Sitting in the Cleveland Indians dugout in the spring of 2002, I asked a high-ranking member of the Texas Rangers’ front office how catcher Ivan Rodriguez got so big in the off-season.
The man looked at me and simulated the easily recognized motion of a syringe going into his arm. The man shrugged and that was all that needed to be said — we both knew.
On Sunday afternoon, Pudge was justifiably honored before the start of the Rangers’ game against the Chicago Cubs for his deserved induction into the Baseball Hall Fame and Museum.
And for all of us who wonder about the steroid era of baseball, Ivan Rodriguez has the right message even if he is not the ideal messenger.
I asked him if he thought players of his era will ever escape the cloud of suspicion that they were all using steroids.
“Those are things that they’ve got to put behind; there’s so many great players that have been there, that have been in the Hall of Fame and future Hall of Famers,” Pudge said Sunday morning.
“I think it’s time to just think about the positive about the game of baseball.”
As a player who is suspected with countless others to have used performance-enhancing drugs, it behooves Pudge to endorse this new train of thought, but that doesn’t make him wrong.
I do not as yet have a Hall of Fame vote, and while I have vacillated on this for a while the conclusion is clear — they all tried it, did it, and the entire era comes with its own asterisk.
As such, the ones who deserve it should be in, even if they juiced.
I have zero tangible proof Pudge ever took a single PED, but I have zero doubt that he did.
It was the wild west of baseball, with even less enforcement. Steroids were available, they worked, and no one cared because the benefits outweighed any perceived risk.
PEDs are a part of baseball’s history, and every single voter and fan has to make peace with it, however much it may fracture our idealized image of the most important game in the history of the United States.
Baseball has long since been surpassed by football, and basketball, in terms of popularity, but it remains romanticized like no other. We desperately want baseball to be clean, even if it has been muddied and ’roided for far longer than we want to admit.
This is not an endorsement of cheating the game, but the acknowledgment that it happened. And it continues to happen.
Nonetheless, guys like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and the other deserving former players who we think, or tested positive, for steroids should go in the Hall.
“Let’s put it this way — they all had a great career, right?” Pudge asked. “Why not?”
The clear answer is because they used performance-enhancing drugs.
The muddied answer is they were self-centered, ego-maniac, narcissist jerks during their careers, but they were Hall of Fame careers nonetheless.
The managers who won games because of these guys are in — Tony La Russa, Joe Torre and Bobby Cox — so too should the players themselves.
Even if their Hall of Fame plaque makes no mention of their use of PEDs, we know. We all know Bonds’ career total of 762 home runs is on the back of a syringe.
No Hall of Fame in sports takes itself as seriously as the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, and there remains no clear answer on what to do with the guys who played in the ’roid era.
Unlike the case of Pete Rose, who was banned from baseball for gambling on the game, the Hall has no firm stance about ’roid users. The Hall made Rose ineligible for Hall of Fame voting, much to the ire of some voters.
Pete has never been on a ballot, and he never will. As someone who idolized Pete as a kid, as an adult I accept he’s a scumbag, and a Hall of Famer.
The Hall has no such stance regarding steroids. There were requests from the leadership from the voting Baseball Writers Association of America for some assistance and guidelines about the issue from the Hall, but there is none.
The Hall can’t win on this, but it no longer denies their existence and obvious impact.
The Hall recently unveiled a “Whole New Ballgame” exhibit where it acknowledges the importance and role of steroids in the history of the sport. Included in that are Alex Rodriguez’s helmet, and Mark McGwire’s jersey.
Both players either admitted to taking ’roids, or failed a drug test.
McGwire is not a Hall of Famer, but A-Rod is.
All of it is an unfortunate reality for the game, its cherished Hall, and the players themselves.
But it happened, and the Hall of Famers are the Hall of Famers.
Everyone in this process needs to make peace with it, induct those who deserve induction, and celebrate the game as it deserves to be celebrated.
Because, in the end, we know.