Cheaters and Killers

February 24, 2011

Robbie Alomar and Bert Blyleven are going to Cooperstown.  Bagwell and Walker had good showings for being first-year eligible.  They’ll probably both go.  Palmiero . . . probably not.  Mark McGwire got less votes than Larry Walker, and less than he did his own first year, which was now five years ago.  McGwire temporarily held one of baseball’s most prestigious records, and is by any reasonable analysis of his stats a sure-fire hall of famer.  It now looks unlikely he’ll get voted in by the writers at all.  This is of course because he cheated.

McGwire used performance enhancing drugs, at least some of which were not against the rules at the time, to gain an unfair advantage.  Then he took the fifth in congressional hearings.  In this year’s vote, the writers sent a clear message that if you mess with the game, you will be frozen out.  Roberto Alomar’s transgressions came outside of the context of the game, and his career was over; at least enough to avoid the tabloid front pages.  Cooperstown doesn’t seem to mind unsavory characters, and the fact that Alomar may have done something that may ultimately kill someone doesn’t totally set him apart.  It’s not like he bet on games he was involved with.

It is difficult, as a fan, to keep ones excitement for a cherished team’s brightest star separate from one’s abhorrence of his actions.  It is not even necessarily obvious whether one should keep them separate.  Are ‘the alleged actions’ part of Roberto Alomar’s fame such that the baseball player referent takes on criminal connotations?  To say that athletes shouldn’t be role models is like saying news media shouldn’t print celebrity gossip.  If that is as far as you want to take things, I urge you to immediately go away.  But can we ask our kids to model themselves on sports player X but not celebrity personality X?

The other major issue raised here is one seen in the rearview mirror.  The extent of homophobia and ignorance surrounding HIV/Aids around Alomar is not available to me, but the relatively diverse community that I was in during those years, which did not have a reputation for being behind the times on these issues, was surely closed enough in mind and mouth to keep people secretive or in denial.  Not that we should countenance any sort of ‘aren’t we all kind of parties to Roberto Alomar’s alleged criminal wrongdoing?’ type hiding.   The context deserves recognition though, simply for instructive purposes.

Will I cheer for him?  We’ll see.  Do I regret cheering for him in the past?  Not at all, and it seems intuitive that no-one should.  He was the best defensive second baseman of his time, exciting and exceptional, and in that sense embodied good things about sports.  Do I think that if all allegations are true he should go to jail?  Possibly.  Maybe he can go in the big one I’m building for the crooked politicians and bankers and military contractors . . . Does Alomar deserve in the hall of fame?  Of course.  Don’t have unprotected sex with him though.