Entry into the Hall is based not only on a player's greatness on the field but also on "integrity, sportsmanship, [and] character." Under the late MLB Commissioner Bart Giamatti, the board of directors of the Hall of Fame declared that Rose's crime rendered him ineligible.
In the past few years, the sportswriters whose votes determine entry into the Hall of Fame have imposed a collective ban against suspected steroid users. Mark McGwire, whose statistics would otherwise make him a cinch for the Hall, received just 24 percent of the vote in his first two years of eligibility, and 22 percent% this year. But Commissioner Bud Selig has not said whether illegal steroid use should trigger the character clause.
If I were commissioner of baseball, I'd ask the Hall of Fame board to put every player found to have used steroids onto the permanently ineligible list. For my money, Barry Bonds is one of the three greatest hitters in history, along with Babe Ruth and Ted Williams. But if he is guilty as charged, the Hall of Fame is not the place to honor him. Likewise, A-Rod should not be allowed to spend the next nine years trying to crawl into Cooperstown by waging a war of contrition. He couldn't even get through his first confession, to ESPN's Peter Gammons, without touting his Hall of Fame credentials. Ironically, that may be one reason he started taking steroids in the first place: to bolster his case that he belongs among the greatest ever.
If baseball can't bring itself to enforce an across-the-board ban, it should protect the integrity of the Hall of Fame another way. Under the current system, players become eligible five years after they retire. That's a strange way to assess a player's place in history. We don't put presidents on stamps five years after they've left office. In most fields, candidates for the Nobel Prize have to wait decades for their achievements to be recognized.
As baseball tries to make sense of what went wrong over the past decade, it should lengthen the Hall of Fame waiting period to 10 or 20 years after retirement. That will give people time to put the A-Roid era in perspective. And, besides, by then most players should be out for good behavior.
Correction, Feb. 12, 2009: The article mistakenly stated that Miguel Tejada lied to Congress about his own use of performance-enhancing drugs. He is accused of giving false statements about a teammate's use of the drugs. (Return to the corrected sentence.)