I hate the Chicago Cubs. Hate. Hate the ballpark, hate the players, hate the colors. I simply don’t like them. But when you root for the White Sox there can be only one real team in town. I have always enjoyed the rivalry between the two teams. As a kid it was highlighted by the Crosstown Classic. Started in the mid 1980’s and
running for ten years into the early 1990’s, it was nothing more than an exhibition game played for charity between the two teams and meant nothing towards the season win-loss record. I used to love watching the Sox route the Cubs in this game every year on their way to a 10-0-2 series record over the course of those games. I like to think that rivalry game was the pre-cursor to the inter-league play which Major League Baseball now so willingly embraces.
But I digress. As much as I hate the Cubs, recent news brought back to mind the one and only time I found myself actually cheering for the Cubs. Actually, a Cub, Sammy Sosa. It’s been about a month now and the pall of the World Series has worn off as we settle into the winter months. But, like all good marketing machines, Major League Baseball knows how to keep the flame alive when it comes to keeping their sport in the spotlight. This week they released the nominees who will be on the ballot for nomination into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. And there was Sammy’s name.
This got me thinking back to the summer of 1998 when he and Mark McGwire battled all summer long in the race towards breaking Roger Maris’ single season home run record. This New York Yankee from Fargo, North Dakota, hit 61 home runs in 1961. From the very start of the 1998 that record looked ready to fall. And it was exciting to watch. The strike between owners and players in 1994 killed the excitement of baseball for many people. But it didn’t take long for the excitement of a home run race to draw people back to the nation’s pastime in droves. And I was admittedly caught up in it. Checking the box score each day to see who hit dingers the day before. Who was playing where, facing which pitcher today.
Now, I shed NO tears at the end of 1991 when the White Sox traded that scrawny little up-and-comer, Sammy Sosa from the big league team to the minor league team across town for the washed up George Bell. He barely hit above the Mendoza line and spent most of his time walking from the dug-out to home plate and back again (Much like the results we would get from Bell throughout 1992). But, he was also the ONLY reason I tuned in to watch Cubs games during that summer of 98. I remember sitting in front of the TV with Junior, then only three years old, wishing he could only understand the history he was watching happen before his eyes. It was exciting to watch the two of them battle it out to see who would get to 62 first. And, in dramatic fashion, on Sept. 08, 1998, it was McGwire, playing against the Cubs in St. Louis when it finally happened. The rest, as they say, is history.
Which brings us to today and the debate which has begun to ring anew now that Sosa, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and others accused of using performance enhancing drugs (PED’s) find themselves eligible for the Hall of Fame.
Like a lot of other major league sports right now, baseball is facing the issue of players who have been wrapped up in performance enhancing drugs. Taken to improve their abilities, and statistics, it is an issue that all sports are forced to confront. Now, this is nothing new. Athletes all over the world, in every imaginable sport, have looked for an edge or an angle that would allow them to out-perform their competition. Heck, it even happens in the corporate world. I’ve seen it in my own profession. Show me an Architect who hasn’t taken to smokin’ the hooch to alter the mind in an effort to develop that unique design that wins him that commission over the other guy and I’ll show you a deadpan liar (I am, of course, lying about that one there. Never taken to the wacky-tabacky. Don’t promote it, wouldn’t recommend it. Not prudent.). Again, I digress.
Baseball, like all other sports, has adopted “stiff” penalties to handle new occurrences of drug abuse. However, they currently find themselves facing the tough situation of how to deal with the past. 2013 represents the first big influx of nominees into the Hall of Fame who have been accused of using performance enhancing drugs. Mark McGuire was the first to find himself in this position in 2007, his first year of eligibility for the HoF. The general opinion, then and now, has been “no way, no how can we let this rule breaker compromise the hallowed halls of the Hall of fame.”
But, what all of these puritans seem to be missing here is the fact they had no problem riding the success of all these players during the years they were putting up these big, career numbers. Additionally, the reality is that many more than those that were caught were involved in using them as well. It was a prevalent problem throughout the sport at the time but in no way changes the fact that, despite being gopped up on the goop, these individuals represented the best players from that era of baseball. There is no need for a separate “wing of cheaters” in the HoF nor do they need an asterisk by their name in the record books. Everyone that knows the game understands what these men did and how they managed to accomplish these feats. The history books of mankind are littered with all kinds of atrocities and misgivings. There is no reason baseball should stand on a golden pedestal and believe the sport is free to rewrite history by refusing to acknowledge the period for what it was. Suck it up, quit your sniffling, and give these players their position in the Hall. For as the saying goes, “there is no crying in baseball.”