The MLB Hall of Fame Weekend: Hank Aaron, a PED Asterisk, and Pete Rose

This weekend’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony, which honored former Boston Red Sox right fielder Jim Rice, former Oakland A’s and New York Yankees outfielder Rickey Henderson, and former Yankees and Cleveland Indians second baseman Joe Gordon, came and passed with some tears, some humor, and, of course, some controversy. While some may lament spoiling a moment that is meant to celebrate baseball with continued strife, perhaps it is best to discuss these larger issues when so many are listening. The two subjects that were discussed, or at least mentioned on ESPN and in newspapers across the country, were the Pete Rose and steroids.

It was announced that commissioner Bud Selig was considering reinstating Pete Rose, which would almost guarantee his induction into the Hall of Fame in the next few years. This is also hardly the first time reinstatement has been on the table for Rose (who has the most hits, the sixth most runs, and the second most doubles in Major League Baseball history). Rose has been campaigning for reinstatement for a while, but has often been his own worst enemy, notably marketing a book the last time Selig openly discussed reinstating him.

For those who do not remember, Rose was banned from being associated with the MLB (either as a manager, executive, or as a Hall of Famer) after being accused of gambling on games when he was playing and managing the Cincinnati Reds. Pete did not admit he gambled until 2004. The only bright spot is that there have never been any indications that he bet against his team.

Much respected ESPN baseball columnist Buster Olney followed up the story by writing a scathing blog calling Rose a lowlife and suggesting that if he is reinstated and if he is then accepted into the Hall of Fame that he simply sell the moment, tainting the honor.

This announcement and fallout is juxtaposed with Hank Aaron’s suggestion that rather than ban players who took PEDs from the Hall, they should be allowed with an asterisk. This comes as many baseball writers are begging the public to let go of their sense of indignation as MLB tries to get passed the steroid scandals.

I have read few responses to Aaron’s suggestion, but I imagine Selig and all those trying to reinstate some sort of confidence in the game and its purity are groaning.

They can do their best to tell the fans that almost every major era of baseball has had its flaws. The two most noted examples are before 1947 MLB players did not play with African-Americans and from 1962 to 1968 the mound was raised and the strike zone was expanded. There are many more for every era, even the supposed Golden Age of baseball from 1948 to 1962.

Aaron is one of the most respected players in the history of the game, so when Aaron speaks those components that would have us forget that baseball earned back its fans after the 1994 strike through seemingly rampant drug use cannot talk and rationalize around the statement. Furthermore, they all owe him. Aaron let the game have its big moment as he stood silent when Barry Bonds broke his career home run mark despite steroid allegations.

Perhaps the solution is to assign an asterisk for PED use. Yes, use that 2003 list of the guilty and any other tangible proof to condemn players like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, and Alex Rodriguez. But, also assign different demarcations to players of other eras, highlighting the deficiencies in their eras. That way the baseball players from every era are put on a level playing field.

Will this suggestion get the support Aaron received for his suggestion? Of course not. Asking players from the past to loosen their nostalgic grips over the way the game was played and the way life was decades ago is an impossible task.

It is, however, the fairest arrangement in my opinion. Each player’s numbers and accomplishments would be subject to scrutiny, as they should be, especially when they are being compared over different decades as the game of baseball has changed.

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