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 you’re young, sometimes, your dreams are exuberant. Kids often believe they can conquer the world.
As I’ve gotten older, gotten to my mid-thirties, my dreams have become more human. One of my dreams—it’s quaint—revolves around my son, who is just a shade under two and a half years old. My dream doesn’t involve any vicarious living or anything like that; I’m 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.
Baseball’s always been the team sport I’ve had the most interest in. I’ve never played; I’m not at all athletic. But something about it, I’ve always loved, and ever more so as I’ve 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 country’s 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 that’s supposed to be a metaphor for the American way of life. What I don’t know is whether he’ll 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 year’s ballot included what by all accounts were some of the best players ever: Barry Bonds, the league’s only seven-time Most Valuable Player; Roger Clemens, the only man with seven Cy Young Awards. 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.
There’s a reason none of these guys got inducted. It’s because they’ve all been linked, either by evidence, rumors, or innuendo, to baseball’s steroid era. Baseball writers wished to punish these players. They certainly didn’t wish to reward them by enshrining them in the Hall.
As a fan of baseball, I enjoyed the steroid era. I know that’s 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 should’ve 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? I’m not sure how I feel. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t here.
On the one hand, let’s say these guys get into the Hall someday. Someday I’m taking my son to this place, and there’s a plaque for Barry Bonds and a plaque for Roger Clemens. He asks me, “Dad, what did they do to get in here?” 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? Shouldn’t he know it all?
And then, if you tell him that people think they cheated, how do you explain that they’re in the Hall Of Fame? How do you explain that cheaters sometimes win? That sometimes they’re recognized for what they did by cheating?
(Then there’s the fact that some say they didn’t cheat—not that they didn’t juice, but that juicing wasn’t cheating. Because baseball let it happen. Because it wasn’t against the rules at the time. All true, but what’s the lesson? That rules are the same as morals? That anything goes, if it isn’t 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 Bonds’ case, how the guy who holds the records for the most home runs in a single season and the most home runs ever isn’t in a museum for guys who hit home runs? Leaving them out doesn’t 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 he’s in the Hall Of Fame. And Mickey Mantle’s in there, and he was a noted drunk. None of these guys were perfect—humans never are—but what’s the implication if they’re in and Bonds and Clemens aren’t? That it’s 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, aren’t we saying—at least in effect—that a whole period of America’s pastime never occurred? Let’s 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 I’m going to explain the steroid era to him, but I wonder how I’m 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. It’s 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 that’s life, and because it’s 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 Fame’s integrity, I say it’s a building. It has no integrity. Let its integrity be what my son and I make of it.
Jonathan David Morris is the author of Versus Nurture, available now for Kindle and Nook, as well as in paperback. Send him mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.