The question will dominate the Hall of Fame voting for the foreseeable future: How do voters look at known, or suspected, use of performance enhancing drugs when making their decision on nominated players?
Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson recently made his feelings on the subject known. He said that Alex Rodriguez’ numbers are tainted and most fans consider Hank Aaron the true career home run champion, not Barry Bonds.
Reggie went on to say that if any of the supposed PED users get voted in—Rodriguez, Bonds et al—no Hall of Famers would attend the ceremony.
It’s obvious that PEDs greatly impacted the numbers of the era. I was at the opening day of spring training for the Baltimore Orioles the year that testing went into effect. I can tell you that Sammy Sosa was a shell of himself from the previous year. I’m sure he just decided to drop a few pounds.
When deciding whether to vote a player into the Hall or not, his career has to be put into context. Comparing eras has always been difficult, if not impossible to do. The decision has to be based on the player’s comparison to others of his era.
It’s like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s view on hardcore pornography. He couldn’t define it, but he knew it when he saw it.
Say the player’s name and you should just know Hall or not.
It’s easy to say that if a player used PEDs then he cheated and his numbers aren’t real. If his numbers aren’t real, then he shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame.
There are two issues with that.
Who gets to define cheating? And if the issue with cheating is that it gives the “cheater” an advantage, how do we handle that if we have no idea who else was “cheating”? If the pitcher throwing to Rodriguez also juiced, then it’s a level playing field.
Please understand I’m not condoning use of PEDs. I’m just trying to put their use into the context of the Hall of Fame. Let’s deal with issue number one.
“Cheating” is something against the rules of the game that gives you an unfair advantage, right? Something you take or something you do. There’s no debate that PEDs improve a player’s performance, thus enhancing his numbers.
But steroids and HGH were far from the first PEDs. A big jar of “greenies” or speed—amphetamines—used to be in the middle of the clubhouse years ago. Players gobbled them like M&Ms, especially before a day game after a night game. Some players use an inordinate amount of caffeine to get ready for games.
I’m not comparing the effect or legality of steroids and HGH to greenies or caffeine. Just the effect on performance, which is the discussion here.
Where do we put pitchers who put substances on the ball in this discussion? Gaylord Perry is in the Hall after a career of putting junk on the ball. It was said that Whitey Ford could make the ball dip if the league president’s signature wasn’t straight. He was rumored to scuff the ball with his wedding ring. His catcher, Yogi Berra, reportedly scuffed the ball on his shin guard or pushed it into the mud before returning it to Ford. Is that “cheating?”
I don’t like the idea of anyone doing anything to enhance his numbers, but voting on election to the Hall is about the best players of their era and I don’t see how we can know for sure if any of these players had an unfair advantage over all the other players of their era.
If you can’t know that, then I would just consider their careers against their peers and vote accordingly.
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