By Ernie Palladino
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Regardless of what Alex Rodriguez does the rest of his career — and so far he’s doing plenty on and off the field — he may never get elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Regardless of the severity of punishment for Tom Brady, which NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will hand down at some point this week, he will waltz into the Pro Football Hall of Fame five years after his retirement.
In neither case will their Hall of Fame fates involve matters of image rehabilitation. Both are cheaters, that much is proven. Rodriguez was first convicted of PED use by his own admission in 2009, and then by a preponderance of evidence in the Biogenesis mess in 2013. Brady was convicted by a mountain of “most likelys” and “in all probabilities” in the Wells Report that put a bow on DeflateGate in a tidy 243 pages.
Yet, football will let Brady in. It must. Baseball will keep Rodriguez out. It can.
The respective balloting in either case will have nothing to do with personality or attitude, but everything to do with voting criteria.
A-Rod served a whiny, litigation-filled ban from baseball in 2014, during which he became the sporting world’s No. 1 public enemy. For Brady, well, he has presented an awfully smug, condescending attitude as he awaits a suspension that could range anywhere from two games to a season for throwing a soft ball in last year’s AFC championship game.
They both look horrible right now, even as Rodriguez takes tangible steps on what seems a miles-long road to a better image. He may never reach the end of it, even as he says all the right things while the front office he sued downplays milestones, dares him to sue again on his marketing deal payout, and undoubtedly wishes he would just go away.
He cried openly as Yankees radio analyst Suzyn Waldman interviewed him after his 660th homer, which tied Willie Mays and triggered that $6 million marketing deal. He has won games with timely power and pinch hits. The home fans are cheering for him like crazy now. The new guys call him an ideal teammate. And he recently appeared at a clinic for autistic children last Friday.
While he has yet to make the deaf hear and the blind see, Rodriguez has at least made some amazing strides in a sinner-to-saint transformation.
Yet, his legacy will not include a plaque in Cooperstown. Not unless the baseball writers’ perceptions of the Steroid Era change dramatically, that is.
No so with Brady. No matter Goodell’s punishment, and no matter how he chooses to confront it, Brady is all but assured of a bust in Canton. The operations crew might place it among other noted miscreants like O.J. Simpson and Lawrence Taylor, future inductee and noted child-beater Adrian Peterson, or any of the other members who exhibited a faulty moral compass.
Rest assured, though, he’ll be there.
Why? It’s simple. Rules.
The guidelines that govern election to the respective halls are different. In baseball, the electorate has wiggle room. They can judge a person’s character and weigh that just as heavily against the on-field accomplishments.
It’s the reason proved and suspected PED cheats Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens remain outside the walls. It’s the same reason Pete Rose would remain excluded, even if commissioner Rob Manfred one day pardons Rose for committing pro sports’ ultimate sin, gambling.
The voting writers have long, hard memories. If they’re not willing to forgive Bonds and Clemens, then it’s hard to believe they’ll forgive Rose. By that same philosophy, it’s unfathomable that the current voters would ever consider putting Rodriguez in, regardless of the heights of his new-found holiness.
The football writers have no such wiggle room. Though Brady will become the highest-profile player to ever serve a significant suspension, he, by rule, must be judged by on-field achievement. The fact that he cheated and was caught, convicted, and punished, will put nary a smudge on the four Lombardi Trophies he brought the Patriots.
He need never tread the high road. He need never court the love of those outside the New England rooting area.
America can hate Brady the rest of his career for deflating footballs, it won’t matter. The numbers will tell his story, just as they continue to keep Simpson and the hell-raiser Taylor in Canton.
Different sports, different Hall-of-Fame criteria.
Like it or not, it’s just the way it is.