There is no perfect athlete — no player who exuded nothing but virtue both on and off the field. You can’t find one in this day and age, and if you had a time machine, you wouldn’t be able to go back and find one either.
Some imperfect players carry more baggage than others. Some players keep their faults under wraps; some have to wear them like scarlet letters. But no player — from the kid who had a one-game stint in the majors to the 20-year veterans — is without blemish.
Yet some players are revered and others are villainized. Often, it’s impossible to determine the true difference between the two.
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Alex Rodriguez is firmly slotted into the villain category, and in his case, it’s hard to say he didn’t earn that label. Rodriguez signed the largest deal in professional sports history — twice — and then was twice was busted for using performance-enhancing drugs. The second bust for PEDs resulted in a suspension for the entire 2014 season.
The Baseball Hall of Fame can feel free to put that information on Rodriguez’s plaque — the curators can determine if it comes before or after the mention of the 3,000-plus hits and nearly 700 homers.
He might be a villain, but Rodriguez is absolutely deserving of a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame. There’s plenty of room for him next to the cheaters, scoundrels, racists, drunkards, and general ne’er-do-wells whose plaques line the walls of Cooperstown.
To claim that Rodriguez doesn’t deserve a place in the Hall of Fame because of his failures is short-sided moralizing — it’s deliberate cognitive dissonance. Fame doesn’t have to be moral or ethical, and until recently, that hadn't been a problem for the Hall of Fame voters.
Rodriguez is no saint, that we can all admit, but lest we forget that on the other end of his shortcomings was one of the best careers in baseball history.
Where is the line? Would having Rodriguez — a caught PED user — in Hall of Fame really take away from the luster of Cooperstown? Would adding A-Rod make his company less elite?
There are amphetamine users from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s — Mike Schmidt, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays among others — in the Hall of Fame, and no one argues that those players shouldn’t be included. (That, or they have one fascinating technicality to remove amphetamines from the category of performance-enhancing drugs.)
There are dozens of players who played and thrived exclusively in a segregated game — not having to face the best of the best for your entire career is a pretty good performance enhancer too. Should Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig not be members of the Hall of Fame?
Perhaps you just don’t like Rodriguez — you think he’s a liar and a cheat, an amoral man who isn’t worthy of the honor of being enshrined in Cooperstown. If that’s the case, you have a poor understanding of baseball history. In the Hall there are racists like Cap Anson and Ty Cobb; game fixers like Tris Speaker; baseball scuffers like Gaylord Perry; cocaine users like Paul Molitor; and enough drunks and womanizers that the Hall might need to start a separate wing.
There are convicted felons, drug traffickers, and, oh yeah, steroid users in the Hall of Fame, too, but their plaques aren't getting pulled down from the walls anytime soon.
Clearly, the Hall doesn’t have a moral standard, and it certainly can't claim to have a problem with cheating either.
All of those far-less-than-perfect players are members of the Hall of Fame because their stories are integral to the larger history of baseball. There are men in the Hall of Fame who were cheaters off the field and on it, but they were the best the game had to offer, and it would have been derelict to exclude them from any telling of the sport’s history.
Go ahead, try to recap the last 22 years of Major League Baseball without mentioning Rodriguez. You’d be skipping a lot of the good parts.
In fact, exclude all the cheaters from the last quarter century of baseball — is there even an interesting story to tell?
What Rodriguez did in his career wasn’t a sham — even if it was artificially aided. Think back to the 12,000-plus plate appearances and the countless outs in the field — do you honestly think that Rodriguez was the only juiced player on the field at any point? Of course not.
A-Rod played his entire career under a microscope. At 20 years old he came in second in American League MVP voting. He set the bar incredibly high from the onset, and yet he always seemed to better it. Today, we know part of the reason why, but to discount his achievements is to ignore the systemic reasons behind the cheating and whitewash an entire era of the sport to better fit a more palatable narrative.
It would take less time and energy to admit Rodriguez and other greats of the steroid era — Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Rafael Palmeiro come to mind — into the Hall of Fame than to continue the witch hunt and false moralizing for the next 100 years. It has to be taxing constantly moving the line.
Rodriguez might not be a role model, but he is one of the greatest baseball players to ever live. And if one of the best players of all time isn’t a member of the Hall of Fame, that reflects far more poorly on the Hall of Fame than it does the player.