Do steroid era players value HOF?

The problem with sports is that our fantasies can't live peaceably with reality.

People fantasized about Barry Bonds paying the ultimate price -- his freedom -- for his connection to baseball's steroid era. The reality, though, is that the federal government wasted a lot of time and taxpayer money, and Bonds' place in history is just as confusing to some as it was before.

As soon as the Bonds verdict was in, we engaged in another hopeless debate about whether Bonds and others connected with performance-enhancing drugs deserve to be in baseball's Hall of Fame.

Only we're debating the wrong thing.

It's not about whether players deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. The real question is: Do any of these players even care about making the Hall of Fame?

For years, the Hall of Fame has symbolized something sacred and hallowed. It has been held up as an ethereal museum that houses a gloried history, the final accolade for the greatest careers.

Many of us believe the steroids era was about the players' obsessions with breaking records, giving themselves a competitive advantage and perhaps bolstering their chances of getting into the hall.

But doesn't the reckless behavior by the players linked to performance-enhancing drugs prove how much luster the hall has lost in their eyes?

Roger Clemens, who will be on trial in July for lying to Congress about steroids, is considered one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history, but he made election to the Hall of Fame sound no better than being given a certificate of appreciation at the local banquet hall.

Asked in August whether he believed his upcoming trial would impact his chances of getting into the Hall of Fame, Clemens said, "I didn't play the game to go to the Hall of Fame. We love the Hall of Fame. … [But] I played the game because it was an opportunity to take care of my family."

We shouldn't call steroids performance enhancers. We should call them wallet enhancers.

Alex Rodriguez, an admitted user of PEDs, signed the two largest contracts in baseball history, totaling more than a half-billion dollars.

Manny Ramirez, who retired rather than serve MLB's first 100-game suspension for violating the league's drug policy, pocketed a combined $204 million from the Red Sox and Dodgers.

Andy Pettitte, who admitted to using human growth hormone, received an eight-digit salary in four of his last five seasons, which helped bolster his career earnings to $125 million.

Bonds made an estimated $187 million during his 21-year career, and $115 million of it came during his last seven years, when he bore his strongest (alleged) connection to using steroids and human growth hormone.

And Clemens earned $119 million, including $53 million his last five years in baseball.

The cold truth is those juiced dollar figures seem to matter more to them than the statistics that traditionally concern Hall of Fame voters.

It's not a particularly pretty realization, but these players' willingness to jeopardize their Hall of Fame candidacies cheapens what used to be considered the highest honor in their sport.

Think about it. Each of these players risked ridicule, scorn and their freedom by being associated with performance-enhancing drugs. Sorry, but athletes don't do that for a plaque in Cooperstown. They do it because it not only satisfies an immense ego, but also brings unimaginable financial security.

Bonds, Clemens and the rest of them know that whether or not their names ever appear in Cooperstown, many fans will consider them among the all-time greats anyway.

So what purpose does the HOF distinction even serve when money satiates their egos?

It pains many of us to think that such great players can be so driven by greed, that they can devalue what was once baseball's greatest honor.

But it's the unfortunate curse that every sports fan bears. We're hopelessly addicted to a game because of pure, emotional enjoyment. And that means idolizing players who often pollute the fantasy.

Jemele Hill can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.