The nice brick building at 25 Main Street in Cooperstown is pretty much a bunker today, one day after the results of the most controversial Baseball Hall of Fame vote in history were announced. Slings and arrows may break their bones, but words will also hurt them. Just as the vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America revealed, there is tremendous polarization in the baseball world about how to view the legacy of performance-enhancing drug-tainted players, even if there is only a perception of wrong-doing and not the facts to support it.
Since the vote was announced Wednesday afternoon more countries have chimed in. Even enshrined Hall of Famers are split over how history should view great players with gaudy statistics who were alleged to have taken steroids. The reactions range from one extreme to another, just as they did among the 569 voters.
No one denies that Barry Bonds – the winner of seven Most Valuable Player awards and holder of the all-time home-run records for a single season and a career – and that Roger Clemens - winner of seven Cy Young Awards and 354 games – recorded fabulous statistics during their lengthy careers. Similarly, Sammy Sosa hit 609 home runs. Mark McGwire hit a then-record 70 homers in a season and 583 in his career. Rafael Palmeiro hit 569 homers and accumulated 3,020 hits. McGwire admitted using PEDs. Palmeiro got caught. Sosa was named in the Mitchell Report. Bonds and Clemens have denied drug use.
The basic arguments in favor of the players revolve around the fact that baseball had no banned drugs list and no drug testing program for most of the time those guys played and that you can’t have a Hall of Fame recognizing greats of the game that leaves out greats of the game. Pitcher Juan Marichal was one Hall of Famer on that side of the debate.
“I think that they have been unfair to guys who have never been found guilty of anything,” Marchial said. “Their stats define them as immortals. That’s the reality and that cannot be denied. What we are witnessing here are innocent people paying for the sinners.”
Marichal’s statement especially pertains to additional players who have never been accused of using PEDs, who had terrific credentials, but played at the same time as Bonds, Clemens, and the others. That would include Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, who essentially were collateral damage casualties to a vengeful electorate. Biggio received the highest percentage of votes of the 37 players on the ballot at 68.2 percent when 75 percent is needed for selection.
Other Hall of Famers liked the results–Bonds and Clemens obtaining barely more than a third of the vote–just the way they saw them. Relief pitcher Rich “Goose” Gossage and outfielder Al Kaline used the word cheating in their reactions to the vote.
“If they let these guys in ever–at any point–it’s a big black eye for the Hall and for baseball,” Gossage said, “and an endorsement of cheating as a message to youngsters.” Kaline said, “…to me it’s cheating. Numbers are important, but so is integrity and character.”
Gossage even wants the record books expunged, but he’s dreaming on that score since there is no literal proof of evidence of cheating to strip the players he was talking about of their numbers. You can’t give retroactive drug tests to cover a time period when there was no drug policy in place.
However, from reading hundreds comments posted on Internet Hall of Fame stories since Wednesday, it’s apparent that the public–at least those with computers–would like to strip the baseball writers of their right to vote. It seemed as if the comments were running about 3-to-1, about 75 percent, against the writers for leaving out everyone on the ballot. There was considerable backlash over the failure to elect Biggio, Piazza and Bagwell, and a sizeable block of feeling against blocking Bonds and Clemens.
Judging from the distribution of the vote and the policy of players staying on the ballot up to 15 years if they gather at least five percent of the vote, this issue is going to go on for years.
Wait till next year when Greg Maddux and his 355 victories, compiled in the same era as these players, becomes eligible. Anyone who ever saw Maddux without his shirt on will tell you that it didn’t look as if he had ever done a sit-up in his life. He wasn’t fat, but he certainly wasn’t steroid-sculpted. Try to explain away a no vote on Maddux.