Making the Case for MLB Steroid Users Belonging in the Hall of Fame

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Making the Case for MLB Steroid Users Belonging in the Hall of Fame

This is to be no ordinary weekend in Cooperstown, New York. Hall of Fame weekend has arrived.

Huzzah...?

Not this year, no.

Ordinarily, Hall of Fame weekend is a big deal. But in 2013? Shoot, there's no shame in anyone admitting that they had no idea it was coming up. Thanks to what happened in January, it's not like it matters this year.

The Cooperstown gatekeepers pitched a shutout in this year's voting, their strongest statement yet against the dirty, no-good juicers from the Steroid Era who have found their way onto the ballot. Judging from the voting totals—37.6 percent for Roger Clemens, 36.2 percent for Barry Bonds, a mere 16.9 percent for Mark McGwire and so on—and the voting habits of from recent years, the line in the sand is as clear as day.

That line should be erased, and the sooner the better.

No, there shouldn't be an open invitation for Steroid Era stars to come waltzing in. I'm of the mind that their cases should be handled on an individual basis, with consideration given to the evidence against them and how much the naughty stuff conceivably helped them.

That's simple scrutiny, not a line in the sand that requires lumping all Steroid Era stars under one umbrella and keeping them out based on principle. Which is bogus, especially if the rationalization is that the sanctimony of the Hall of Fame must be upheld.

Psh. What sanctimony?

We can start with what Frank Thomas said last month. The former Chicago White Sox great isn't in the Hall of Fame yet, but he told ESPN's Jerry Crasnick that he had spoken with a few Hall of Famers and found that they were in agreement on how welcoming they are of juicers in Cooperstown: not at all.

Said Thomas:

They say, 'Hell, no.' They don't want any of these guys in. These are super-superstars in my eyes, and they're serious about it. I would suggest you get around the Johnny Benches, the Ozzie Smiths, the Dave Winfields and Mike Schmidts. Hold court with them and see how they feel. I've talked to them and it was eye-opening.

I want the game to be where it's supposed to be. Guys have climbed that mountain for a reason, and that's important to me. To hear the Hall of Famers talk, their legacy is important to them. I respect that. That's why I had such feelings for Hank Aaron and those guys coming up, and I wanted to get to the level of the Hall of Fame. When guys take drugs like that, they're not deserving of being on that level.

I've already used the Big Hurt's remarks as a jumping-off point for another article on PEDs and the Hall of Fame, and I'll repeat a sentiment from that one here.

Current Hall of Famers don't want to be rubbing shoulders with juicers, eh? Well, too bad. They already are.

Tom Pennington/Getty Images

He didn't give a name, but Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post said (via Wezen-Ball.com) in Ken Burns' documentary The Tenth Inning that he had one player tell him back in 1988 that he was drinking a "Jose Canseco milkshake." That player set a new career high for home runs that year and is now in the Hall of Fame.

So there's at least one juicer in Cooperstown. And it doesn't stop there.

We know from page 28 of the Mitchell Report that the use of anabolic steroids in baseball was "alarming" as far back as 1973. Seeing as how a problem doesn't become "alarming" overnight, it's perfectly fair to conclude that steroids were invading baseball well before 1973.

In turn, it's fair to conclude that players were juicing decades before the arrival of the Steroid Era. That span of time produced Hall of Famers. Some of those Hall of Famers are bound to have juiced during their playing days. Logic!

But wait, it doesn't stop there either.

We know that Pud Galvin, a 365-game winner, was granted posthumous entry into the Hall of Fame in 1965, and we know that he was juicing as far back as the late 1880s. We also know that he was celebrated for it.

Here's Cork Gaines of Business Insider:

As Galvin's career was coming to a close in 1889, he turned to testosterone treatment developed using an extract from the testicles of a guinea pig and a dog. The treatment was touted in the press as a substance that would 'rejuvenate the old and make strong the feeble.'

So if you're looking at performance-enhancing drugs in baseball as a phenomenon limited to the 1990s and early 2000s, don't. The use of PEDs in baseball stretches all the way back to the sepia-toned early days. It's not a stretch to think that the league's cleanest days are happening right now.

And this is to say nothing of amphetamines, or "greenies" in baseball parlance. They were finally banned in 2006, and that was the end of a way of life. Greenies had been a popular performance-enhancer for ballplayers dating back to the 1950s, and they were taken by scrubs and greats alike even after amphetamines were deemed a controlled substance by the federal government in 1970.

Elect Steroid Era stars to the Hall of Fame, specifically the ones known to be dirty, and yeah, they'll be accepted begrudgingly. Or shunned entirely.

