COMMENTARY: Cheating is not the way to go, kids

When Oakland Athletics left fielder Rickey Henderson broke St. Louis Cardinals left fielder Lou Brock’s all-time stolen base record, he concluded his speech with the memorable line, “Today, I am the greatest of all time. Thank you.” The public has mixed reactions to the concluding remark, with many finding it arrogant and disrespectful to Brock. There is no question, however, that Henderson is one of the greatest of all time, and fittingly, he will be joining the exclusive Hall of Fame club come July of this year.

Last week, members of the Baseball Writers Association of America voted Henderson into the Major League Baseball (MLB) Hall of Fame with 94.8 percent of 535 possible votes. Henderson will be accompanied by Boston Red Sox left fielder Jim Rice, who received 76.4 percent of the votes just in time to have his plaque in Cooperstown, N.Y. This was Rice’s 15th and last year of eligibility on the ballot.

Notably, St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire only received 21.9 percent of the votes. McGwire is eighth in career standings with 583 home runs and held the single-season home run record for six seasons with 70 home runs until it was shattered by Barry Bonds, who hit 73 in 2003. Despite an impressive résumé, McGwire failed to punch his ticket to Cooperstown for the third time because of steroid allegations.

Just recently, Baltimore Ravens rookie quarterback Joe Flacco was dubbed the next Ben Roethlisberger, who had a sensational rookie season. This is a case of sports writers’ constant interest in finding the next star athletes, an obsession that mirrors the general public’s constantly rising expectations in athletes. We — the media and public alike — want to see greatness every day. Thus, it is not surprising that athletes crack under the pressure and use performance-enhancing drugs. In fear of becoming ordinary, athletes are losing their sense of integrity. McGwire is only one of a chain of athletes who have cheated the system.

Even more irritating for fans is seeing athletes deny all accusations. McGwire’s image was tarnished by incriminating evidence of using steroids, but repeating, “I’m not here to talk about the past” over and over at the Congressional hearing certainly didn’t add to his once-heroic image. The amount of love and adoration fans show athletes is unique and amazing. After so much support, can we at least hear an apology? My hunch is that fans are pretty forgiving; they want to believe the best in athletes. New York Yankees’ Jason Giambi made a public apology to the media and fans after being accused of using steroids in 2003; last I checked, he was well received in N.Y. and still playing baseball.

Fans find pure athletic greatness inspiring because it embodies the American dream, that with hard work and determination nothing is impossible. But greatness because of unfair advantage is no greatness at all. Call it arrogance if you want, but at least Henderson achieved his feat in a honest fashion. Henderson played the game of baseball with integrity and heart — he earned the right to call himself “the greatest of all time.”