A-Rod For the Hall?

Jayson Stark, on baseball's latest tarnished star:

I'm willing to bet right now that Alex Rodriguez will join that Cooperstown missing-persons list -- no matter how many home runs he hits, no matter how he chooses to spin Selena Roberts and David Epstein's impeccably reported story on SI.com.

So if that's true, think of where this sport almost certainly will find itself 15 years from now:

The all-time hits leader (Mr. Peter E. Rose) won't be in the Hall of Fame.

The all-time home run leader (assuming that's where A-Rod's highway leads him) won't be in the Hall of Fame.

The man who broke Hank Aaron's career record (Barry Bonds) won't be in the Hall.

The man who broke Roger Maris' single-season record (Mark McGwire) won't be in the Hall.

The man who was once the winningest right-handed pitcher of the live-ball era (Roger Clemens) won't be in the Hall.

The man with the most 60-homer seasons in baseball history (Sammy Sosa) doesn't look like he's headed for the Hall, either.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if Stark's right about what the baseball writers will do when the rest of the steroid era's stars hit the Cooperstown ballot. But I think that I would vote for A-Rod to go the Hall of Fame - and for Bonds, and for Clemens, and maybe even for Sammy Sosa. I don't know exactly where steroid use should sit on the hierarchy of sins against the game: I think it's worse than throwing spitballs and not as bad as throwing games, but how much worse and how much less noxious I'm not entirely sure. But I do know that to date, the only otherwise-deserving players who've been denied entry to the Hall - Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson - have been those who were guilty of infractions that got them banned them from the game for life. Now perhaps steroid users should be banned for life, but the fact remains that A-Rod and others stand accused of violating a rule that carried no penalty save treatment at the time that they (and dozens if not hundreds of other players whose names haven't been leaked) broke it, and that today only gets you banned outright if you're a three-time offender. And I think it's a good rule of thumb that if you're allowed to continue playing major league baseball after committing a given infraction, you shouldn't be disqualified - informally or formally - from its Hall of Fame.

This isn't to say that the steroid effect shouldn't be considered in evaluating a player's fitness for the Hall. I wouldn't give A-Rod or Bonds the honor of a first-ballot induction, and I think that evidence of steroid use is a good reason for keeping borderline HoF candidates out. If you think a player wouldn't have reached Hall-worthy numbers without cheating - as I suspect McGwire wouldn't, for all his gifts - then don't vote him in. But there's no question that Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Roger Clemens would have made the Hall without the edge that steroids provided. And if you grant that premise, I think that they belong there, unless the sport is willing to take the plunge of banning them from the diamond permanently.

Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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