Alex Rodriguez's good name is gone forever, and there is nothing he can say or do to get it back. Instead, he can go stand on the other side of the room with Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and baseball's other alleged cheats.
At least that's a reasonable conclusion in the wake of Sports Illustrated's report and Rodriguez's admission that he used banned substances from 2001-03 and tested positive for two anabolic steroids in 2003.
Rodriguez's every accomplishment is tainted. Even if he used steroids just one time in his life, there will be doubt about every one of those 553 home runs. That 2003 American League Most Valuable Player Award is worth a bucket of warm spit.
In the end, it doesn't matter how much he cheated, or even when he cheated. That's the thing about cheating. When you're caught cheating one time, you're a cheat for all time. So, A-Rod, you say you used steroids just a couple of times? Really? Until you got caught, you said you'd never used steroids. Why should we believe anything you say now?
One of the weakest defenses of Bonds is that he was a lock for the Hall of Fame before he got big. Yes, it's true that he'd already hit 500 home runs before the steroid accusations surfaced, and in previous generations, that milestone punched your ticket to Cooperstown. What this argument overlooks is the character question. Baseball's Hall of Fame voters are instructed to consider character issues.
I know, I know. Sportswriters are not the people to be passing judgment on someone's character. Unfortunately, that's the system we have. To some voters, the question always has been pretty basic.
Does Bonds deserve to stand on that stage on induction Sunday with Bob Gibson and Frank Robinson and Hank Aaron? Those three men played the game the right way. Their amazing accomplishments were achieved through hard work and God-given talent.
Don't give me that argument about how there are thieves and cheats already in the Hall of Fame. I'm sure there are. I'm sure there have been thieves and cheats in the White House and in the Pentagon and in every newspaper office in this country.
When you hold that ballot in your hand, you're not voting on whether Ty Cobb was a good guy or whether Enos Slaughter was a racist or whether Gaylord Perry threw a spitball. You're there to decide if you want a Barry Bonds to be honored the same way Carlton Fisk and Joe Morgan have been honored.
Call me naive, but I don't want Bonds standing up there with Aaron.
I don't want Alex Rodriguez up there, either. I don't care what he did prior to 2003, and I don't care what he did since. If he cheated once, he'd cheat twice. Or three times. Or eight times. You never know.
His apology just isn't enough.
To those of us who love the game, the Hall of Fame is a sacred place. It's supposed to stand for the game's best. Of course it's not perfect. As long as mere mortals are deciding who gets in, there will be mistakes.
In other words, Aaron was a great baseball player in every sense of the word. He was also a gentleman. He received death threats and various snubs and insults as he chased down Babe Ruth on the all-time home run list. He couldn't have handled it with more dignity. He did the game proud.
When you're around Aaron, you're struck by how small he is. He is barely 6 feet tall and around 180 pounds. Frank Robinson wasn't a huge man, but he had huge hands. You could see how he generated power. Aaron did it with an astonishingly quick bat and a great eye. He was the perfect combination of instincts and smarts.
Aaron was baseball's home-run king for 33 years, until the summer of 2007, when Barry Bonds broke his record. Aaron's 75th birthday came the day after the government unsealed the evidence in the Bonds perjury case. Included in the evidence is a positive urine sample.
So what should baseball do now? Should Bonds still be atop the home run list in the record book? Should there be an asterisk there? Or should we allow fans to figure out, to know that Roger Maris and Aaron always will have a special place in the hearts and minds of fans?
Robinson has said that steroid users should have their names removed from the record book. I tend to agree. The problem is, there's no way to know who used and who didn't.
All we know is that five of baseball's top 12 home run hitters now have been linked to steroids.
A-Rod probably won't be the last. Scouts who saw him in high school say they rarely had seen a player with so much natural talent, with an ability to make difficult plays look routine.
Rodriguez almost certainly could have gotten to Cooperstown without steroids. He may get there anyway, but he suddenly seems diminished.
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