MLB Hall of Fame: 10 Myths That Are Keeping PED Users out of Cooperstown

Lewie PollisSenior Analyst IIIJuly 15, 2011

MLB Hall of Fame: 10 Myths That Are Keeping PED Users out of Cooperstown

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    Baseball is full of vigorous debates.

    Sabermetrics vs. traditional statistics, Ruth vs. Bonds, Yankees vs. Red Sox, the list goes on. Fans of our national pastime have plenty to argue about.

    Perhaps no issue makes fans and writers' blood boil like the question of whether performance-enhancing drug users should be allowed into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

    Unfortunately, much of the (currently prevailing) argument for keeping dopers out of Cooperstown is based on a series of false notions, ranging from innocent misunderstandings to hypocrisy and so-called facts that are simply untrue.

    In this slideshow are 10 common talking points used to rationalize keeping people like Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and (eventually) Barry Bonds out of the Hall of Fame that don't hold up under close scrutiny.

    It is my hope that this piece will help to clear up some misconceptions about cheating and Cooperstown in order for both sides to engage in a more intellectually honest dialogue.

No. 10: "They Wouldn't Have Hit so Many Homers Without Cheating."

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    Steroids and PEDs definitely help those who used them. Even forgetting the impact they have on the field, they help players stay in shape and recover from injuries faster. Neither I nor any other sane person would ever suggest otherwise.

    However, the on-field impact might not have been as big as you think.

    Steroids certainly help you build muscle, but it's not like rubbing cream on your body or injecting yourself with something magically transforms you into a cross between Babe Ruth and the Incredible Hulk.

    Plenty of strong players have trouble hitting the ball hard, and not all power hitters are physically intimidating specimens (see "Soriano, Alfonso"). Juicing doesn't give you extra ability to recognize a pitch you can drive or bring your bat around at just the right time.

    Let me be clear: steroids definitely help, and the fact that their impact may be overestimated doesn't make it right to use them. But Barry Bonds' cream wasn't like Popeye's spinach.

No. 9: "Every Big Power Hitter Is a Suspect."

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    Jose Bautista comes out of nowhere to hit 54 homers? Must be 'roids. Bartolo Colon makes a miraculous comeback? The surgeon probably used HGH. Albert Pujols recovers from his wrist injury early? Give him a drug test.

    We are paranoid about PEDs, to the point where no-questions-asked first-balloter Jeff Bagwell missed out on Cooperstown this year in large part because some writers had a feeling that he might have cheated.

    A Hall of Fame vote isn't a court of law, and "innocent until proven guilty" doesn't always apply. The problem is, the stereotype of hulking sluggers juicing up isn't necessarily accurate. 

    In his essay,, "What Do Statistics Tell Us About Steroids?" Nate Silver found that massive power spikes among elite power hitters were actually less frequent than in the time between World War II and the beginning of the Steroid Era.

    In general, most cheaters weren't Hall of Famers like Bagwell but guys like Matt Lawton and Jordan Schafer, who were just trying to survive in professional baseball.

    The most likely users wouldn't be considered for Cooperstown anyway.

No. 8: "Mark McGwire Cheated."

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    One of the dirtiest cheaters of them all, McGwire's flagrant disobedience of MLB regulations made him one of the poster boys for an era that ruined the sport of baseball. Right?

    Not really, no.

    The androstenedione he was caught with in 1998? It was criminalized and banned from the game in 2004—long after McGwire had hung up his cleats.  

    To be fair, yes, Commissioner Fay Vincent had banned steroids from baseball in 1991, but the ruling was hardly taken seriously. Even non-punitive survey testing for PEDs didn't start until 2003—again, after big Mac had retired.

    So yes, steroids were technically banned, but in a way similar to how suicide is illegal and how you can't get a fish drunk in Ohio.

No. 7: "Steroids Were Illegal During McGwire's Time, so MLB Didn't Need a Ban."

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    Major League Baseball might not have taken steroids seriously, but the U.S. Government did. The Anabolic Steroids Control Act of 1990 banned them, and there was no hand-wringing by the owners or the players union over enforcing it.

    To some, this is basically the same as a ban from the Commissioner's Office. Widen your lens, though, and you'll see that's not true.

    Follow me through a little thought experiment. Let's say there is a small, independent island country in the middle of the Missouri River, just a quick ferry ride away from St. Louis.

    We'll call it 'Roid Island, because the state of Rhode Island is so small it could fit inside a river (geographical humor!) and I'm proud of the pun.

    In 'Roid Island, the sale and use of steroids is totally legal. If McGwire had juiced up there before getting back on the ferry and heading to batting practice, would that have been OK? Would that make any sense?

    Hence, the argument that the federal ban on steroids should have stopped McGwire doesn't hold water.

No. 6: "Rafael Palmeiro's Lies Should Disqualify Him from Cooperstown."

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    Rafael Palmeiro didn't just cheat. He wagged his finger at Congress, as though they should have been ashamed for accusing him.

    Then, he tested positive a few months later—an offense no doubt worsened by his previous arrogant dishonesty.

    But while he deserved to be embarrassed for his hypocrisy and it doesn't speak well about his personal integrity, you can't hold that against him on the Hall of Fame ballot.

    Babe Ruth was an adulterer. Enos Slaughter was a racist. Ty Cobb stabbed a guy and beat up a handicapped fan. And we're keeping Palmeiro out for lying?

    Off-field dishonesty is a relatively minor sin for a baseball player. He's not the only player with a big ego.

