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Iíve always been a bit of a dreamer.
When I was younger and in my twenties, my dreams tended to be more ambitious and narcissistic. I think I genuinely believed at one point I was the greatest writer ever put on Earth, and I aimed to one day be recognized for it. It seems silly now, but that was how I felt. When youíre young, sometimes, your dreams are exuberant. Kids often believe they can conquer the world.
As Iíve gotten older, gotten to my mid-thirties, my dreams have become more human. One of my dreams—itís quaint—revolves around my son, who is just a shade under two and a half years old. My dream doesnít involve any vicarious living or anything like that; Iím not dreaming for him to be the greatest writer ever. My dream is more simple, more down to earth than that.
I dream to someday bond with him over baseball.
Baseballís always been the team sport Iíve had the most interest in. Iíve never played; Iím not at all athletic. But something about it, Iíve always loved, and ever more so as Iíve grown older. My dream is that he and I will follow the Phils together. I dream of taking him to Opening Day someday. I dream of having a catch with him in the parking lot.
Another part of this dream—a big part of it, actually—involves taking him somewhere I went as a kid myself. That place is in Cooperstown, at the Baseball Hall of Fame. I dream of taking him there like my own dad before me, of teaching him more about our countryís deepest game, showing him the plaques, revealing him the past. I want to show him all the guys who did the greatest things in the game thatís supposed to be a metaphor for the American way of life. What I donít know is whether heíll be into the game of baseball. Or whether some of those guys will even be enshrined there.
Last week, for the first time in a long time—and one of the few times ever since the Hall of Fame first opened—the baseball writers who vote on who gets into the Hall of Fame voted to allow not a single player in. This yearís ballot included what by all accounts were some of the best players ever: Barry Bonds, the leagueís only seven time Most Value Player; Roger Clemens, the only man with seven Cy Youngs. Guys like Sammy Sosa. Mike Piazza. Mark McGwire. The guys I grew up watching when I was in my teens. The guys who made me love the game all over again in college.
Thereís a reason none of these guys got inducted. Itís because theyíve all been linked, either by evidence, rumors, or innuendo, to baseballís steroid era. Baseball writers wished to punish these players. They certainly didnít wish to reward them by enshrining them in the Hall.
As a fan of baseball, I enjoyed the steroid era. I know thatís not the politically correct thing to say, but that was the whole point behind baseball turning a blind eye while guys were juicing, right? Enjoyment? I enjoyed the superhuman feats of strength, your Mark McGwire versus Sammy Sosa, your Bonds versus Ruth and Aaron. I enjoyed Roger Clemens making no sense whatsoever and pitching some of the best baseball of his lifetime after he shouldíve retired. I enjoyed this stuff because it was fun, and because having fun—because being awed—is why I watch the game. Do I wish it turned out these feats were purely human? Yes. But did I enjoy every moment anyway? You betcha.
As a father? Iím not sure how I feel. Youíre damned if you do and damned if you donít here.
On the one hand, letís say these guys get into the Hall someday. Someday Iím taking my son to this place, and thereís a plaque for Barry Bonds and a plaque for Rogers Clemens. He asks me, ďDad, what did they do to get in here?Ē What do I tell him? That they hit home runs and struck out batters better than anyone ever? Can I leave out the fact that people think they cheated? Is it right to leave it out? Shouldnít he know it all?
And then, if you tell him that people think they cheated, how do you explain that theyíre in the Hall of Fame? How do you explain that cheaters sometimes win? That sometimes theyíre recognized for what they did by cheating?
(Then thereís the fact that some say they didnít cheat—not that they didnít juice, but that juicing wasnít cheating. Because baseball let it happen. Because it wasnít against the rules at the time. All true, but whatís the lesson? That rules are the same as morals? That anything goes, if it isnít against the rules?)
On the other hand, what if these guys never make it in? How do you explain their absence? How do you explain, in Bondsís case, how the guy who holds the records for the most home runs in a single season and the most home runs ever isnít in a museum for guys who hit home runs? Leaving them out doesnít end the discussion. If anything, it only provokes it.
And leaving them out raises other issues, too, such as where do you draw the line between accepted bad behavior and the kind that gets you shunned? So you leave the juicers out on the grounds that they cheated. Fine. But guess what? Cheaters are in the Hall already. Gaylord Perry is known to have cheated. And some guys in there cheated on their wives. And Ty Cobb was a racist, and heís in the Hall of Fame. And Mickey Mantleís in there, and he was a noted drunk. None of these guys were perfect—humans never are—but whatís the implication if theyíre in and Bonds and Clemens arenít? That itís okay to be a terrible louse in life, but not to try to get an edge at your job?
And what of the issue of ignoring our history? If we leave out the whole steroid era from Cooperstown, arenít we saying—at least in effect—that a whole period of Americaís pastime never occurred? Letís take that one to its logical end. What other eras—Nazism, slavery—do we wish to wipe off the books?
Maybe these dilemmas are just a part of life. And maybe just a part of raising a son. I wonder how Iím going to explain the steroid era to him, but I wonder how Iím going to explain a lot of things to him. Like 9/11. Or prejudice. Or hate. Or the bad things that sometimes happen to good people.
For a long time, I had no problem with PED users getting into Cooperstown. For a long time, I not only saw no problem with it, but felt very strongly that they belonged there. I have my doubts now—doubts in both directions. Age is helping me see things more clearly. Itís also blurring the lines.
I have to err on the side of what happened, instead of the side of what we wish happened. I have to err on the reality of history, because thatís life, and because itís the truth, and because even when history makes us uncomfortable, the past is something we can never get away from.
If the goal of keeping these guys out of the Hall of Fame is to protect the Hall of Fameís integrity, I say itís a building. It has no integrity. Let its integrity be what my son and I make of it.