportunity for something more productive than anger from fans and embarrassment from players. There is an opportunity to allow the sport to grow and evolve in a way that coddling baseball as America’s squeaky clean pastime never could. We can learn from this. We can remember what players were driven to when the baseball world got caught up in 500-foot home runs. That, in my humble opinion, is preferable to pretending we never hit a bump in the road.
Thank God (or whoever) we don’t suffer from the tragedy of perfection.