Baseball has some problems. It may not be the biggest of its many challenges, but perhaps baseball’s most intriguing problem right now is its Hall of Fame situation and I’ve got the answer.
Let’s rewind. Remember when Mark McGwire captured America’s fascination by hitting home runs by the bushel? Eventually, he even broke Roger Maris’ all time one season home run record. Not only did he break it, but he and Sammy Sosa engaged in a riveting chase that brought many back to baseball. McGwire was a class act the whole way. He was terrific to Maris’ family. While they might not have wished for Roger’s mark to be overtaken, the Maris Family couldn’t have asked for anyone to be more sensitive to them while doing it.
McGwire was a clear Hall of Famer. He broke one of the game’s most cherished records with class. He was going to end up among the top five or so home run guys of all time. There was no doubt at the time that Big Mac was going to Cooperstown on the first ballot. And from what we knew at the time, he deserved it.
Of course, it didn’t last long. Soon enough we figured out that Big Mac was a big cheat. Suddenly his treatment of the Maris Family didn’t feel so good anymore. Then, to seal his fate, he struck out in front of Congress. He looked foolish and very guilty. Since then, Big Mac has basically been in hiding.
Since then, Big Mac has been no where near Cooperstown either. In the few elections that McGwire has been eligible for, Hall of Fame voters have given him precious little support. Based on the numbers alone, he should be in. Now that we know that some portion of those amazing stats are artificial, baseball’s keepers of Cooperstown seem determined to keep Mark McGwire out.
Barry Bonds is currently having troubles with the Feds, who seem determined to get to the bottom of his steroid usage. While not yet convicted, you’d be hard pressed to find too many people now who don’t think Barry cheated. With one year out of the game, Bonds has to wait at least another four years before being eligible for the Hall. Given the cloud he’s under and the reaction to McGwire’s candidacy, it’s not looking good for Barry to go in on the first ballot (which his numbers would merit) or perhaps forever.
Today, comes the revelation that the game’s best current hitter, A-Rod, tested positive for steroids back when he played for the Rangers.
So, in the next decade or so, baseball will be faced with what to do with Mark McGwire who was the closest thing to Babe Ruth in our time, Sammy Sosa who hit over 600 home runs, Barry Bonds who broke Aaron’s career mark and now Alex Rodriguez who may yet pass Bonds.
That’s a problem, people. How do you keep McGwire out but someday elect Bonds or Alex Rodriguez? How can you have a Hall of Fame that doesn’t include those guys? Who were truly the best clean players of this era? We’ll never know and that’s yet another problem.
Here’s the solution. Go the route of South Africa. Baseball should establish a truth commission. Players would be able to come before it and admit how they cheated. Once they had done that, Hall of Fame voters would be instructed that they could not use allegations or rumor or even admitted abuse of steroids or HGH against those players. Player who came clean would only be judged on what they did on the field, which would keep things simple.
If McGwire or Bonds or Sosa decided to tell the truth, than any one of them would only be judged on their numbers and gain easy access to Cooperstown. If one of them refused to admit anything, that’s ok too. It’s their choice after all. But, voters would not be instructed to have to disregard allegations or rumors of cheating.
Players would have their fate in their own hands. It would be up to them to decide if they thought coming clean would be worth the better shot at Cooperstown.
Finally, Cooperstown should create an exhibit on baseball in the ’90s and on that addresses steroids and HGH. It should tell the full history of how guys like Sosa, Bonds and McGwire and even A-Rod ended up tainted by it. It should note that we’ll never know what numbers are fully real and which are artificial, but that at least some of the game’s stars came clean when given the chance.