But they wouldn't be a foul new breed of Hall of Famer, bringing with them corruption unlike any Cooperstown has ever known. We have every reason to believe that the Hall already plays host to those who played chemically-enhanced and has been doing so for many years.

As for the notion that steroid users should be kept out on the basis that they're bad guys, we don't even have to get into that discussion about whether the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs is something that only bad guys are capable of.

That discussion is irrelevant in the case of the Hall of Fame. As much as it wants to be a home for the virtuous, in reality, it's not.

Ty Cobb was a generally rotten SOB who liked to get into fights (subscription required) with fans. Rube Waddell was a living, breathing id who also wasn't morally opposed to beating up fans. Mickey Mantle was a drunk and a womanizer who once gave a child an autograph complimenting his mother on her, ahem, cup size. Even the ever-lovable Kirby Puckett, one of my favorite players as a kid, had a (very) dark side.

These guys almost look like saints compared to some of the bigwigs who have found their way into the Hall of Fame over the years. Had Charles Comiskey not been such a cheap tyrant, the infamous Black Sox scandal would not have happened. Had Kenesaw Mountain Landis been a man of action rather than of seemingly on-purpose inaction, baseball's color line would have been abolished well before 1947.

It should be remembered that folks like these are in the Hall of Fame whenever a voter dares to invoke the character clause of the Hall of Fame voting guidelines. That clause was well-intentioned, but the years that have passed and the characters who have been put in the Hall of Fame despite it have made it moot. It would be best if it was done away with, as Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports argued back in January.

Eliminate the hilariously farcical notions that the Hall of Fame is no place for juicers and/or morally reprehensible people, and you're left with the one purpose the Hall of Fame is legitimately good for: to honor the history of baseball.

Heck, that's basically the Hall of Fame's motto: “Preserving History. Honoring Excellence. Connecting Generations.”

The voters are causing the Hall of Fame to fail at the first two parts. As long as some of the greatest players ever are being denied entry, the Hall of Fame will not be preserving history or honoring excellence to the degree that it should be.

Again, I'm not arguing that zero consideration should be given to which players juiced and how much they benefited from them. If it can be proved that a player juiced and it can be reasonably concluded that he only enjoyed a great career because he juiced, then by all means, leave that player out. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa come immediately to mind.

But Roger Clemens? It can't be proved and indeed hasn't been proved that he juiced, so, really, he shouldn't even be up for discussion in this article or any other about the Steroid Era. Strip away the suspicions, and Clemens is a no-brainer for the Hall of Fame.

And Barry Bonds? He won't say he did so knowingly, but he has admitted to juicing during his career. Supposedly, his juicing started as far back as the 1999 season.

But by then, Bonds was already the first player in baseball history with 400 homers and 400 stolen bases, and his 164 OPS+ through his first 13 seasons was historically good. Per Baseball-Reference.com, only 10 current Hall of Famers had an OPS+ at least that high through their first 13 seasons.

If you want to believe that steroids invalidated the latter stage of Bonds' career, fine. I'm right there with you. But they didn't make him a Hall of Fame-caliber player. He could have retired after 1998 and still would have been a first-ballot member.

So let's say these guys and, eventually, other guys with PED links like Andy Pettitte and David Ortiz are put in the Hall of Fame. Ask yourself this:

What harm could possibly come of it?

The sanctity of the Hall of Fame wouldn't be sullied, as the sanctity of Cooperstown is already a farce to begin with. And if anyone's worried about whether glorifying PED users would give contemporary players something to strive for, well, that's really nothing to worry about.

The league is different these days. Testing and public outrage have made it undeniably cleaner than it was in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and the union's approach to Biogenesis shows just how much the times have changed. It no longer protects the juicers. It protects the innocent, who far outnumber the juicers.

Then there's the fact that the primary incentive for players to use PEDs is not to one day get into the Hall of Fame anyway. The much more relevant potential reward is that of a big-time payday. Go ask Melky Cabrera. Or Ryan Braun. Or any one of the minor leaguers who get busted every year.

It doesn't matter if the penalty for a first-time offense stays at 50 games or goes up to 100 games or life. The potential reward is still going to exist and is still going to be tempting. Some players will go for it. Absolutely nothing that happens with the Hall of Fame is going to change that.

So let's stop pretending like the earth is going to split open and fire and brimstone are going to rain from the sky if a few PED users find their way to Cooperstown. They should certainly be chosen carefully, and I'd be fine with their plaques being littered with asterisks and a few flashing red lights on the side just to be absolutely sure everyone knows what they did.

But putting their plaques in place would not be punching a hole in baseball's moral fiber, nor would doing so heighten the level of cheating in baseball beyond where it already is.

Here's the only thing that would happen: The history of baseball will be appropriately honored.

And that's all anybody can and should ask of the Hall of Fame.

 

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

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