No. 5: "We Can't Let PED Users in the Hall of Fame."

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    Forget the impact of steroids, forget the legal questions, forget the arrogance and lies. These men chemically altered their bodies to have success, and it would be a tragedy for us to let PED-fueled players into the Hall of Fame.

    I can understand the sentiment, and I can certainly sympathize with it. But there's one big problem: we've already crossed that bridge.

    Willie Mays had his "red juice." Mickey Mantle took "greenies," as did Mike Schmidt and Willie Stargell, among many others. Heck, Pud Galvin doped more than 100 years ago.

    Not to mention that there's at least one modern doper already in Cooperstown according to Tom Boswell, who claims to have watched a recent Hall of Famer drink a "Jose Canseco milkshake."

    It's not like Cooperstown is home only to all-natural athletes to begin with.

No. 4: "We Can't Let Cheaters in the Hall of Fame."

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    Sure, there are PED users in Cooperstown, but they didn't break the rules. The only thing that could have stopped Galvin from doping was how gross his method was.

    It's true that there is a distinction between what could be seen illicit behavior (like Mays and Mantle) and flat-out cheating, like Manny Ramirez did.

    But it's not enough to keep modern-day dopers out of Cooperstown.

    Ty Cobb's spiked cleats might not seem like a big deal, but how about Gaylord Perry's spitballs? There was no legal gray area when Perry was caught and suspended for doctoring the baseball nearly 50 years after the last legal spitballer retired.

    And yet, Perry is now in the Hall of Fame. How can we say no cheaters allowed when there's already at least one already in?

No. 3: "Spitballs Aren't as Bad as Steroids."

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    The image we have of steroids and PEDs isn't a flattering one. Personally, when I think of dopers, I see giants with muscles bigger than my head, back rooms full of needles and unmarked containers, and oddly colored liquids running through veins.

    I don't get that vibe when I think about Gaylord Perry's spitballs. His illicit behavior seems folksy and natural, hearkening back to the days when pitchers went nine innings, players got their uniforms dirty, and dagnabbit, they didn't complain when they pulled a muscle or got a bruise. It's like the cheating equivalent of David Eckstein.

    But ethical standards aren't subjective, and they aren't based on how aesthetically appealing it is to see someone break them.

    If cheating is indeed a moral issue—as those who oppose letting Bonds & Co. into Cooperstown say it is—then it's wrong no matter how you do it or how effective your method is.

No. 2: "The Hall of Fame Has a Character Clause."

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    The Hall of Fame rules are pretty clear about holding inductees to a high standard beyond mere performance: "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." (emphasis mine)

    It's right there in black and white, and there's no ambiguity about the language. My question, though, to those who cling to the character clause as a reason to keep PED users out: how's it worked out for you so far?

    Here's an account of an incident Hall of Famer Ty Cobb one got into:

    A racist, Cobb once slapped a black elevator operator for being "uppity." When a black night watchman intervened, Cobb pulled out a knife and stabbed him.

    On another occasion, he beat up a handicapped fan because he had called Cobb a "half-n*****":

    Other fans began pleading with Cobb to stop the physical attack because the foul-mouthed Mr. Lueker had no hands...As the crowd pleaded, Ty Cobb responded as he pummeled the man, "I don't care if he's got no feet!"

    Want another example of the double standard? Notice also the part about integrity and sportsmanship.

    Derek Jeter displayed neither when he pretended to get hit by a pitch last September, and no one is saying that should disqualify him from Cooperstown (let me be very clear: I am not saying that Jeter isn't a Hall of Famer). 

    If we're going to apply the character clause inconsistently, we might as well not heed it at all.

No. 1: "Just Because There Are Cheaters There Doesn't Mean We Should Add More."

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    What's done is done. In hindsight, Gaylord Perry might not have been a good choice, but we can't start kicking people out. We might as well limit the number of ne'er-do-wells in baseball's most sacred place.

    Of course, the question is: How sacred can Cooperstown be if the qualifications for entry are subject to the voters' ever-shifting moral standards?

    When Pud Galvin was inducted to the Hall of Fame, it set a precedent for PED users. Same with Ty Cobb for undesirable characters and Gaylord Perry for proven-guilty cheaters.

    What right do we have to say the old way was wrong?

    Decades from now, our children and grandchildren will be extremely confused if all-time legends like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez are missing from the Hall of Fame, let alone other generational greats like Ivan Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and Rafael Palmeiro.

    If the institution that is Cooperstown is to stand the test of time, so must the standards by which its entrants are judged.

In Conclusion...

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    I don't condone the use of steroids, HGH, or any other performance-enhancing drug that has passed through an MLB player's veins in the last two decades. But in allowing them to spread through clubhouses unchecked for years, we have lost the moral high ground.

    Like it or not, PEDs were a part of the game. Everyone knew about and no one did anything to stop it—acting offended now is incredibly disingenuous.

    The Steroid Era is a stain on the game's history, but it's a part of the game's history. We can't try to whitewash over it by keeping the dopers out of Cooperstown.

    We don't know everyone who cheated, but does it really matter? Gaylord Perry is already in, as is Tom Boswell's milkshake man. You can't hold a firm line once the enemy has already crossed it.

    So far as I can tell, the only logical and pragmatic approach to Hall of Fame voting is to do away with the character clause and ignore cheating (including by Joe Jackson and Pete Rose).

    It's the price we pay for turning a blind eye to drug use as it spread through the game like wildfire. If we don't like it, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

    In the almost-words of Greg Lake: “The Cooperstown we get, we deserve.”

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