No Easy Answers to the Steroid Problem for Baseball's Hall of Fame Voters

Stew Winkel@stew_winkelSenior Analyst IJanuary 12, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO - SEPTEMBER 26:  Barry Bonds #25 of the San Francisco Giants looks on during his game against the San Diego Padres during a Major League Baseball game on September 26, 2007 at AT&T Park in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

For years, we all have known the day was coming when the stars from the steroids era would be on the Hall of Fame ballot. They all should get in. None of them should ever get in. Believing there is one answer that will resolve this problem in a way that makes complete sense is reserved for the Skip Baylesses of the world. The rest of us know this situation is far too complicated. Very possibly there is no right answer.

No option will make it right. No option will make complete sense. Probably more important, no option will make anyone feel good about what went on. 

Is it worse to keep out someone who might have been clean than it is to admit a cheater?

Are there players we think cheated but can say even without steroids, they would have been Hall of Famers? Should that matter?

We all know what happened in baseball. Marginal players took steroids to become good players. Good players to become great. And great to become legendary. We know about a few, we think there are many others. And they did it while everyone looked the other way.

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Whatever these players took, it was illegal but not against the rules. The league couldn't be bothered to test for it and the players certainly were in no rush to be tested. Those who made the rules and those who paid the players simply did not care and those who covered the game did not either (that is until someone un-likeable began to challenge sacred records).

I do not blame the players who took steroids. Right now, if any of us were offered something that would make us better at our jobs and more money, wouldn’t we all take it? And wouldn’t most of us take it even if it were illegal if we thought there was little chance at repercussion?

But should that let the players off the hook?

Maybe if players like McGwire, Bonds, and Clemens were voted in, it not only would allow everyone to move on, but would force them to acknowledge their pasts when giving their respective induction speeches. But, what if they didn't? And would we hear anything they had to say anyway?

I know those players were not the only ones and I know the reality is that most players were probably on something at one time or another. I also know that steroids were not the first black mark on the history of baseball.

All good points.  This may be childish though, but two wrongs don’t make a right. Right?

I have no vote (obviously) and will never have one. For me though, I originally agreed with the idea expressed by Buster Olney, and others, that we don’t know who did what, so we just have to vote everyone in who deserves it on their numbers alone. There is definitely some logic in that line of thinking and I give credit to someone like Olney who in expressing that idea has admitted his own role in permitting the steroids era to take place. 

I changed my mind though. I would not vote in any of them. Ever. Olney's idea is not necessarily wrong; I certainly cannot say I am right. I changed my mind though not in an effort to be right or to try to feel superior or more ethical than anyone else. This isn't about that or about some fantasy of "what do I tell my kids?"

That won't make the issue go away and, admittedly, keeping them all out is perhaps based on some naive notion of what the Hall of Fame should be about. But, being in the Hall of Fame is a tremendous individual accomplishment; there is no greater. Yes, the Hall of Fame is a museum, but the players inducted as a personal award. The Hall of Fame can have a section on the steroid era and explain it for history’s sake. That does not mean we need the individual players to be inducted in order to remember that history.

I understand, too, the argument that we don’t know everyone who was cheating, so it is unfair to punish the few we do know, when most players were likely on something. I don’t think that is reason to vote someone into the Hall of Fame.

Across the country, everyday in criminal courtrooms, people are convicted of crimes. We don’t know everyone who committed robbery, but that doesn’t stop us from convicting someone for robbery. There are even cases where multiple people are suspected of being involved in a single crime; we can convict one even when we don’t know everyone involved.

If I got caught cheating on a test while in college, could I have escaped punishment by telling the Dean I wasn’t the only one cheating? Or by saying, I only cheated that one time on one exam, but even without that exam, I still should pass? I’d probably have been laughed at.

Induction is an individual honor that comes with many perks, including financial ones. Those who cheated the game should not get the benefit of any of those perks.

It isn’t to single out the few. But they took the chance and they got exposed.

There are consequences.

There is no answer that makes me happy. But, I keep envisioning someone we all know cheated being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Of giving a speech. Of getting a plaque to hang next to Ted Williams, and Hank Aaron, and Willie Mays. Those are images I am just not comfortable with.

We will never know the full truth. That is one of many shames of what happened in baseball. It doesn’t mean we pretend we know nothing.

Will some mistakes be made?  Unfortunately, yes. But maybe that is the price to be paid for allowing steroids to have had such an impact on the game of baseball for so long, while all involved acted as if nothing was wrong. All we can do is make the best decisions with the best information we can gather.

The Hall of Fame is about individual achievement, and baseball more than any other sport is about compiling numbers throughout one’s career. Steroids, at their most basic, were about finding a way to add more numbers in one’s career—maybe that meant adding muscle and speed, but often it was just about being able to get on the field quicker and for a longer amount of time.

That is no different than what likely went on before steroids with other substances or what goes on in different sports. But everyone in baseball knew steroids were there and acted otherwise. They all benefited at the time, and now there is nothing that can really be done. However, just because we know why it happened, and just because we know nothing can change the past, does not mean we need to honor those who we believe were involved.


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