For the third straight year, Mark McGwire's name appeared on the ballot for admittance to the Baseball Hall of Fame. For the third straight year, he didn't come close to getting in. It was only a few years ago that he was a mortal lock to be enshrined in Cooperstown. After all, he was a 12-time all star with 583 career home runs, the best home run/at bat ratio in baseball history, and the short-lived holder of the single season HR record (1998), an effort that many say returned the game of baseball to America's favor after the 1994 players' strike had tarnished the national past time. McGwire was a no-brainer for enshrinement. But we all know what happened next: McGwire, along with a group of other players, was linked to steroids, fans recoiled in horror, and writers struggled to articulate a consensus opinion on how to treat these alleged steroids users.
The debate about how to treat delinquent players is nothing new for baseball. Indeed, it is a discussion older than the Hall of Fame itself. Eight members of the Chicago White Sox, or the Black Sox as they became known, were banned from baseball for allegedly throwing the 1919 World Series. Among them, "Shoeless" Joe Jackson would have been a surefire Hall of Famer and Eddie Cicotte would have received a lot of consideration. Neither is currently eligible. Most famously, former Reds star Pete Rose, the all-time hits leader in baseball history was banned for life for committing baseball's cardinal sin: he bet on games while serving as the manager of the Cincinnati Reds. Rose is currently ineligible for the Hall of Fame. There are a considerable number of obvious Hall of Famers or players on clear Hall of Fame tracks other than McGwire who have been linked to steroids: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Alex Rodriguez, to name a few. So what to do with these guys? That's the dilemma facing writers now and it's a dilemma that will only become more acute as more "steroid" players' names start to appear on the ballot in the coming years. This is a debate that is no longer hypothetical, so we need an answer and we need it soon.
So here is the answer: let them in. And not just the steroid guys. Rose, Shoeless Joe, all of them. Put them all in the Hall of Fame.
Except, not really.
If we build a HOF purgatory, he will finally come.
Here's what I propose: a Hall of Fame purgatory. Create a room off to the side of the main plaque room, with a big sign that says: "In this room we honor the accomplishments of some of baseball's greatest players who because of off-the field wrongdoings were denied entry to the main Hall of Fame." Each player would have a plaque in the same way current Hall of Famers do. It would describe his career and achievements, but the plaque will also very noticeably detail the transgression that's keeping them out. On their ballots, writers will now be given three options: "yes", "no", and "yes if not for suspected steroid use or other off the field activity that renders the candidate ineligible."
Through this we can solve many of the arguments about whether these players should be in the Hall. "But they were only great because of steroids." Well, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were clear Hall of Famers before steroids, so we know that they're good enough. The only reason to keep them out is to punish them for their crime and to send a message to deter others from making their mistakes. Well, we're still doing that. Players want to be in the room Babe Ruth is in, not the one Pete Rose is in. "But what about the children? What lesson does it teach them?" It teaches them that if you break the rules, you get punished. As of now, if you were to take your child to Cooperstown, there would be no mention of these players, essentially. As far as the Baseball Hall of Fame is concerned, they never existed. This is the type of sweeping under the rug that I expect from organized religion, not sports. Baseball can embrace its history, good and bad, and still come out looking good in the aggregate.
But there's an even greater lesson that we can teach: redemption. Remember, it's the Hall of Fame purgatory, not Hall of Fame hell. You can get out. And these players have a lot of pride, so they will desperately want to. You know what else they have? Money. And, after they retire, lots of time. So let's put that to use. Let's create a community service program that allows these players to give back to the game of baseball in order to redeem themselves for their mistakes. Make them sponsor, organize, and coach little leagues, particularly in inner cities and poor neighborhoods where baseball is dying. Let's force these guys to become the game of baseball's greatest ambassadors. Their reward: they get to be in the Hall of Fame. As for lessons, how about this: it teaches our children that even though baseball players are tremendously gifted athletes, they're not gods; they're human beings just like the rest of us. They can accomplish great things, but they can also make mistakes. Most importantly, by working hard to make up for the mistakes that they've made, they can be forgiven. Anyone have a problem telling that to their kids?
In the words of The Office's Michael Scott, this measure would be a win-win-win for everyone involved. For the players: they get to be in the Hall of Fame. For the league: they get to turn a bad situation into an opportunity for positive growth. And finally, for the fans: we all get to put all this drama and controversy behind us and we get to see our generation's great players where they belong. Because honestly, does anyone want to take their kids to a future Hall of Fame that doesn't have Barry Bonds in it? I know I don't.
This article originally appeared at The Vertex.
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