Baseball is not about the present. Even when individual games seem to matter, the other 161 in the season loom large. You can never get too excited about a baseball game because you know that it’s relatively inconsequential in the long run. Today’s baseball game is something like celebrating Christmas right before heading to the dentist.
Baseball is not about the future. With so many one-year contracts and the high rate of player turnover each year, most teams realize planning for the future may be an exercise in futility.
Baseball is, however, about the past. It’s a game of stable franchises and ancient stadiums, where numbers and statistics are forever remembered. The hallowed halls of Fenway Park and Wrigley Field bring fans the history of the entire 20th century. Everyone knows they symbolism of 61 and 755. Everyone knows Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron. Baseball is a permanent feature of our culture, something that ties generations together and allows for each moment and each season to be seen in a much larger perspective.
There is no place in America that represents the last 150 years of our nation’s history like Cooperstown, N.Y., home of the Baseball Hall of Fame. The story of baseball’s founders during the Civil War era transitions into a tale of the Negro Leagues and of war heroes leaving their jobs as baseball players. We trace the game from the dead ball era to the juicing era.
Steroids threaten our American culture and the tradition that we know as baseball. This is not because steroids have tainted the game itself, but because our reaction to steroids has been so apocalyptic.
Granted, steroids have made some of our greatest records meaningless. Sixty-one is no longer the home run record for a season. Barry Bonds broke 755 and Alex Rodriguez seems to be on his way to bumping Bonds to the backseat. Players have cheated shamelessly, broken the records of the best that ever lived, and forever changed how statistics of the current generation stack up against those of past generations. There isn’t a fair comparison.
So there are a few years that are anomalous, that may end up with asterisks in the record books at some point. Maybe the records will show that Barry Bonds hit tons of home runs, but that it was during the steroid era. The taint of BALCO will forever linger on baseball.
But there is little we can do about the steroid scandal that can be productive. Moving on and keeping the entire era in perspective would be a good start. Ensuring that testing stays ahead of development and that this type of cloud never again approaches baseball seems like another idea that would help America as a society. Demonizing steroid-using baseball players — 104 of them in 2003, at least, according to documents seized by the federal government — is not going to help anything.
Some baseball writers say they will never cast a Hall of Fame ballot for a steroid user. I don’t understand this logic. Their numbers are difficult to evaluate against those of their predecessors, but the test of whether or not players were dominant in their own time, compared to the other players of their time is still valid. We must assume that the culture of steroids is as pervasive as Alex Rodriguez claims. So all players in the modern era can be evaluated on a level, though elevated, playing field, no pun intended.
Baseball as a whole blew it. Its players were irresponsible and, as Rodriguez says, stupid. But to hold a grudge against this entire generation of players not only deprives them of honor but undermines the entire spirit of baseball. Removing the idols of my generation, skipping a whole set of legends to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, breaks the chain that links my favorites to those of my grandfather and even to his grandfather.
The story of baseball needs to weave its way through the steroid age, as it has through so many other ages, and beyond. Excluding this timeframe from the Hall of Fame as retribution against a culture of cheaters undermines what makes baseball the great sport and institution that it is.
Collin Gutman is a junior in Pierson College.