In the wake of the Manny Ramirez steroid revelation yesterday, I had an interesting conversation with 2 coworkers regarding the various scandals in baseball. As we are in the heart of Reds country here, all scandal talk eventually comes back to Pete Rose and whether or not he belongs in the Hall of Fame and how what he did compares to the sins of more contemporary players. So I have some thoughts...
All of these conversations boil down to one basic question: Which is worse, gambling or taking performance enhancing drugs?
To be sure, they are both terrible blights on the sport and should be rooted out. It's not that one is good and one is bad- they are both bad. But with that in mind, I believe we can begin to discuss which of 2 bad things might be worse. And I believe that the worse offense is gambling.
Gambling by people involved in the game should have no part in any sport. There is absolutely NOTHING good that can come from gambling. I don't care how innocent you think gambling on 2 other teams is, the sport is so interconnected, that those results will eventually have some effect on you. It is impossible to separate yourself from the sport if you are a player or a manager or referee or executive. Once gambling allegations come to light, the only possible implication that can be made is that the games were somehow rigged. Sports can handle a lot of scandal, but they absolutely cannot handle the perception that games are predetermined or that players aren't trying to win. At that point, it's not a sport but a theater production of some kind. Gambling destroys the very fabric on which sports are based.
Performance enhancing drugs, on the other hand, actually play into what sports are all about. Is it cheating? Absolutely. But what it says is that players are making every effort to be better at what they are doing, which in turn will help the team win. The fact is, we will forgive people if we feel like what they are trying to get better and trying to win. True, it was more likely about personal stats and bigger contracts than about helping the team, but in baseball personal stats usually mean contributing to team wins. While gambling eventually leads to players making their team lose, PED's lead to players helping their teams win.
And we love the guy who does everything he can to help the team win, right? Isn't this obviously why we have looked the other way on steroids but never have on gambling?
Now, as it applies to the Hall of Fame, my take is that we should ignore all of these things altogether. I see the Hall of Fame as the Museum of Baseball History. You can't tell the story of baseball in the 70's & 80's without Pete Rose. So put him in the Hall of Fame, but put ALL of him in the Hall of Fame. Say how he had 4000 hits and say that he gambled on the game. Tell of the fans who loved him and how he broke their hearts. Tell the story of Pete Rose. It belongs in the museum of baseball. The same applies to the steroid era guys. Again, you can't tell the story of baseball from 1995-2005 (ish) without talking about steroids. So talk about it. Put Barry Bonds and his gaudy numbers in the Hall of Fame, because that's where they belong. And put his horribly ugly story right there next to the numbers. The story of arc of Roger Clemens career is amazing, and belongs in the Hall of Fame. But explain that all was not what it seemed.
And that brings us to Manny. Manny Ramirez, with the purest swing of any right-handed hitter of this generation. Manny Ramirez, the saviour of Boston's soul. Manny Ramirez, the weirdest goofball of a player to possibly ever step on a Major League Field. And now Manny Ramirez, steroid user and cheater. Manny Ramirez belongs in the Hall of Fame someday- ALL of Manny Ramirez.