Calling the Shots: Cheaters always prosper, until caught?

Jake Eisenberg, Sports Editor

To achieve greatness through cheating is like winning a game of Monopoly by taking money from the bank, or getting an A+ by copying the answer key.  Despite all of the consequences, cheating is still prevalent in today’s world, especially in professional sports, namely Major League Baseball (MLB).

Every year, the National Baseball Hall of Fame accepts new members.  These members are the pinnacles of baseball achievement, as voted on by the members of the Baseball Writers of America Association.

Among the members of the Hall of Fame are the all-time leader in wins, Cy Young (511); the Sultan of Swat, Babe Ruth (714 home runs); and the first African-American major league player, Jackie Robinson.  Players are eligible to be on the Hall of Fame ballot beginning five years after they retire.  Not for the first time, record-shattering players appear on the ballot: this year—the all-time leader in home runs, and baseball history’s most decorated pitcher.  But, they won’t be joining the ranks of baseball’s finest.

Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens appear on the ballot for the first time this year.  The home run king and most decorated pitcher, respectively, along with Jose Canseco, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, are the poster boys for baseball’s “Steroid Era.” The “Steroid Era” (late 1980s-present), despite being littered with astounding professional accomplishments, is marred by the possibility that players used performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).

The guidelines for electors to admit players to the Baseball Hall of Fame are as follows: impact of player on the field, in the game of baseball, and for his team, integrity, character, and sportsmanship.

“No one would dare say that Bonds, a seven-time National League MVP with 762 home runs, isn’t a Hall of Famer,” said Thom Loverro, a columnist for The Washington Examiner, in a column explaining his decision.  “Nor would anyone say that Clemens, with 354 career victories, 4,672 strikeouts and seven Cy Young Awards, shouldn’t be enshrined in Cooperstown.  The same goes for Sosa, who finished with 609 career home runs, including 243 of them from 1998 through 2001.  Except they cheated—all of them.  And this Hall of Fame is not just about numbers.  Three of the six criteria for election to Cooperstown are sportsmanship, integrity and character.  Bonds, Sosa and Clemens fail on all three counts.”

Both Bonds and Clemens underwent federal investigations and trials about their perceived PED use.  Bonds “escaped” conviction of usage, but was found guilty for obstruction of justice for giving an evasive answer under oath during a trial in 2011.  Clemens, in his most recent court appearance in April of 2012, was acquitted of all 13 perjury charges held against him.

In short, while the rains of a steroid use conviction never did fall, it will be a long time before the clouds of doubt pass over.  Sosa, despite never going to trial, was caught red-handed using a corked bat during a game in 2003.  Other notable players that were either caught, admitted to, or accused to have taken steroids include Alex Rodriguez, Andy Pettite, Jose Canseco, Rafael Palmeiro, and Manny Ramirez.

It is very difficult to envision these players cemented among the all-time greats like Christy Mathewson, Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, or Nolan Ryan.  The ballot this year contains a total of 37 names, including 24 on the list for the first time.  Those inducted are players who appear on 75% of ballots, as written out by the 500-plus members of the BBWWA.

While they should not be enshrined, the baseball “Mecca” of Cooperstown is also a museum depicting baseball’s history.  There are sections in the museum for the Black Sox scandal of 1909, Pete Rose, the All American Girls Professional Baseball League played during World War II, the Negro Leagues prior to Jackie Robinson’s breaking of the color barrier, and more.  And, there should be one for the “Steroid Era” as well.  Despite the marring of the perfection of the game, there is no argument that it happened.

This past season, San Francisco Giants player Melky Cabrera was batting .346 with 11 home runs and 60 runs-batted-in before admitting to taking a type of steroid. Had he not formally removed his own name,  Cabrera would have been eligible for, and won, the National League batting title.

Cabrera has since served a 50-game suspension, and Commissioner Bud Selig has increased penalties for the breaking of the MLB drug code.  Previously, suspensions were so miniscule that is was fiscally intelligent to risk steroid use, for hopes of greater achievement and a larger contract.

And, despite his suspended status, still recieved the same World Series bonus check of $377,002.64. Since much of player’s salaries in contracts are guarenteed, to go for broke to break records seems like a decent idea, aside from the negative moral implications.The league needs to increase the magnitude of the suspensions for breaking the rules that keep baseball pure.

They say “cheaters never prosper,” and yet, in professional sports, the idiom has changed to read, “cheaters always prosper, until they get caught.” And that just cannot be.  Cheating, not only in baseball, can never be worth it enough to give it a shot.