Steroids and the Hall of Fame

I wrote about Jeff Bagwell, his Hall of Fame candidacy, and unfounded accusations of steroid use against him.  It got me thinking about steroids in baseball and the Hall of Fame connection.  We are in an age currently where every year, the Baseball Writers Association of America must vote either for or against an accused or admitted steroid user for the Hall of Fame.  These votes, while less contentious than you may think, represent a discouraging trend for the Hall of Fame.  The Hall itself is becoming irrelevant as players we once cheered and marveled are being passed up for players who, under normal circumstances, would not have been considered.

If you’re reading this, you may think I have no problem with steroids or performance enhancing drug use in baseball.  Maybe you’re think I just don’t care.  Maybe you’re thinking I’ve given up on our ability to police ourselves and the league.  You’d be wrong.  I’ve wrestled with this very topic for a long time.  I was angry when the always-increasing list of PED users first began.  I was angry while watching Hank Aaron’s home run record passed by an accused PED user.*  I was angered when I turned my focus from Barry Bonds to Alex Rodriguez because, well hey Rodriguez has the next best shot to be the new home run king, only to find out he too was a PED user.  I’ve now shifted my hopes to Albert Pujols, and everyday I wonder.  I try to ignore the suspicions because, like those thrown against Jeff Bagwell, they are unfounded.  All this, though, is beside the point.

*Much like everyone else, I have my own opinion on Barry Bonds’ home run record.  I choose to ignore the actual number, and I focus on the accomplishments of men before him.  Men like Hank Aaron.  I do not ignore Bonds’ accomplishment.  I do not pretend it didn’t happen.  That would be irrational and counter-productive.  

I do not approve of PED use in baseball.  I firmly believe it provides an unfair advantage, and if even one player in the league is playing clean, PED use cannot be tolerated.  However, to simply ignore the achievements of players caught, accused, and suspected of enhancing their performance makes the Hall of Fame nothing more than a editorial.  Like a letter to the editor, like the writers of this site share on a daily basis, opinions are an important component of the sports world.  They are not, however, an important component of a museum.

The Hall of Fame is a museum.  It is a shrine to tremendous performances in baseball history.  Regardless of a player’s character, they are enshrined if they produced results we can only imagine.  Regardless of their transgressions in life, players are given a microphone, given a crowd of fans, and asked to place their stamp on history by entering the Hall of Fame.  We live in a time of heightened scrutiny, and perhaps out of some moral obligation, the writers who make up the BBWAA feel they must clean up the game in any ay they can.  This is a thought I can’t fault them for, but a thought that reduces the meaning of the Hall.

Players like Ty Cobb were openly racist, mean, and violent.  Players like Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth were alcoholics and far from the role models we may hope our children look up to now.  Players like Gaylord Perry were accused of doctoring baseballs to get an unfair advantage over hitters.  There are many more, but these players are already firmly secured within the walls of Cooperstown.  Would they all get in if voting were to happen now and we knew all that we know now?  Many of them, I’m sure.  But many more may be blacklisted by overzealous writers.

I do not expect full agreement from everyone in baseball on this topic.  I would expect a 50/50 split at best.  And I understand that.  It has taken me six or seven years of disappointment, disgust, anger, and sadness to come to this point.  It has taken unfair accusations of potentially clean players to help clear my head.  It has taken a knowledge of the true purpose of the Hall of Fame to turn my opinion.  I, like many of you still do, felt that no player who used PED’s should ever be allowed in the Hall of Fame.  Their stain on the game of baseball is such that no one should remember them in a positive light.  No one should step through the doors of the Hall of Fame, son or daughter in tow, and marvel at the magnificent numbers these players were able to achieve.  The logic even sounds fine as I write this.  However, I no longer agree with it.

Below are the qualifications for player election as posted by the Baseball Hall of Fame:

A. A baseball player must have been active as a player in the Major Leagues at some time during a period beginning twenty (20) years before and ending five (5) years prior to election.

B. Player must have played in each of ten (10) Major League championship seasons, some part of which must have been within the period described in 3 (A).

C. Player shall have ceased to be an active player in the Major Leagues at least five (5) calendar years preceding the election but may be otherwise connected with baseball.

D. In case of the death of an active player or a player who has been retired for less than five (5) full years, a candidate who is otherwise eligible shall be eligible in the next regular election held at least six (6) months after the date of death or after the end of the five (5) year period, whichever occurs first.

E. Any player on Baseball’s ineligible list shall not be an eligible candidate.

At no point do the rules for election ask the BBWAA to make moral decisions as to who belongs in the Hall of Fame and who doesn’t.  The Hall is dedicated to the history of the game.  Their slogan is, “Preserving History, Honoring Excellence, Connecting Generations.”  The point of the Hall is to preserve the sport in its entirety.  There is a museum to go along with the Hall of Fame.  Together, the history of our pastime is captured in all its glory and all its shortcoming.  Do we really have a right to pick and choose which parts of history we want to preserve?

Anyone who makes the trip to Cooperstown, New York and walks into the Hall of Fame is given free will.  No one forces an opinion of any particular player on visitors.  Each person can view the displays, view the attractions, and make their own decisions.  As visitors pass through, they can look at a player and decide, “that guy was dirty.”  They can look at a plaque and say, “this player doesn’t deserve to be here.”  They can think these things and say these things because those players are in the Hall.  If not, the daily visitor would bot be given the chance to experience the game’s full history.

This is what we are faced with in the coming years.  As has been proven by the last few Hall of Fame votes, players linked to PED use are not getting in.  These players are being wiped away like chalk from a blackboard.  Their numbers are replaceable with numbers we feel confident were achieved through pure and clean methods.  It can’t go on.

Baseball has and always will be a game built on tradition, history, and transcendence.  We must embrace that with which we do not like.  We must be afforded the opportunity to remember and learn from the mistakes of those before us.  Simply ignoring the problems does not make them go away.  Put Mark McGwire in the Hall of Fame.  Put Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds in.  Give Rafael Palmeiro a nod.  These players are a major part of the game.  They make up the records we choose to ignore.  They make up an era of baseball we wished was more closely monitored.  They make up history.

Put them all in, but tell their story.  Do not simply list statistical accomplishments.  Tell the story.  Tell of the years of steroid abuse.  Tell of the performance enhancing drugs these players injected, ingested, and absorbed.  Tell a story of deceit and disgust that will permeate for generations.  Make these players accountable for their actions.  Put them on stage with nothing more than a podium between them and the crowd, and ask them to accept their induction.  For we can debate the merits of their records, we can choose to ignore them in disgust, and we can pass them by on our trips through the Hall of Fame, but we cannot eliminate them from history.  We must embrace the faults of the game we love so much so that we can work to fix it.  We must remind ourselves on a daily basis of what we hope to avoid in the future.  We must preserve the history of the game, no matter how unflattering it may be.  To that end, blacklisting players who are linked to PED’s cannot go on.

Tags: Alex Rodriguez Babe Ruth Barry Bonds Hall Of Fame Jeff Bagewell Mickey Mantle PED Sammy Sosa Steroids Ty Cobb

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