Should Barry Bonds be in the Baseball Hall of Fame? Should Roger Clemens? Should Pete Rose? Should Jose Altuve? Carlos Correa? (Eventually, of course, not right now.)
For that matter, should Tom Brady make it to the Football Hall of Fame?
All of these people cheated at their sport (except Pete Rose) in some way. Earlier this week the Baseball Writers’ Association of America decided against voting Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens into the Hall of Fame. It was the last year of eligibility for each man, meaning that unless a rule change comes about in the future, neither will have a bust gracing one of the walls in the hallowed rooms of Cooperstown.
The old rules (changed in 2014) stated that as long as a candidate received at least five percent of the vote each year, they could stay on the ballot for 15 years. The new rules make that a hard ten years for everyone, and Bonds and Clemens were victims of the new rule.
So, is there a solution? I mean, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were both Hall of Fame caliber before they each made the unfathomably stupid decision to use steroids, but after they began juicing they just kept getting better. Bonds, of course, is the all time home run leader. Clemens won two World Series, seven Cy Young awards, threw 20 strikeouts in a nine-inning game (TWICE!), and won back-to-back pitching Triple Crowns in 1997 and 1998. He also led baseball in wins and ERA several times. In other words, they both, statistically belong in the Hall of Fame. Of course, they also cheated.
And so I ask again: is there a solution?
My solution is a two-parter. First, all of these players (including Tom Brady and anyone in any other sport who has been caught cheating), should be eligible for their respective halls of fame, but not until they have been dead for ten years. Second, at least 10% of the space on the display must detail the cheating.
Gambling or not, Pete Rose is the all time hits leader in baseball. Barry Bonds is the all time home run leader in baseball. Roger Clemens has won more Cy Young awards than anyone else in baseball history. They should be in the hall of fame for those achievements.
But, they also broke severe rules. Pete Rose bet on baseball, and Barry and Roger used steroids. Those are indisputable facts, and those actions are indisputably against the rules. But they were great. But they cheated. But they were great. But they cheated. But they were great. But they cheated . . .
The back-and-forth could go on forever. The compromise is to allow them to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but not until ten years after they died. Same should go for Tom Brady and anyone else caught cheating.
Once they are in their respective halls of fame, they should not shy away from the controversy. In my experience people appreciate when folks acknowledge their mistakes and live with them. Within reason, that is. But awkward acknowledgement is better than continued feigned innocence. Remember when Kevin Spacey tried to deflect the allegations against him by coming out as gay in the same tweet that he offered a half-assed apology to his victim(s)? That’s kind of a slimy way to acknowledge one’s faults (the abuse, of course, not being gay. Being gay is not a fault).
But then again people like Tiger Woods, Brian Williams, and even Kobe Bryant (who apologized to his wife for an affair) apologized for their egregious mistakes and were later welcomed back into their respective communities. The problem, of course, is that you can’t make any person—living or dead—apologize. The solution, then, is to be up front about the controversy in the hall of fame exhibits for these players.
How much of the exhibit should be devoted to the controversy? I said 10% because it’s a nice, round, number, but that should be a minimum. Like it or not, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are the faces of steroids in baseball. Any conversation about steroids, or about the Hall of Fame, or about Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens individually, will normally have a lot of overlap with one another.
And you know what? That’s how it should be. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens (among many, many others, by the way) did something incredibly stupid and now when people talk about them they don’t mention the awards and statistics first; they mention steroids and the Hall of Fame. That’s part of the penance for the sins they have committed, and we should all be okay with that.
But, like sinners, they should, at some point, be forgiven. I don’t think they should have to say ten Hail Marys each or anything like that, but they should be forgiven but also live with the consequences of their actions. And the consequences should include a delayed trip to the hall and an explicit, conspicuous mentioning of their bad behavior once they are in the Hall of Fame.
Let’s frame it another way. Think about great people in history. Alexander the Great, Marcus Aurelius, Queen Elizabeth I, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jr., etc. They all did reprehensible things when they were alive. Some owned slaves like so much human chattel, some led bloody, unsuccessful wars, some were unfaithful (repeatedly) to their spouses, some had twisted, strange views of the world and the people in it, but they all did great things. Should the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. be completely diminished because he had affairs outside his marriage? Should Winston Churchill’s accomplishments not be acknowledged because he believed in an inherent difference between the worthiness of white people versus nonwhite people? Should George Washington’s brilliance and unwavering leadership be erased because he owned slaves?
No. Of course not. But we need to acknowledge those things existed. If we completely skip over the fact that George Washington owned slaves like many people own cutlery and glassware, then we are actually doing his legacy a disservice because we are idolizing, deifying, and in fact improperly portraying him. But this is not an either/or situation. It’s not like George Washington was either a great leader or a slaveholder. He can be both. People—all people who have ever or will ever walk this Earth—are flawed. They are more imperfect than perfect. But flaws, faults, mistakes, and negative attributes do not completely negate the great deeds people do and have done. So why can’t we acknowledge greatness and also admit to the faults?
And I know what you’re saying: Those people were political and social leaders who had a massive impact on the world at large, not some privileged baseball players who took steroids. Okay, that’s fair. But let’s think about sports and entertainment for a second, then. John Lennon physically abused his first wife and was, generally, an asshole. Phil Spector murdered a young actress. Kevin Spacey turned out to be a predatory creep. But does that mean I’m not going to listen to the Beatles? Or any of the hundreds and hundreds of songs and albums Phil Spector is responsible for? Does that mean I won’t watch The Usual Suspects or any of the many movies in which Kevin Spacey was absolutely brilliant?
Of course not. But those guys are/were awful creeps who deserve their just deserts. But that doesn’t mean we have to minimize their accomplishments. We just need to be real about what kind of people they were outside their roles as artists, or politicians, or athletes, or whatever.
The too long; didn’t read version of this is that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens belong in the Hall of Fame. But they should not be eligible until ten years after they have died, and their exhibits should be at least 10% devoted to their role in the steroid scandal. This, to me, is the compromise and solution to all of the hubbub, and will allow everyone to move on in some capacity. Bonds and Clemens would have one reaction to the news then likely fade back into their private lives, and the Baseball Writers’ Association of America wouldn’t be accused of high malfeasance in keeping the all time home run leader (Bonds), Cy Young winner (Clemens) and hits leader (Pete Rose) out of the entity entrusted with maintaining the history of America’s game.
Finally, congratulations to David Ortiz for being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.