Steroids And Baseball’s Hall Of Fame

The justification is right there in the rules. The ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame states, “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.” That makes it justifiable for voters to shun those suspected of using PEDs during their careers, but does that make it right?

The Hall of Fame class of 2013 will be announced Wednesday, and it will be the most scrutinized vote in the history of the institution. With Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro on the ballot — players with Hall-of-Fame numbers and Hall-of-Fame baggage — the voting has been turned into a morality play.

Look at it this way: From this year’s ballot, you could field a team of Clemens, Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Edgar Martinez, Alan Trammell, Bonds, Kenny Lofton, and Larry Walker — and probably all of them would rank in the top half among Hall of Famers at their position. Yet the odds are that only Biggio — or perhaps nobody — will be elected from that group.

The voters’ assessment of Mark McGwire in recent years has made it clear that Clemens and Bonds won’t be elected, because of their use of PEDs. And Piazza and Bagwell — also shoo-ins under normal circumstances — have enough suspicion surrounding them to likely delay their induction.

I can respect that on the part of the voters. But I don’t think that makes it proper. While the ballot makes clear that integrity, character, and sportsmanship are to be considered, I would lean more heavily upon playing ability in assessing a candidate. But that’s just me. The fact is that Bonds and Clemens helped their teams win a lot of games, which was their job. The other fact is that baseball — and the writers who are now acting with righteous indignation — looked the other way while steroids were infecting the game.

Should those writers be allowed to vote? To vote for the Hall of Fame, you must be a 10-year member of the Baseball Writers Association of America, so every single voter was a BBWAA member for several years before The Mitchell Report was issued in December 2007. Did any of them write about steroids when PEDs were obviously an issue in the sport (other than Rick Reilly, and I don’t know whether he has a vote)? Or did they become filled with outrage only when those players became eligible for the Hall of Fame?

For the record, I’m not a member of the BBWAA, so it’s easy for me to question the writers who actually are tasked with this responsibility. I don’t envy them, because it is a difficult call.

Take Sosa. He seemingly benefited greatly from steroid use and turned into a Hall-of-Fame-caliber player. But what about Bonds and Clemens, who were on their way to Hall of Fame careers before they apparently started using? Do they get bonus points for that? I don’t know.

It just seems that an attempt to ignore their contributions and accomplishments becomes a holier-than-thou rewriting of history. The fact is that Barry Bonds hit 762 home runs, scored 2,227 runs, and won seven MVP awards; we can’t pretend that didn’t happen. Players in the 1960s and 1970s were hopped up on amphetamines. Weren’t those designed to be performance-enhancing? Believe it or not, all numbers throughout the history of the game have been influenced by the era in which they were compiled.

That said, here’s my mythical ballot that I would have turned in. You know, if they gave me one:

  1. Barry Bonds. Arguably the best player in history. Yes, he was a jerk and used steroids. Ty Cobb was an even bigger jerk and nobody’s advocating for the removal of his plaque from Cooperstown.

  2. Roger Clemens. Arguably the greatest pitcher in history. The man won 354 games and had a 3.12 ERA — against hitters who were using steroids.

  3. Craig Biggio. One of the five greatest second basemen in history, his 1,844 runs rank 15th all-time.

  4. Mike Piazza. The greatest-hitting catcher in baseball history, he ranks among the top five all-around players of all-time at his position.

And that’s it. I would vote for four players, including two who definitely used PEDs and one who is suspected of it. Not that I feel good about it.

I guess that, in the end, I would vote for the people who were the best players on the field and did the most to help their teams win; I realize that I’m probably in the minority on this. I just think that in 30 years or so, future generations will wonder what the big deal was and question how Bonds and Clemens could have been left out of the Hall for a time. It is, after all, the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Good Guys.

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