News of the BBWAA failing to elect anyone to the Hall of Fame Wednesday has sparked another round of heated debate about how the voters should treat players that played in the so-called “steroids era”. Not surprisingly, we at District Sports Page have our opinions as well. Below, our two baseball writers debate the topic. Not surprisingly, they both have very specific opinions about a very sensitive subject.
LET THEM IN
by Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page and member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association
I am of the opinion that so many players during the so-called “steroid era” were using something that it’s hypocritical to judge the players on the ballot without considering that so many of their opponents were also using. Therefore, I say judge them on their numbers and let them in.
Because of my membership in the IBWAA, I get to vote in their Hall of Fame selection. In this year’s vote, the IBWAA selected Mike Piazza, who garnered 79.1 percent of the vote. I did not vote for Piazza, but he probably would have been the 11th vote on my ballot — there are that many worthy sitting on the ballot and even more iron-clad nominees to come next year.
My ballot consisted of the following players: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Barry Larkin (who did not garner enough votes from the IBWAA last year), Mark McGwire, Dale Murphy, Rafael Palmeiro, Tim Raines and Lee Smith. If you’re interested, you can find my ballot for 2011 here.
Only one of these players actually tested positive for PED use as a player, but even that was under very suspicious circumstances. Some of the others have admitted PED use after their career was over — either wittingly or not. Some are fighting for their legacy amongst allegations. Some have nothing but rumors attached to their numbers. Some are assumed clean — squeaky clean, in fact. But we have no idea. We never will.
Bonds, Clemens, et al did not perform in a vacuum. Rather, we have no idea who used PEDs in that era because there was no testing. If you listen to those that were in and around the game during that period, more players were using than not. We can’t just say “Bonds cheated so he’s out” simply because he played in an environment where PED use was not only allowed or condoned, but actually encouraged. These players were the best of their era, for what that’s worth. They should be chronicled as such.
For that matter, the voting body now deciding their fate — the baseball writers that covered them in that era — are as complicit as anyone in allowing and perpetuating the “steroid era”. They fawned over sluggers with bulging muscles as the home run record fell seemingly every season. They looked the other way when conventional wisdom suggested that something fishy was going on. The players, trainers, doctors and owners were the perpetrators, but the writers were unwittingly the marketing arm of MLB, publicizing the efforts of these oversized behemoths — to everyone’s financial gain.
It’s time that the Hall itself change its voting parameters and do away with the character issue clause in their voting requirements. If the baseball writers can’t be trusted on their own to enshrine the best players against their peers, then the Hall itself needs to make the procedure more transparent.
Every era in baseball has its scandal and cheats: segregation, amphetamines, cocaine, spitballs, etc., and the Hall of Fame is no exception. It’s full of cheats, deadbeats, users, and generally lousy human beings. But that’s the point. The Hall of Fame chronicles baseball history. It’s not the morality police. Get over yourselves, BBWAA. Vote for their achievement on the field against their peers during the time they played. It’s the only appropriate way to judge their merits without assuming facts not in evidence.
KEEP THEM OUT
by Alyssa Wolice, Staff Writer
Inevitably, steroid users and cheats will more than likely be immortalized in the Baseball Hall of Fame in the years to come. But this year, it’s time to applaud those members of the Baseball Writers Association of America who stuck to their morals in an attempt to protect the sanctity of induction.
According to the official Hall of Fame election rules as dictated to the BBWAA, “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.”
That being said, countless baseball writers – and fans – have come forward since the announcement of the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot shutout to argue that numbers can’t be discounted simply because of steroid and PED allegations. Assuming that many players wrapped up their careers in time to post seemingly clean records, many argue that steroid users have – or will – inevitably become recipients of the highest honor. With this in mind, on what grounds should the BBWAA deny some – but not all – the opportunity to be recognized for the records they shattered, the achievements they etched in gold and the moments in which millions of Americans continued to tune in during one of the most transformative periods in baseball history?
It goes without saying that cheating has never – and will never – be a foreign concept to baseball. A large portion of the earliest “heroes” receiving the highest honors in Cooperstown have been linked to everything under the sun – from corked bats and spitballs to ball alterations and stealing signs.
Whitey Ford (Hall of Fame class of 1974) described it as “common knowledge” that he used a combination of saliva, dirt and rosin to put some mustard on his pitches. Hank Aaron (class of 1982) admittedly used amphetamines in ways that enhanced his performance. Gaylord Perry (class of 1991) doctored baseballs by touching petroleum jelly under the brim of his cap or on the inside of his sleeve between pitches. George Brett (class of 1999) violated an official MLB rule by overusing pine tar in an infamous match-up against the Yankees in 1983.
To argue that Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire are deserving of induction because even the greatest of the greats before them cheated means to ignore completely the impact that modern-day steroids has had on the game. Sure Ford, Aaron, Perry, Brett and so many others had unfair advantages, many in the final years of their respective careers. But nothing has so impacted the game itself – at all levels – as modern-day performance enhancers.
Did players know Whitey was doctoring his pitches? Sure. Aaron used amphetamines in an era where they were considered part of the baseball culture – and more importantly, they were not officially banned from baseball until 1971, not five years before Aaron hung up his uniform for good.
Fans and writers often refer to baseball as a game of numbers. But until the “character,” “integrity” and “sportsmanship” requirements are removed from election criteria, no voter can – in good faith – cast a ballot for those unquestionably linked to illegal substances of today’s caliber on the basis that candidates for induction posted spellbinding numbers.
Undoubtedly, along with Bonds and McGwire, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa were denied election this year, most likely because of allegations they each benefited from steroid use at one time or another. Should fans expect these four – and their successors – to be shunned from Cooperstown for eternity? Certainly not. After all, many of their achievements have already earned their place in the museum and the history books.
But, to argue that the BBWAA should be embarrassed for its failure to elect a single player to the 2013 class is wrong. In fact, the association should be applauded for upholding the tenets of induction.
While many of this year’s voters will undoubtedly change their positions in the years ahead – and every nominee has up to 15 years to receive the necessary 75 percent of votes for induction – at the very least, this year’s shutout stands as a testament. This year, the BBWAA has formally acknowledged that baseball is under a microscope, and numbers and records alone fall short of defining the game’s heroes.