John Edwards, the presidential candidate, who cheated on his wife.
Ben Johnson, the Olympian from Canada, who cheated to win gold.
Richard Nixon, the president, who cheated to win in Washington.
Enron, the company, which cheated to win in business.
The 1919 Black Sox, who cheated by throwing the World Series.
David Petraeus, Mark Sanford, Eliot Spitzer, Bill Clinton — let’s stop there — cheated on their wives, too.
Rosie Ruiz, the runner, who cheated to win the Boston Marathon.
Tim Donaghy, the NBA ref, who cheated to win at gambling.
Pete Rose, baseball’s all-time hits leader, who cheated to win at gambling.
Halliburton, the company, which cheated to win at everything.
So why is anyone surprised that voters for baseball’s Hall of Fame slammed the door for 2013 this week on a rogues’ gallery of players who have either admitted or been linked to using performance-enhancing drugs?
The real surprise would have been if voters from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America had made Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa — all irreparably tainted by steroid use — first-ballot entrants to the Hall. Two other steroid-era notables also were shunned: Mark McGuire and Rafael Palmeiro.
The message is clear. Cheating isn’t rewarded. It may be common in all walks of life — in our relationships, in our businesses, in our politics, in our games — but it should not be openly honored. Someone has to draw the line somewhere.
Funny it’s been to listen to voters discuss why someone like Bonds, who says he didn’t use steroids, should be a Hall of Famer because someone like Ty Cobb already is. Cobb, the Georgia Peach, was the highest vote-getter of the Hall’s prestigious first class in 1936 — and remains in the Hall despite what the New York Times describes as Cobb’s “numerous documented altercations with African-Americans off the field, including one that led to a charge of attempted murder.”
(Cobb, by the way, is hardly the only Hall of Famer who also was a scoundrel. The Times pointed this week to two other obvious examples: Cap Anson, who refused to take the field if black players were on the other team, and Charles Comiskey, an owner who went out of his way to prove that a player was black, not American Indian, and thus ineligible to play.)
The Hall’s problem is that voters are instructed to consider a nominee’s character, not just his career statistics. The result is selective consideration: some voters see Barry Bonds as the greatest home-run hitter of all time because he hit more than anyone else; other voters see him as what they believe he is, a cheat.
What’s worse, that character consideration is the elephant in Cooperstown’s room. Voters are human; their opinions differ. Thus, you have different levels of roguishness: being a womanizer is OK, being a drunkard is OK, being a racist is OK, but gambling on games or sticking syringes full of anabolic steroids into your backside so you can hit prodigious home runs is not.
The standards for admittance to baseball’s Hall — the greatest of sports’ halls of fames — are a convoluted mess.
That said, cheaters still stink.
That’s where players such as Bonds and McGuire differ from Cobb and Ruth. Bonds (alleged) and Big Mac’s (proven) steroid use gave them an upper hand on the field and, thus, affected the integrity of the game’s results. Cobb and Ruth’s transgressions did not. In essence, that’s why a prevalence of voters deem the misdeeds by Cobb and the like as acceptable for enshrinement in the Hall, and the misdeeds by Bonds and the rest are, truth be told, likely lifetime Cooperstown bans.
It’s a slippery slope of judgment, and not only in Cooperstown’s rarified air.
Why is Nixon’s dirtiness worse than Clinton’s dalliances? Is it because one was politics and law-breaking, and the other was extramarital sex?
Spitzer had a NYC call girl, but that didn’t hurt him when he landed a prime-time TV gig on CNN; Sanford misled South Carolinians about having an Argentine mistress, and it tarnished his political career. Enron cheated people out of billions; through unseemly business deals and political associations, Halliburton made a mint on the Iraq War. But the companies’ outcomes are hardly the same.
There is no equality when judging cheats.
Yet, they all have something in common.
Don’t reward them.
Phillip Tutor — firstname.lastname@example.org — is The Star’s commentary editor. Follow him at Twitter.com/PTutor_Star.