The Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, and more specifically it's voters, are faced with an interesting problem.
From the first Hall of Fame class until now, the voters have followed an interesting set of criteria when selecting who to vote for, including this rule:
"Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played." (Taken from Rule 5, BBWAA Rules For Election To The Hall Of Fame)
Unfortunately for voters, the use of steroids and human growth hormone have added a bit of a question mark.
Flash back to the summer of 1998. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were smashing home runs and chasing Roger Maris's single season home run record of 61, and MLB's ratings were through the roof.
Fans were happy to see exciting, high-scoring games, players were happy to see their salaries skyrocket, and MLB Commissioner Bud Selig was happy to see sold-out stadiums.
McGwire had a chest the size of a small car. Jason Giambi's arms were bigger than Hulk Hogan's. Barry Bonds gained 30 pounds of muscle in three years. But as long as the ball was flying over the fence and fans were paying good money to see it, who cared?
Fast forward a few years, to a time when steroids and HGH had been banned in baseball, the Mitchell Report started naming names, and 50-game suspensions were the norm for those who tested positive for the banned substances.
Some of those same players who were among the most popular names in the game, who made upwards of 20 million a year, and who were celebrated as heroes, were suddenly the bad guys of baseball.
Does using steroids or HGH show poor character and integrity, traits listed in Rule 5?
From heralded home run hitters like McGwire and Sosa, to all around hitters like Rafael Palmeiro, to arguably the best pitcher of the last 30 years in Roger Clemens, all had been associated with steroids or HGH and were written off by most fans.
Steroids and HGH were always illegal in MLB, but there were no official punishments until just a few years ago, so should we look down on those who used them when the league itself never took its own policy seriously?
Most fans are quick to say "steroids are illegal, and if you ever used them, you are a cheater," but chances are those same fans were cheering when McGwire, Sosa, and Palmeiro were launching balls 500 feet.
When selecting a player to the Hall of Fame, a voter is given two choices: Yes or No. There is no space to list a reason such as "I checked no because he used HGH."
If baseball willingly turned a blind eye to steroids and HGH when potential Hall of Fame-worthy players such as McGwire or Sosa used them, should they be denied entry into MLB's Holy Grail?
Should players such as Alex Rodriguez or Manny Ramirez, who have either tested positive for a banned substance or admitted to using them, share the same honor as players such as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Ted Williams?
By the time his career is over, Rodriguez may very well have the most home runs of all time, but he will also be known as a player who used steroids to gain those numbers, while other great hitters like Mickey Mantle and Reggie Jackson didn't.
McGwire, Sosa, Clemens, and countless others who have never officially tested positive, but who saw their numbers spike even as they grew older, are considered by many fans to be cheaters.
McGwire has 583 home runs, good for eighth all time, yet has seen his Hall of Fame vote totals fall from 23.6 percent to 21.9 in his first two years of eligibility.
Players need 75 percent of the vote to be inducted.
For players such as Clemens, Bonds, and Palmeiro, they have not yet reached their chance for induction—a player must be retired for five full seasons before they are eligible.
When their time does come, how will the voters choose?
Yes or no?
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