By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) As a kid, the guy was my favorite player, so I’m certainly biased. But when it comes to keeping score of the all-time greatest Hall of Fame induction speeches, I think Ryne Sandberg’s wins in a rout.
Back on July 31, 2005, the Chicago Cubs legend so famous for saying so little startled the baseball world when he took the stage in Cooperstown, stared out at all the fans sprawled across the lawn and suddenly transformed into an All-Star orator.
During his eloquent speech about all that’s good with baseball as well as everything that had broken bad, Sandberg subtly, yet strongly, took to task those who used chemical enhancements to gain an edge on the game.
Throughout his address, Sandberg uttered the word “respect” 19 times and told the crowd about his immense feeling of pride on his induction day, saying, “I hope others in the future will know this feeling for the same reason: Respect for the game of baseball. When we all played it, it was mandatory. It’s something I hope we will one day see again.”
Now, come next summer, could you imagine Roger Clemens saying the same kind of thing? What about Sammy Sosa? Or – feel free to scoff – Barry Bonds?
This winter, all three of those stars disgraced by performance-enhancing drug allegations will be first-timers on baseball’s Hall of Fame ballot. And following Clemens’ acquittal on Monday of federal charges that he lied to Congress about using PEDs, the chatter this week has been about whether Clemens now has a better chance of being elected to Cooperstown.
I certainly hope not.
Because, while the Hall can be cruel (voting in Ron Santo only after his death), nonsensical (Andre Dawson had to wait nine years to be elected; Barry Larkin only three) and contradictory (Gaylord Perry, an admitted spitballer, is enshrined), none of that means that it should also have to include guys like Clemens, Sosa and Bonds, as well.
They just don’t deserve it, no matter their talents or stats.
Two summers ago, I traveled to Cooperstown with my dad and brother for Dawson’s induction. For a baseball fan, there are few experiences more special than visiting that tiny town in upstate New York, and it was a weekend filled with nothing but good feelings and celebration by everyone in attendance.
But I shudder to imagine how horribly those good feelings would be tainted if a player linked to steroids stepped up to that Cooperstown podium to deliver an induction speech. And I’m embarrassed to think about the shame it would be if a clean inductee had to share his Hall of Fame weekend with a guy who’s shrouded in PED scandal.
I don’t want to see such things become reality. Not now. Not ever.
Baseball, to me, is a perfect sport. But it’s also an imperfect game, one with many examples of misdeeds and miscreants throughout its colorful history. And while you can certainly argue that the Dead Ball Era, the years before racial integration and connivers such as Perry have all skewed baseball’s record books throughout history, nothing wreaked havoc on the sport’s integrity in the same way that steroids have.
None of this means I want to forget about the players such as Clemens, Bonds, Sosa and the many others who excelled during the juiced-up 1990s and 2000s. All of that happened. That’s part of baseball’s history, and those men’s feats should be part of the story that’s told on the walls inside the Hall.
But I don’t at all think the individuals involved should be canonized for those accomplishments, as well.
The Hall of Fame was built to celebrate a game. I see no reason why it has to revel in baseball’s darkest side, as well. In Cooperstown, there are ways to remember and recognize that drama that was the Steroid Era without allowing its leading actors to step on stage and receive Oscars, as well.
Save the acceptance speeches at the Hall of Fame for the guys who truly deserve to give them. As Ryne Sandberg might say, that’s respect for the game.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.