Not one baseball player was inducted into the Hall of Fame this year. It was a shutout, only the second one in 40 years.
Perhaps it was to be expected. There was little appetite for celebration when so many of the newly eligible candidates were tarnished by the steroid scandal of the last decade.
“After what has been written and said over the last few years, I’m not overly surprised,” tweeted pitcher Roger Clemens, who, along with Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds, was among those turned down.
I found myself thinking of Cassio, whose drunkenness cost him his job as Othello’s chief lieutenant: “Reputation, reputation, reputation! O, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial.”
In sports, reputation really is everything. Dopers, who spent years enjoying terrific reputations, based on achievements, we now see as tainted. They have fallen in our esteem and ruined our memories of their glory days.
The summer of 1998, when Sosa and Mark McGwire dueled to set a new single-season home run record, seems like a bad 3-D movie with styrofoam monsters and heroes with lifts in their shoes. Lance Armstrong’s story of surviving cancer and winning the Tour de France seven times has lost its ability to inspire.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “Perhaps a man’s character was like a tree, and his reputation like its shadow; the shadow is what we think of it, the tree is the real thing.”
The dopers’ problem was that they lost sight of the real point. The reputation and adulation that come with victory are only worth having for those who earn them. Those who pursue them unworthily are just chasing shadows.
That’s why the opprobrium that the dopers now face is deserved punishment. The pursuit of fame is no crime. But it’s wrong and pointless to gain it by cheating. It is a shame that those who cheat may, even briefly, eclipse players such as baseball great Hank Aaron, who won our admiration honestly.
A good reputation is a desirable thing, but the downfall of these sports heroes helps put it in proper perspective. Reputation is only a shadow. Character is the real thing.
Consider the case of St. Jeanne Jugan, who founded the Little Sisters of the Poor. She lived a life of heroic virtue, caring for hundreds of elderly poor people and founding an order that still does that work today.
In 1852, a priest who was appointed superior general of her order directed her to retire into a life of obscurity. When she died 27 years later, the younger members of the order didn’t even know she was its foundress.
Most of us would resent such treatment. It’s the kind of injustice that inspires people nowadays to sue and write tell-all books. And who among us would not sympathize with her?
But St. Jeanne was an extraordinary person and a good example for people who care about fame. She did what she did for the poor and for Christ, not for popular acclaim. When you know as clearly as she did where you stand, the shadow you cast is not so important.
Garvey is president of The Catholic University of America in Washington.