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Palladino: Steroids Or Not, A-Rod Needs To Go Into Hall

'From the Pressbox'
By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns

Alex Rodriguez tying Lou Gehrig with his 23rd career grand slam Tuesday night triggered once again the debate over whether steroid-era greats belong in the Hall of Fame.

There are those hard-liners who way anybody who was proved to have used the juice, or admitted its usage, should be locked out forever. Others say let them in unconditionally.

We've all heard the arguments, some of which turn the protagonists' faces beet red.

But there really should be no debate. A-Rod, and the rest of the gang that found better cheating through chemistry, will need to be enrolled in Cooperstown at some point, for one simple reason.

Baseball forgave them their sins.

Bonds, Clemens (probably), McGwire; let 'em all in. Tag their plaques with a notation about having played in the steroids era. Sequester them in a non-descript corner of the Hall if that makes you feel better. But one way or another, their likenesses have to be included.

Rodriguez has at least admitted to his usage between 2001 and 2003. Because baseball wasn't testing for such things back then, so he never received a suspension or any other punishment.

But the fact is that even those who baseball did catch and punish were allowed back in the game to continue compiling their statistics. Unlike Pete Rose, whose gambling on games he managed earned him a lifelong ban, every one of these players was welcomed back, their livings and career numbers intact.

If baseball didn't see fit to throw out the cheaters, Hall-of-Fame voters have no choice but to put in the best of the best from that era. And when all is said and done, Alex Rodriguez will go down as one of those guys.

No asterisk will appear next to that figure, even though three of them reside amid the 156 homers Rodriguez hit while more than the ball was juiced. Like Bonds' career home run mark, or the great chase of Roger Maris' single-season home run record McGwire put on with Sammy Sosa the summer of 1998, or Clemens' strikeouts, they all count.

If that's the case, they must all count in the Hall-of-Fame voters' minds, too.

The case for Rodriguez will only grow stronger as the year goes on. He's just 11 homers from joining Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Willie Mays as the only players to hit 650 or more career homers. He'll probably do that this year, barring injury and the fact that Tuesday night's shot marked only his 10th of the season.

With as many as four or five good years left in his career, it is entirely possible that Rodriguez will wind up surpassing Bonds for the top spot on the all-time list.

Basically, it will be impossible to keep him out of Cooperstown.

By the time Rodriguez' name comes up on the ballot about a decade from now, writers, the Hall, and baseball's leadership probably will have agreed to some sort of remedy. Since baseball saw fit to keep steroids-era players in the league, allowing them to continue collecting stats after serving their suspensions, there really is no choice but to accord those who qualify as all-time greats with a plaque in Cooperstown.

Put a scarlet letter on them. Tuck them away in a special section. But if they qualify, induct them.

Even the admitted cheaters like Rodriguez.

Should A-Rod & Co. eventually get a Hall call? If so, would the busts be better off in a separate section? Be heard in the comments below...

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