For the last few years, there has been a recurring news item in early January that sets my historical rage going. The repeated refusal of the Baseball Writers Association of America to elect Mark McGwire and others suspected of steroid use in the 1990s and early 2000s was bad enough. This year tipped me over the edge; the idea that neither Barry Bonds nor Roger Clemens deserve a place in the Hall of Fame is nothing short of preposterous. For better or worse, McGwire, Sosa, Clemens, and Bonds defined an era in which baseball regained its popularity after a self-destructive strike in 1994. For the hallowed halls of Cooperstown to pretend they never really existed is willfully sticking heads in the sand.
Of course, the sanitizing of history is not limited to the game of baseball. Every year, the NCAA comes down with ‘sanctions’ on college sports programs for a series of violations, whether academic, financial, or moral. Most typically, those programs are asked to ‘vacate’ their wins – doing nothing to actually award wins to the losers. And the sorry mess of the Lance Armstrong saga reflects a similar tale – those consulting the record books will simply be told that no-one won the Tour de France between 1999 and 2005, as if the race had never been run. At least the ‘vacation’ of title or a blank space in the annals encourages the casual observer to do some further reading on the circumstances. At root, though, it is a cop-out – if the record books don’t give us the nice morality tale that we’d like to see, we just press the delete button and hope that no-one comes to notice. Continue reading →