When Alex Rodriguez hit his 600th career home run yesterday, lots of discussion was stirred about his legacy.
The biggest topic: will he be elected to the Hall of Fame?
As most of you know, A-Rod admitted using steroids before this baseball season began. That put him squarely in the company of convicted cheats (Rafael Palmeiro, Manny Ramirez), assumed cheats (Bonds, McGwire), and admitted cheats (Canseco, Giambi).
Note that every single one of these players would be a Hall of Famer (yes, probably even Giambi) if we knew nothing of PED use among major leaguers.
Why does the steroid issue bother baseball fans so much more than, say, football fans?
Simple: baseball's history and context and the ability to compare players from different eras are what make the sport special.
The steroid era has made those comparisons impossible, at least right now.
There needs to be a contextual adjustment to understand the full effects of PEDs
And that's why my answer to the question--will A-Rod (or Bonds, or McGwire, et al) get into the Hall of Fame--is yes. Eventually.
In the 1980s, 400 home runs was a magic number. The only person with that many home runs who wasn't in the Hall was Dave Kingman, whose only skill was hitting home runs. He was also a notorious asshole, which didn't help.
But that's basically all it took - 400 home runs.
Now, some people are saying players with 600 home runs (or 762, for that matter) shouldn't be in the Hall because of what they've been caught/admitted to/are suspected of doing.
That leaves two options: close the Hall of Fame to an entire generation of players, or let the chapter close and look at the numbers to understand the context in which they were achieved.
Baseball fans - the seamhead, sabermetrician type - are notoriously obsessed with numbers. Once the pre- and post- random testing numbers have been posted by the players, they will be applied an infinite number of ways in an infinite number of iterations to statistical career norms to understand what they really mean.
From there--and this will likely be 10 years down the road--we will finally have context.
And this numerical context will finally let us know who was truly great, steroids or no.
From a moral standpoint: Look, I'm not a moron - I know steroids had a huge part in shaping the statistical history of MLB's last two decades. But I also believe that the players are no more guilty than the owners, the union, and the commissioner in allowing their use to be as prevalent as it was.
Steroid use undoubtedly provided an unfair advantage. I also believe their use was not only condoned, but encouraged.
I think this middle-ground opinion and time will be the things that get those tangled up in the steroid era to their proper place in history.