The summer of 98' was extraordinary to witness. On a daily basis Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire shattered records, expectations, and century old thought on what was humanly possible. They seemed to shrink the entire baseball world into a fascinating game of "one-upmanship" that even Kristin Wig on SNL couldn't replicate. The performances seemed superhuman and, as it turns out, they were.
Michael Roseberg wrote an article for SI.com emphatically stating that Lance Armstrong would be "nobody" without cheating. That only his neighbors would know him and even they would know him as "Larry something." He separates Armstrong from Bonds and Clemens stating they "by all accounts, were rich, famous and headed for the Hall of Fame before they started using performance-enhancing drugs."
We can't know that. Because, as Rick Riley alludes to in his article, we can't believe what version of the truth Lance (or any other doper) may choose to share with us now. That is the problem with the whole doping phenomenon that swept the MLB, cycling and perhaps other sports. Since we can't believe anything the dopers say, we don't know when they started, how often they did it or when they stopped. Most importantly we can never know what numbers and performances are attributable to the person versus the drugs.
Case in point, Oprah asked Lance directly when he started doping. He deflected the question. She asked him again. He said mid-90's. Ridiculous. Lance Armstrong knows every fact regarding the first time he "crossed the line" which is what he calls doping.
Lance and and the other dopers can tell the world anything they want but everything they say must be taken with a grain of salt.
Athletes that doped did it to better themselves. They cheated to better their legacy. In so doing they hurt the sport and the fans that made them great to begin with. Rosenberg nailed one thing when he said "one reason we watch sports is that the games give us something concrete in an ambiguous world." Very true.
It used to be simple, black-and-white. The numbers used to be able to tell us who used a wooden bat to hit a leather ball over a fence more times, who pedaled a bike from point-A to point-B faster. The dopers have robbed us of that beautiful certainty of sports and covered it in a murky cloak of questions which writers, analysts and fans are left to slug through to find answers instead of looking to the record books for cold hard facts.
Would Lance have won any Tour de Frances? Would McGwire have hit 60 home runs instead of 70? Would Bonds even have surpassed his godfather Willie Mays' career total 660 home runs?
Again, we can't know, but below is an example of what we could do if we could believe anything the dopers tell us. Suppose for a minute that Bonds was clean before he witnessed Sosa and McGwire captivate the baseball world in the summer of 98'. Watching his peers soar above him drove him so crazy that he started doping that summer and continued throughout his career. Well then we could take his pre-98' numbers, use those as a reference and project what his numbers would have looked like after 98' and for his career assuming he stayed clean.
The hypothetically clean Bonds still would have had 547 home runs at least 3 MVPs (which he had before 98'). A lock for the Hall of Fame? Absolutely. Every other non-doper with more than 500 home runs is in.
Unfortunately we just can't believe them. So, even if they tell us they stopped using after they left the Texas Rangers like A-Rod did, we can't adjust the numbers like that and actually trust the results. Now, the only unambiguous truth we have when it comes to the dopers is they wouldn't have been as great without the dope.
Whether right or wrong, society forgives cheaters when they cheat in their personal lives and hurt themselves with their cheating. Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods and Ray Lewis have rebuilt their reputations after brief falls from grace following personal scandals. Why? Because their downfalls made them weaker, more human, not stronger and superhuman. They tarnished their reputations, not the record books.
Can you really leave the home run king, who also has seven MVPs (the same amount that Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams and Willie Mays have combined), out of the hall of fame? How about arguably the best right handed starting pitcher? If people legitimately believe Jack Morris deserves to be in the hall of fame because he may have pitched the greatest game 7 of a World Series ever, then can you really leave out Sosa and McGwire who gave us months of unprecedented entertainment?
Yes. The Hall of Fame is all about legacy. The dopers doped to better their legacy. And it worked until the leaked documents and shamed doctors started coming forward with incriminating evidence. Some cracked under that pressure and came clean. They should be commended for that and forgiven for their wrongs. But they should not be enshrined in the hall of fame.
Because the Hall of Fame is about legacy it should judge harshly the false legacy dopers created for themselves, legacies that involve uncertainty, doubt and lies. If a player is great and separates themselves from the good, they deserve to be permanently honored in the hall of fame. But if we don't know how great a player was, due to his own cheating, no matter how great his ambiguous numbers, he doesn't deserve the enshrinement because we don't know what his numbers would have been had he not doped.
There's also no credence to the argument that they doped before it was banned thus they played within the rules. True for some, at some points, there wasn't a line drawn in the sand which these dopers knowingly and intentionally crossed. But they can still be judged now using the value of hindsight. That's what hall of fame voting is all about. Judge a person and their body of work by looking at the whole picture.
Although there may not have been rules banning the use of particular substances, the dopers knew it was wrong. No one ever gave an interview about how much harder he was hitting the ball since he started letting his trainer inject unknown substances in his buttocks while no one was looking. There didn't need to be a written rule against steroids because although the dopers cheated and achieved superhuman accomplishments, they still had human consciences and all the circumstantial evidence shows they knew it was wrong.
Barry Bonds will be the home run king for a long long time (A-Rod isn't catching him any time soon). We can't retroactively take that away from him. But we can refuse to award him further accolades and fortune which should be reserved for those who are naturally the best of the best.