Monday, January 11, 2010

What's Worse: Cheating or Betting?

Pete Rose was accused of betting on baseball and banned from the game--including its Hall of Fame--as a result.

Mark McGwire has been accused--and has now admitted--to using steroids. His penalty? None. In fact, it appears that he will continue to be the hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals.

As regular readers know, I wasn't born and raised in Cincinnati, though it is my adopted home-town. I now consider myself a Reds fan. But I'm no Pete Rose groupie. As far as I'm concerned, Rose got the penalty he deserved, first for betting on baseball and then for lying about it for years. I don't buy the argument that it's OK since he never bet "against the Reds." Once he started betting for the Reds, he bet against his team every time he didn't bet for it. Everyone--including Rose--knew that getting caught gambling on baseball would get you baseball's version of the death penalty.

I don't know, though, how McGwire's transgression is less onerous than Rose's. Rose didn't cheat. Even under my theory of betting "against" his team, Rose has never been accused of intentionally altering game outcomes. But that's not so for McGwire. McGwire cheated. He gained an advantage through his conduct. And in doing so, he sullied one of baseball's most hallowed records.

Let's be clear about what McGwire did. This isn't a pitcher doctoring a ball on the mound, an act that can be detected by a smart umpire. This isn't even about HGH, which wasn't banned by the MLB until 2005. This was steroids--the rage-inducing, testicle-shrinking grandaddy of performance enhancers--which were banned in 1991. He knew he was breaking the rules. He knew he was gaining an edge. And he did it anyhow. He admits that he used during 1998, when he broke Roger Maris's single season home-run mark.

Mark McGwire should have the courtesy and grace to remain in the obscurity to which he had retired after his infamous testimony before Congress five years ago. The Cardinals' decision to retain his services as a hitting coach--to prop him up as a role model for how young players should approach the game--is vile. McGwire's presence on a major league coaching staff is an insult to every player who played or plays the game within the bounds of the rules, and an affront to every fan, unaware that McGwire's success was the result of illegal intravenous drugs, who cheered his hitting prowess in 1998.

If McGwire doesn't have the decency to stay away from the game and the Cardinals lack the wisdom to keep him away, then baseball and Bud Selig must step in to impose a penalty on McGwire. Given that McGwire's actions changed game outcomes and stole a coveted record, how can his sanction be any less severe than Rose's? Bud Selig must make the tough decision faced by Bart Giamatti in 1989 and force McGwire to accept banishment from the game.

The Reds open the 2010 season this April against the Cardinals. I don't normally boo much at ballgames or encourage others to do so, but if McGwire is present, he should be booed. And he should be ashamed.

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