McGwire cheated, but so did everyone else

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There is no happier man in America right now than Tiger Woods, who thanks to the steroids admission of Mark McGwire can, albeit briefly, escape from the public spotlight. McGwire's admission came just days after the 2010 Hall of Fame voting was announced, and once again McGwire failed to collect even 25% of the votes -- a far cry from the 75% needed to get into the Hall. Now that the air has been cleared, some are questioning if coming clean is enough to absolve McGwire of his cheater label and get him into the Hall.

Of all the statements that have been made about McGwire, the most polarizing was said yesterday by Hall of Fame pitcher Goose Gossage, who insisted that any player caught taking performance-enhancing drugs should be permanently banned from entering Cooperstown. "The integrity of the Hall of Fame and the numbers and the history are all in jeopardy," Gossage said. "I don’t think they should be recognized. Here’s a guy Aaron, we’re talking about the greatest record of all records. And he did it on a level playing field. He did it with God-given talent. And the same with Maris, absolutely. These are sacred records and they’ve been shattered by cheaters."

Obviously, there are greatly differing opinions out there about Mark McGwire, although it's safe to say that most writers believe he's a cheater and a fraud (hence the Hall of Fame voting). And whether you think he is or is not a Hall of Famer is beside the point. The notion, however, that McGwire should be kept out of the Hall because it would somehow ruin its sanctity and purity is ridiculous. Let's not forget that the very reason the Hall of Fame even existed in the first place was to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the day Abner Doubleday invented baseball, a story we now know to be completely fabricated.

It was a fitting foundation for Hall of Fame, which has seen a myriad of frauds, villians and cheaters in its day. Let's not pretend that steroids are the first incarnation of cheating that the sport has seen. In the late 1800's, using a curveball or a fall-away pitch was seen as trickery of the foulest kind. In the 1920's and 30's, spitballs were so prevalent and used so effectively the league had to ban them. In the 1960's and 70's it was amphetamines, a drug that Hank Aaron and Willie Mays both, if sources are to be believed, used. In the 80's it was cocaine -- another drug that everyone used, including virtually every notable player on the Pittsburgh Pirates.

It's one thing to say that McGwire isn't a Hall of Famer. But to hold up the players who came before him as paragons of competitive virtue and purity is absolute garbage. The only reason the greatest batters of the 20th century -- Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio -- didn't take steroids is because they hadn't been invented yet. Players are using cheating mechanisms as much as they did twenty, thirty or even ninety years ago -- the only difference between then and now is that the cheating mechanism is so much greater, and so much more potent than it was back then. Don't believe for a second that if steroids had been around 100 years ago, many if not most of the legendary batters wouldn't have been 'roids users. After all, if Hank Aaron was willing to try amphetamines, how can you say he wouldn't have turned down steroids -- a drug that works ten times better and makes you stronger, quicker and able to heal faster?

When McGwire said he was sad to have played in the steroids era, many saw that as a feeble attempt at excusing his actions -- and it very well might have been. And for all the lying he's done over the years, and for downplaying the effects of his steroid use, perhaps he deserves to be criticized. But let's not condemn him for being the first cheater to make his way to the front gate of Cooperstown; that distinction was made a long time ago by many of the most lauded players in history, who did whatever was possible to give them a competitive advantage.

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