Rafael Palmeiro is a cheater. So was Gaylord Perry.
Palmeiro may not get in the Hall of Fame because he was suspended 10 days for steroid use.
Perry used a jar of Vaseline to fashion his 314-265 career record, and he was suspended in 1982 for doctoring the ball, yet he’s in the Hall of Fame.
What’s the difference?
I know. I know.
Steroids are dangerous, and as you read this, some misguided kid is sticking a needle in his butt in an effort to become the next Barry Bonds.
But if we can put aside our moral outrage for a moment and limit this discussion to the confines of the ballpark, why is the use of steroids considered a greater crime than scuffing up a baseball? Or putting cork in a bat?
Isn’t cheating cheating?
The Hall of Fame is filled with con artists. Perry first started loading up a baseball in 1963 — his second year in the major leagues — and he continued the practice throughout his 22-year career.
"Gaylord is a very honorable man," Indians president Gabe Paul once said. "He only calls for the spitter when he needs it."
New York Yankees great Whitey Ford employed a wedding ring to cut the baseball and said that during the 1963 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, "I used enough mud to build a dam."
Don Sutton, who pitched for five teams in his 22-year career, was suspended 10 days in 1978 for defacing the ball. The suspension was lifted when Sutton threatened to sue the National League, but no one doubted his guilt.
All three men cheated to gain an unfair advantage.
Isn’t that what steroid users do?
Now, I get there are some fundamental differences between doctoring a baseball and having Jose Canseco ram a hypodermic needle in your backside.
For one thing, steroids are illegal.
(Let’s be honest, though. The condemnation of Palmeiro has more to do with statistics than laws. If steroids were legal, would there be any less finger-pointing)?
For another, Perry didn’t turn himself into a bulked-up cartoon character; he put a little slop on a baseball.
But this argument that Perry’s kind of cheating is OK because it’s been part of baseball as long as, well, baseball has been around loses me.
The only reason Perry, Sutton and others aren’t wearing the scarlet "C" is that the sports media today is a different animal than it was 30 years ago.
There was no such thing as ESPN or sports talk radio. Highlights weren’t shown incessantly, and the sports world wasn’t in our ear 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
If you believe that’s a nonsensical argument, consider this: What would happen if, say, Roger Clemens was discovered scuffing a baseball and then suspended for 10 days? Wouldn’t there be a chorus of voices wondering how long he had been doing it and how much it had helped his career? Wouldn’t there be columns debating his candidacy for the Hall of Fame, just as there are columns today questioning Palmeiro’s worthiness. Of course there would.
Look, I’m not advocating steroid use or excusing Palmeiro, Jason Giambi and others for their behavior. What they did was wrong, and they deserve to be punished. When I have a Hall of Fame vote in three years, I’ll remember that their numbers were artificially inflated, and they’ll get a no vote on my ballot.
But this constant screaming and self-righteousness has gotten to be a bit much for me. Yes, Palmeiro cheated. Just like Perry, Sutton, Ford and others did.