- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Mike Schmidt knows he isn't speaking for all living Hall of Fame players, but if Alex Rodriguez joins their club someday, Schmidt said he would welcome him to the fraternity.
"Would I welcome him? Yeah, I will -- if he got elected to the Hall of Fame," Schmidt said Wednesday after he checked into the Philadelphia Phillies' spring training camp as a special instructor.
Schmidt was elected to the Hall in 1995 with 96.5 percent of the vote, the third-highest percentage at the time -- behind Ty Cobb and Hank Aaron -- of any Hall of Fame position player. Asked why he wouldn't have qualms about accepting an admitted user of performance-enhancing drugs as a fellow Hall of Famer, Schmidt said he sees both sides of this issue.
"I'm a guy, I always seem to be walking right on top of, right down the middle of the fence," he said. "I can understand the old hard-line guys who use the words, 'He cheated, he cheated, he cheated.' And [I understand] the other guys that go, 'It was a culture thing back then, and if you played, you'd have been tempted, too.'"
In fact, when Schmidt was asked directly if he thought he'd have gotten caught up in trying performance-enhancing drugs had they been part of his era, he answered: "Most likely. Why not?"
"A term that I think has been overused a lot, especially by Alex, is 'culture' -- culture of the era he played in," Schmidt said. "We had a culture when I played. There was a culture in the era when Babe Ruth played. And in the '60s, there was a culture. It's just that way in life. And apparently -- I wasn't involved, but from hearing everybody -- that was the culture of the '90s and the early 2000s. The temptation had to be tremendous to the young men playing major league baseball back then."
But when he was asked if he thought that being "young and stupid" was an acceptable explanation for what A-Rod did, Schmidt said: "Young and stupid may be better [when you're] 12, 13, 14, as opposed to 23, 4, 5 and 6."
Schmidt has said in the past he identifies with Rodriguez as a guy who has had trouble at times conquering the mental side of the game. So it's not surprising that Schmidt feels as though, for a man in the middle of a firestorm, Rodriguez "has handled it very well -- the best you can do at damage control, I guess."
"I think he's doing the best he can do, based upon who he is and the town he plays in and the pressure he's under," Schmidt said. "He's got two choices -- face it or hide from it. And I don't think there's any in-between. We've seen some of the guys who have hidden from it, and how their lives have changed. And I think facing it head-on is the best way for someone like Alex."
Schmidt admitted he has been riveted by this story as much as anyone, saying, "As a fan sitting back, I kind of feed on it, too." But he said he wasn't particularly interested in second-guessing A-Rod's quotes or sound bites.
"I look more at the psychological side of it," he said. "That's what's interesting -- how sports fans choose their heroes, how we as a human race choose our heroes, how our heroes always seem to let us down. You know, when you pick a sports hero, he at some point lets you down. ...
"My take on the whole thing is, rather than having an Alex Rodriguez as your hero, or a Roger Clemens as your hero, how about someone fighting in the war in Iraq, or a heart surgeon, or Barack Obama. Why not focus more on people who really matter in this world?"
Senior writer Jayson Stark covers major league baseball for ESPN.com.
1dTony Lee, Special to ESPN.com