Editor's Note: Zach Rosenberg is co-founder of 8BitDad.com, a site that offers a daily shot of fatherhood news, interviews, dadvertising, and fatherly opinions on parenthood topics. You can find him on Twitter @zjrosenberg. He lives in Southern California with his wife and 3-year-old son.
A scene from 1990: Me, sitting on the floor of my room, arranging my baseball cards by player and card company. Binders flapped from page to page as I filed away the colorful commemorations of skill, power and finesse. Among those cards, a very lean-looking Barry Bonds and a similarly-skinny Roger Clemens. I slide them into the plastic pages and think about how if I keep the cards long enough, I can give them to my kid someday. Maybe he’d make a little money off of them.
Two of my favorite Major League Baseball players from my youth -- Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens -- appeared for the first time this year on the ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, I can’t share the same excitement for them now as I had in the past. After the vote results were announced Wednesday afternoon, their inevitable denial into Cooperstown was confirmed, and this is important -– if for nothing else than to open a conversation about right and wrong with parents and their children.
Bonds, known to drive a home run or two (or an MLB career record of 762), and Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young Award winner, shared the ballot with Sammy Sosa, another player whose notable accomplishments have been marred by associations with the “Steroids Era” of baseball. These players used to be exciting for me to watch. Now, they're a shame and a spectacle.
But moreover, some of my generation’s legacy is destroyed. While my father certainly had stories of infamy about old ballplayers from his time, my stories are littered with the uncomfortable footnotes of cheating and drugs. With it, my generation’s conversations with our children change from “I remember seeing him crush a home run,” to “I remember seeing him appear in court.”
Players are inducted into the Hall of Fame through a vote. The watered-down explanation: The Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) looks at between 25 and 40 candidates and casts a maximum of 10 votes. At the end, any player with at least 75% of the vote is elected.
Bonds, Clemens and Sosa look good, according to career stats. But the prevalence of asterisks applied during their careers almost ensure the BBWAA won’t induct them, this year or future years. Good.
The big thing when I was little was chewing tobacco. Parents wondered how they could discourage kids from trying it themselves when their heroes could be seen doing it. My dad sat me down when I was in little league and said, more or less, “Don’t do that. You’ll get cancer.”
The conversation is more complex with steroids. Sure, you can just sit your kid down and say “don’t do that. You’ll shrink your bits.” And for some kids, that’ll work. But the counter-point was on the field in the 90’s: huge guys crushing home runs that you’d normally only see in video games.
You saw a whole generation of baseball players on the juice. And according to some of them, such as Alex Rodriguez, who was outed by (another steroid user) Jose Canseco, there was a lot of pressure to perform during that time. It’s a weak defense, but for kids, it’s logical, especially if they suspect that everyone else is doing it.
How do we talk to our kids about performance-enhancing drugs? Well, it’s sometimes a tough sell when “performance-enhancing” is right there in the title. But the greater conversation here is about cheating, even if you think everyone else is doing it.
Playing fair and losing always trumps cheating and winning -- even in the “Steroids Era”, when it appeared everyone cheated and won. Look where we are now. Our former “heroes” –- those guys whose baseball cards I’d collected -– have fallen, and by nobody's fault but their own.
In more recent years, MLB itself has started to do random drug tests. It’s a sad state of affairs.
Bonds and Clemens snubbed by the BBWAA? Fine. In a world where cheaters sometimes seem to win, it’s important that we pass down to our children, whether they play sports or not, the right message: playing fair may yield a loss in the short run, true, but in the long run, you win.
It’s a hard lesson for a kid, especially a little league player who’d like to hold a trophy at the end of his season, but it’s a necessary one. You cheat, you lose. It may not happen immediately, but the truth catches up. It’s not a proud day for Bonds and Clemens, I can imagine.