(Note: While this post will focus on baseball, the message is applicable to all sports.)

The debate over how to handle steroid users in sports was renewed the past week with the conclusion of the Barry Bonds trial and the sudden retirement of Manny Ramirez following his third positive test.  The central focus of the debate is how to handle these confirmed or suspected users of steroids when they become eligible for the Hall of Fame.  The list of confirmed users include names which also appear at, or near, the top of some of baseball’s most hallowed statistical rankings.

This past week, Tim Kurkjian of ESPN touched on the dilemma voters for the Hall of Fame now face.  How do you vote for players who cheated the game and artificially inflated their impact on its history?  But at the same time, these players did have a tremendous impact on the game so what damage is done to the integrity of the Hall of Fame if these players if these players and their stories are absent from those hallowed halls?  What if the single-season and career homerun leader is missing?  Or what if one of the most dominant pitchers, , if not the most dominant pitcher, of the steroid era is missing?

Fortunately, in time, baseball will be able to handle this dilemma.  The Hall of Fame, while being an exclusive members only club, is also a museum.  A wing of the Hall can tell the story of the steroids era.  It can include the memorabilia — the 762nd homerun ball, a guy’s glove, or the cleats he wore when he reached some statistical milestone.  It can include the names on the Mitchell Report.  It even, if the writers want, can allow the steroid users themselves to join the ranks of the greats because these players are, afterall, the best of their era.  The Hall will survive this scandal.

What will not survive as easily is the continuity of the history.  Baseball is a game of numbers — of defined benchmarks that a player must reach in order to gain immortality.  Those numbers, however, are no longer so easily definable.  The career homerun mark pre-steroids is 755 by Hank Aaron.  The steroids era mark is 762 by Barry Bonds.  They’re now apples and oranges.  Which do we celebrate going forward?  A rookie pitcher with dreams of sports immortality — is he chasing Roger Clemens with 7 career Cy Young awards or Randy Johnson with 5 career Cy Young awards?  The measuring stick is now broken.

This may seem trivial to the casual fan, but to those of who are passionate about our sports, the uncertainty robs us of a great deal of enjoyment.  After you watch sports for long enough, your interest boils down to two things: (1) your team; and (2) greatness.  Of course I want to see the Phillies win, Ryan Howard or Chase Utley win an MVP, and Halladay throw a perfect game.  What is at least equally exciting, however, is seeing something no one has ever seen before or the attainment of greatness.  When a player hits his 62nd homerun of the season, should he be celebrated as the single-season homerun leader?  Or is he still far short of Barry Bonds’s mark?  Is he the greatest?  Or second best?

The continuity is broken.  We cannot really compare the Babe to Bonds, Cy Young to Clemens, nor Schmidt to ARod.  Even if such comparisons were previously just purely intellectual exercises by sports’ nerds or  difficult given changes in the game, stadiums, and player training –they are now empty and impossible, and I for one feel cheated.

Agree or disagree?  Leave a comment below and let me know!

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