I ask rhetorically, do great athletes need to cheat? What about very good athletes? What about marginal athletes? What about weekend athletes?
I am talking about cheating as in using performance enhancing drugs, or PEDs. The voters for the Baseball Hall of Fame decided to keep out Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire — four players who put of Hall of Fame-worthy numbers who are tainted by PEDs.
Lance Armstrong did something no one had ever done — he won the Tour de France seven years in a row. And he did it as a cancer survivor. Then last year, all seven of his Tour wins were taken from him all because he cheated.
So why cheat? I think Bonds would be in the Hall of Fame today if he wasn’t tainted by steroid accusations. Would he be baseball’s home run king? I doubt it. Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Bonds’ own godfather, Willie Mays, would probably all be ahead of Bonds still. But Bonds had a rare talent of being able to hit for average and power. He had a great eye at the plate. All indications are that Bonds was jerk. He didn’t always get along with his teammates, And he definitely did not get along with the writers who cover baseball on a daily basis.
As for Clemens, Sosa and McGwire, a I don’t know that they’d be Hall of Famers had they not cheated. Clemens, in my opinion, was not a good money pitcher. I believe he was a shitty money pitcher. Among his peers, I’d rather have Dave Stewart, Dave Stieb, David Cone, Jimmy Keys, Jack Morris on the mound in a must-win game before I’d turn the ball over the Clemens. And none of those guys is in the Hall of Fame. Sosa and McGwire probably would not be in the Hall of Fame either.
Why cheat? The most obvious reason is money. I am currently reading Wheelmen: Lance Armstrong, the Tour de France and the Greatest Sports Conspiracy Ever by Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O’Connell, and it’s pretty obvious to me that Armstrong was greedy as all hell, and he lived a lifestyle that would not be possible if he were a middle of the peloton rider. Instead, he dedicated himself and demanded complete loyalty among his teammates to winning the Tour. Yes, he worked hard, but he also had help through a doping program his team set up. Albergotti and O’Connell show that Armstrong was doping long before he was diagnosed with cancer.
Armstrong’s was a feel-good story. Here was a cancer survivor who went on to win the most famous bicycle race in the world. He did not once, not twice but seven times. He also made millions along the way.
I’ll admit I got caught up in the 1998 home run race between Sosa and McGwire. In fact, I was at Wrigley Field when the Cubs played their last home game of that season in hopes of seeing Sosa hit a home run. I refused to believe that either player might have gotten an unfair advantage by using PEDs.
Same with Armstrong, even though his personality rubbed me the wrong way. I wanted to believe he was racing clean. Now I know better, although I had plenty of suspicions even then. His story seemed too good to be true.
So who’s out there cheating now? Some is, we just don’t know who yet.