My Thoughts on the Remarks of Hank Aaron

As I was driving this morning I happened to listen to the radio. The sports announcers on this particular station were talking about last weekend’s Hall of Fame inductions. Instead of recounting the high points of each of the induction speeches by the player; this particular show was delving into the comments made by several Hall of Fame players over the weekend and the implications associated with them. In particular they were discussing the comments made by Henry Aaron.

At the Hall of Fame ceremonies it was Hammerin’ Hank who seemed to garner the largest ovation from the crowd. He is quickly becoming known as the senior statesman of baseball and as such his words carry a certain amount of clout. For this reason, his comments are taken a little more seriously than just the passing quotes from a former player.

During the weekend Hank Aaron commented on several areas surrounding the game of baseball. Taken individually these comments were just interesting sound bites but now that I have had some time to reflect on them I have to wonder if he considered the implications of what he was saying.

Henry Aaron was the all-time home run leader from 1974 until Barry Bonds broke his record in 2007. That is nearly a quarter century of being the holder of one of baseball’s most hallowed records. When Bonds was approaching the record there was some controversy surrounding Hank Aaron. Rather than being in attendance when the torch was passed from one home run leader to the next he purposely chose to stay away instead recording a brief message to be played on the scoreboard when the record was broken.

Since that time Aaron has become more vocal about his feelings surrounding Bonds breaking the record and the general state of the game during the “steroid era”. While vocal, Aaron has been very diplomatic with his words measuring what he said publicly. He seemed frustrated that the players breaking these records may be using performance enhancing drugs (PED) but he stopped short of calling them out.

hank_aaron.jpgLeading up to the Hall of Fame festivities this weekend Hank Aaron seemed to harden his stance leaving very little doubt where he stood. Aaron talked about the record book and how it was his opinion that the records being broken during the “steroid era” be marked with an asterisk with a footnote that these records may be tainted by the use of PEDs and refer the reader to resources where they can make their own determination as to whether the record is valid.

On the surface I would agree with this practice. The problem becomes where do we draw the line with the asterisk? If a player tested positive for the use of PED it is a fairly clear case that the record should be marked. The problem becomes the lack of testing that occurred during this era. To date no positive tests have been produced for Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire for example. We have heard lots of hearsay but nothing concrete. In those cases, is it fair that their records be marked with an asterisk just because there is suspicion without fact?

Hank Aaron also commented that if any player were voted into the Hall of Fame that the current Hall of Fame players felt had used steroids then a block of the living Hall members would stand up and walk off the stage in protest during the induction ceremonies. I was very taken aback by this statement. While I appreciate that the current members feel obligated to uphold the sanctity of the Hall of Fame I think that a mass protest during the ceremonies is inappropriate.

If members of the Hall of Fame felt that strongly I would hope that they would instead choose not to attend the ceremony rather than use it as a protest platform. I believe that an action such as walking out of the ceremony during a speech is a dishonor and an embarrassment of the institution they are trying to protect. It is my opinion that anyone who has been enshrined into the Hall of Fame that chooses to use the induction ceremony as a political statement should have their membership revoked and an asterisk placed next to their name allowing the fans learn more about the Hall of Famer’s concerns. Just because you are elected to the Hall of Fame does not give you the right to be judge and jury over whether another player is as deserving of this honor.

I would prefer instead that the Hall of Fame members establish a committee and draft instructions to the voters on what they should consider when reviewing a candidate on the ballot. This would be helpful to the baseball writers and allow the Hall of Fame to get their point across without disrupting a most sacred ceremony.

In another comment, Hank Aaron expressed his desire for Pete Rose to be reinstated and allowed into the Hall of Fame. When I first heard this I had to stop and scratch my head and wonder how Hank could on one hand come down so hard on steroid users yet be so lenient on someone who has now admitted to betting on baseball.

Until recently, the use of steroids was not against the rules of baseball nor were there any tests being done that would determine if a player was using these substances. Betting on the other hand has been specifically identified in Rule 21. Furthermore a sign appears in every Major League Baseball clubhouse reminding those who enter of this rule.

There will be some Pete Rose apologists who will jump into the argument stating that Rose bet on baseball while a manager not as a player. I would retort with the fact that Pete Rose was caught as a manager. This argument is much like the player accused of using steroids but has not tested positive. Everyone believes their guilt; it just has not come out yet.

Pete Rose has long been of questionable character as witnessed by his actions leading up to his banishment and in the years subsequent. For years Rose himself emphatically denied every betting on baseball. When that message ceased to resonate with the fans the message changed to where he only bet on his team winning. Clearly Rose has shown is lack of character and brought question as to whether the betting only occurred as a manager or also earlier as a player/manager or player. Given his history of lying we may never know for sure.

It’s confusing why Hank Aaron would come out publicly and endorse Pete Rose for reinstatement and inclusion in the Hall of Fame yet be so adamantly against allowing cheaters into the Hall of Fame to the point of disrupting the induction ceremony. The inconsistency can only hurt the Hall of Fame and baseball.

What I find most concerning is that Hank Aaron and Commissioner Bud Selig are very close. I have to wonder whether Selig would act upon Aaron’s wishes and reopen the Pete Rose case. And if that happens, would the commissioner likewise reopen the Shoeless Joe Jackson case if Chicago White Sox fan Barak Obama made a similar request?

The game is still in the very early stages of healing from the aftermath of the steroid allegations; reintroducing Pete Rose or Shoeless Joe Jackson into the baseball fraternity will only exacerbate the credibility problems the game faces. From a fan’s perspective I think there needs to be more time pass before baseball re-evaluates Pete Rose and his place in the game.

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