For the Record
A slew of top sluggers may not enter Cooperstown.

No Shoeless Joe Jackson or Pete Rose. No Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro or Sammy Sosa. No Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens. Now, perhaps, no Alex Rodriguez.

It is very likely that those titans of the game will forever remain locked outside the doors of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, thanks to a clause stating that a voter shall consider a player's "character, integrity and sportsmanship." And no, there's nothing wrong with that.

All were great players. All have statistics that should get them waved through the front door in Cooperstown without so much as a smell test. But all of them were also cheaters of laws that are banned not just by a moral code or the by the game itself but the laws of the nation.

Jackson, who owns the third highest batting average of all time, accepted gamblers' money as part of an agreement to throw the 1919 World Series. Rose is the game's career hits leader and a former NL MVP, but as manager of the Cincinnati Reds, he bet on his own team. Both Shoeless Joe and Charlie Hustle violated the cardinal rule of the game, indeed, of all competitive sports that hope to have any credibility: thou shalt not gamble.

There may be more of a gray area and less moral outrage over the wrongdoings of accused or admitted steroids users listed above. After all, McGwire (eighth all-time in home runs), Palmeiro (more than 500 home runs and 3,000 hits), Sosa (sixth in home runs), Bonds (single-season and career HR leader and a seven-time MVP), Clemens (seven-time Cy Young winner) and Rodriguez (three-time MVP), have all accumulated first-ballot careers and are far from the only ones guilty of that particular crime. But their sins were nonetheless committed in the name of cheating the game. The consequences of such actions have been a lessening of trust that what is seen on the field is not authentic and if nothing else, sports ought to be able to count on the legitimacy of their product.

With the possible exception of Bonds and Clemens, the cheaters will not suffer legal consequences for their actions. Their statistics will not be erased. Their awards will not be invalidated. The money in their bank accounts will not be returned, even though all those were earned, to some degree, by illegal behavior. Keeping those players out of the Hall of Fame may be the last line of defense to proving that there will be a punishment for those who break the game's laws.

The Hall of Fame is a privilege, not a right. It can be gained by positive performance, and lost by negative behavior. Those who got there the right way don't deserve to have their achievement lessened by its association with those who got there the wrong way. Denying entry to those guilty players whose on-field performance makes their inclusion obvious may not be easy. But it is fair.

Joe Posnanski: Hall of Fame needs to get rid of ridiculous character clause []
Phil Taylor: In a steroid age, history may be kinder to A-Rod than you think []


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