To some people it’s simple. Performance enhancing drug users cheated and that should automatically disqualify them for the Hall of Fame (HOF). If a law student is taking the bar exam and answers 95% correctly on his own but gets caught cheating on one question, they don’t say well he passed without the question he cheated on so we will pass him anyway. I get that. However I don’t think it is this simple.
Conversely, one could argue that the era was corrupt and it is unfair that the players are getting all of the blame when the union and management are getting off the hook. And how do you figure out who used versus who didn’t? Further, how do you factor in those who got caught while others you just have suspicions? No. The issue isn’t that complicated either.
At one time or another many people speed when they drive. Some people get tickets, some don’t. That’s life. We can’t let everybody off the hook because some people don’t get caught. You know what you’re doing when you put your foot on the accelerator. You roll the dice, you break the law or commit a violation, that is what it is.
I reduce the debate to two questions: Is the HOF an honor for a player? Or is it a historical museum of record? If I was a voter and I believed the former I would vote against anyone getting into the HOF that I believed beyond a preponderance of the evidence used steroids or any PED. If I was a voter and believed the latter than I would consider PED use on a case-by-case basis.
My thinking is the HOF is both an honor for the player and a historical museum of record. Therefore if I were Commissioner for a day there would be two ways to get into the HOF: One with honors and the other without.
You can’t tell the story of baseball without telling the story of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Pete Rose (I know, gambling issue for Rose). You don’t give them the jacket, you don’t give them the ceremony and their PED use is as prominent on their plague as their statistics. They have to wait ten years instead of five and they’re in the “offenders” wing of the hall.
In America, we do not pretend dark moments in our history do not exist. On the contrary, we go out of our way to remind ourselves of them so that we might learn and avoid repeating mistakes. Having said that I feel the need to remind myself we are talking about baseball and not world affairs. That baseball players are treated far worse then other athletes of major sports and the relevant condemnation probably lies somewhere in the in between. I think the media gins up the issue to a degree because their love affair with numbers and statistics is greater in baseball than any other sport. However, another key factor was MLB and the union putting off testing as long as it did. They could have diffused their own time bomb if they dealt with it much sooner. But I digress.
As for eligibility and considering players on a case-by-case basis, my standard would be higher for PED users. A player would have to meet that subjective threshold of “were they a HOFer before or in the years when they were deemed clean?” Bonds, and Clemens meet that standard so I would vote them in without honors. Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and given his three time link, Manny Ramirez do not.
For example, McGwire’s HOF case is built around one thing, home runs. Take away the steroids and he is somewhere between Steve Balboni or Dave Kingman and a true HOFer. If I was a manager and I had to choose a first baseman for my team and my choice was Mark McGwire without steroids or Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Will Clark, or Keith Hernandez, I would take any of those other players. None of which have gotten a whiff of the hall. Some of which had injuries and perhaps could have extended their careers and numbers if they gave in to the dark side.
Mattingly for example, was an MVP, a batting champ, nine time gold glover, and voted best player in the game by his peers over a two year period (according to a New York Times poll of 417 players in 1986). But he had back issues zap him of his power, which caused an early retirement the year before the New York Yankees began a run of winning four World Series in five years. With steroids he could have possibly played through that run, been the first Yankee to reach three thousand hits, had a lot more home runs and won all of those rings before retiring. But he did the right thing, or I should say didn’t do the wrong thing. I just can’t see putting McGwire in before Donnie Baseball or the other first basemen mentioned above.
You can document the home run chase in the summer of 1998 and other such accomplishments in the hall while creating a teaching moment for young visitors by explaining why McGwire or Sosa are not in.
What about an asterisk? Any record accomplished by any player who has admitted or been found guilty in a court of law of PED use should have an asterisk. One positive about the steroid era for me is that I have a greater appreciation for the career and single season home run leaders, Hank Aaron and Roger Maris, respectively, who accomplished their records cleanly.
My closing thoughts on the issue are, not surprisingly, the cover up is worse than the crime. Jason Giambi worked his way through this much smoother than guys like Bonds, Clemens and McGwire by completely cooperating with the grand jury and a mea culpa to the media.
In defense of the players, it is not out of the realm of believability that some players used because they believed they had to use or they would be at a disadvantage because of those that were. Imagine stock brokers operating without an SEC, do you think more laws would be broken under those conditions? One might think they have to cheat under such circumstances to keep a job or to excel to the next level. In essence, they were unregulated with a don’t ask don’t tell policy by those who should have been enforcing a drug policy who chose instead to look the other way and profit as well. It is for that reason that I think we remove the scarlet letter placed on anyone’s chest from this era. Hold them accountable, learn from, and acknowledge the past, and move on.