Almost forgotten this weekend is the annual Baseball Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremonies in Cooperstown, N.Y. It is a pastoral postcard of a hamlet in upstate New York somehow still called “Baseball’s Spiritual Home.” Amid clubhouses full of lost souls, a better moniker might be “Graveyard to the Grand Old Game.”
For the first time in almost 50 years, the new inductees are all dead. The players eligible for induction — Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, only the greatest power hitter and pitcher of their generation — are widely considered disgraced drug cheats who, in the end, needed lawyers more than Hall of Fame votes.
Ryan Braun isn’t getting into Cooperstown, either, but not because he merely used performance-enhancing drugs. No, before admitting his guilt and accepting Major League Baseball’s 65-game, rest-of-the-season ban, he committed a more cardinal sin: He kept lying, only more belligerently. Going after the people who caught him lying and cheating, he became the National League MVP who knew no bottom.
Braun followed the Bondsian deny-till-you-die credo, attacking the people who caught him, swearing his innocence on everything — including, comically in retrospect, his actual life. A week of ugly backlash showed Braun there is a harder-to-forgive crime than using steroids to steal money and fame from your peers: being a bad guy.
Alex Rodriguez, who admitted he once used PEDs, is flirting with expulsion from baseball because he too didn’t learn the lesson of the PED era: Fess up when the truth catches up to you and move on.
When A-Rod commissioned his own physician this week to imply that the Yankees are unfairly shelving him on the disabled list, oh, after he has been lying and cheating the game long after he said he stopped lying and cheating the game, he doesn’t merely come across as a multiple offender under baseball’s anti-drug program; he comes across as a three-time offender under humanity’s anti-fraud program.
Bonds, Clemens, Braun and Rodriguez are all cautionary tales in what should be the thesis of the Lance Armstrong School of Ethics: The public will forgive a guy for using PEDs.
What they’re less likely to forgive is lying about it afterward and then trashing and attacking the accusers.
People understand the temptation to cheat. But if and when you get caught, don’t be a jerk. It makes you look irredeemable.
Look, I still have dreams about playing basketball in high school, when I last commanded an audience on the court. If I could have that feeling again just once, I might give all the money I have to a synthetic chemist such as Anthony Bosch of Biogenesis or BALCO’s Victor Conte.
It’s why some of us can eventually forgive cheaters, especially the player who convinced himself he needed performance-enhancing drugs to stay relevant. We get the main rationale behind most drug use — the elite athlete convinces himself it’s so prevalent in his sport that he needs it to survive, to the point that puncturing a syringe full of synthetic testosterone into your veins becomes as routine and mindless as icing or stretching.
Confession: After I read Rick Maese and Sally Jenkins’s exhaustive series on the NFL’s Hurt Locker, my first thought was what a sad medical state of affairs the game is in.
My next thought: Where can I get some of this Toradol to take away this damn chronic pain in my left hip before my next pickup game?
What none of us understand, where the contempt for drug cheats resurfaces with a white-hot fire, is getting caught, not confessing and then having the audacity to go on the offensive. It’s one thing to cheat the game and your fellow competitors, but the moment you’re confronted and you lie about it, only then it feels as if you’ve wronged us.
If Bonds and Clemens had just come clean before their court dates and did the redemption tour — a la Andy Pettitte after he admitted using human growth hormone or Mark McGwire two years ago when he needed a job in baseball — they might have had a shot at Cooperstown.
I don’t believe in legalizing performance-enhancing drugs, but I do think there is a conversation to be had about boundaries, real pharmacological gray zones and the difference between using something to recover from injury and putting something that directly helps performance into your healthy body.
A worthwhile discussion should be had about what is a performance-enhancer and what merely makes life tolerable for what we expect out of professional athletes now.
But the people who could have led that conversation — the Lance Armstrongs and Ryan Brauns — instead were more concerned with preserving their own legacies and thus polarized people from both sides of the drug debate to the point that the discussion is even further away from happening.
One of the best developments from last week was some of Braun’s peers speaking out against him, even some of his Brewers teammates — albeit anonymously. It’s so rare to see the insulated world of baseball come down on one of its own. There is almost a clubhouse omerta, a warped loyal code akin to how most cops never tell on each other.
For a sport that now has at least 10 MVPs directly linked to PEDs the past two decades — Braun, Bonds, Clemens, Jose Canseco, A-Rod, Sammy Sosa, Jason Giambi, Juan Gonzalez, Mo Vaughn and Ken Caminiti — it’s real progress.
What we learned this past week, what Bonds and Clemens should have learned long before an enshrinement ceremony without them in Cooperstown this weekend, is it’s okay to make a bad decision, pay your penance and come back swinging. It’s not okay to be a rotten human being after the fact. No one wants to forgive that.
For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.