Tony La Russa, one of the most successful baseball managers of all time, will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday. As fans of the sport are undoubtedly aware, La Russa is being enshrined at a time when the Hall remains notoriously prickly toward players who are still alive — since, you know, steroids. These are players who forged La Russa’s path into Cooperstown by leading his teams to more than 2,700 wins over three decades, finishing third in the history of the MLB. For fun, consider how many of those were won with the on-the-field exploits of players like Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire in places like Oakland and St. Louis.
For the record, that’s the same Mark McGwire who is still sitting outside the Hall of Fame because his career has been tainted by his use of PEDs. Seem a little absurd to you? It seems the same way to La Russa, who told ESPN that, in his eyes, the Hall should “Treat them all the same. If you were a Hall of Famer during that period as far as your pitching and playing, I would create some kind of asterisk, where everybody understands that, ‘Look, we have some questions, but you were still the dominant pitchers and players of your time.’”
The question, then, is why La Russa is getting a pass for managing his teams to victory while the same players that ultimately secured those victories on the field. While the manager can insist all he wants that “our program was absolutely clean for everything that we could control,” the simple visual evidence of McGwire’s transformation is fairly damning on its own merits. Like the league as a whole, La Russa played deaf, blind, and dumb to what has, rightly, been labelled painfully obvious by observers and participants alike.
To some degree, this makes sense — Barry Bonds and the home run record still elicit passionate debate, even seven years after the fact. The Baseball Hall of Fame, taken as a totality, takes the twin pillars of history and nostalgia very seriously, which is fitting, given that it’s run by baseball writers. McGwire cheated, he admitted to cheating, and his home run race did nothing but disgrace the game. The wins were secondary to his legacy, in the grand scheme of things. For a manager, though, that’s not the case, particularly since a manager is never out on the field, playing the game.
This kind of thinking quickly elicits the idea of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing, and if the Hall of Fame is going to induct La Russa, it should honestly consider, at the least, adding an asterisk to McGwire’s name, or at least a Post-it note on La Russa’s entry, saying something like, “Close to half of his wins were won with known PED users on his roster.” Sounds like a reasonable compromise, right?