I don’t have a Baseball Hall of Fame vote, but if I did, I would vote for anyone who used steroids and has Cooperstown-worthy numbers. I also would vote for Pete Rose if he were on the ballot.
Mark McGwire? Yes.
Rafael Palmeiro? Yes.
When Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez become eligible for the Hall of Fame, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.
Are these players good role models? No. Are they great baseball players? Absolutely.
Taking (or allegedly taking) performance-enhancing drugs did not make them great players. They already were great players to begin with — PEDs just helped them hit the ball a little farther and throw it a little harder for longer. The PEDs didn’t help them put the bat on the ball or find the strike zone or become the ultimate competitors. They already were born with that ability and cultivated it from the time they put on their first glove, swung at their first pitch and wore a Little League uniform.
Professional baseball players are a rare breed. Only a miniscule percentage of the population has the necessary skills and ability to make it to the Show. An even smaller percentage is worthy of Cooperstown. Everyone else needs to channel John Lennon and imagine. No amount of PEDs can give a player Hall of Fame skills and ability. They only enhance what skills and ability already existed.
People are calling baseball players who took steroids and PEDs cheaters, but did they cheat? Before 2003, other than a 1991 Fay Vincent memo that banned steroids, Major League Baseball had no effective way to deter major league players from using performance-enhancing drugs. No random testing system, no fines, no suspensions. Nothing.
The 1995-2002 seasons were an era of illegitimacy, but the powers that be didn’t want to accept that harsh reality. They didn’t want to take a hard look at what was happening. They didn’t want to question the moonshots being launched out of stadiums. They didn’t want to slow the flood of revenue pouring through the gates. They didn’t want to stop all the goodwill being generated after the strike. They didn’t want to punish the breadwinners. So they looked the other way.
Was that right? Hell no.
But neither was seeing Brady Anderson hit 50 home runs in 1996. That should have been the first clue that something was rotten in Major League Baseball. Of course, nobody wanted to stop the gravy train when it was just gaining steam.
With the benefit of hindsight, anyone with a modicum of common sense knows many people in baseball could have done many things differently to avoid the crossroads the Hall of Fame faces today.
But why punish players who were just doing their jobs? They got paid to produce, and that’s what they did — at historic levels that had never been reached and will never be matched again. They looked for an edge and took advantage of a loophole. While taking steroids and PEDs is wrong in terms of morality, ethics and health, such actions were not policed by MLB at the time, despite being punishable in the eyes of the law. The double standard allowed a rogue culture to develop and flourish in baseball.
Players should not have taken any banned substances. No one is disputing that, but no one stopped them or did anything to curb the abusive behavior. Integrity was in short supply everywhere, and an anything-goes mentality arose in the majors. It was the result of terrible judgment across the board, not just on the players’ part, and that is a forgivable offense.
Now, sanctimonious writers have become the de facto arbiters of justice. They are doing everything in their power to keep some of the greatest players to ever step on a baseball field out of the Hall of Fame because of mistakes they made off the field.
When did sportswriters become so righteous, innocent and perfect? Have they never done anything regretful in their lives? Do they not have any skeletons in their closets?
A few years ago, the very same writers who are pontificating why steroid users should be sent to Siberia were celebrating the home runs and great achievements like everybody else. Where was the outrage then? Where were the suspicions and dogged reporting to uncover the truth? A decade after the fact, they want to clean up the game, clear their conscience, absolve themselves of any responsibility?
That’s not the way life works. They are just as culpable as everyone else in baseball for the Steroid Era — a tainted chapter in baseball history. Keeping great players from that era who deserve to be in Cooperstown out of Cooperstown is not the solution to the problem. The Hall of Fame should open its doors for the first player to hit 70 home runs in a season or a member of the 3,000 hit club, regardless of their link to PEDs. Add an asterisk wing if necessary, but completely denying them entrance is only perpetuating a cycle of denial, the same as putting a Band-Aid on a great white shark bite. Letting them in is the only way baseball can remove the black cloud that still hangs over the game. It’s the only way the healing process can run its course.
The holier-than-thou stance from baseball writers doesn’t pass the smell test. Their condescending attitude is doing more harm than help.
To quote Fielding Mellish (Woody Allen’s character in Bananas), Baseball’s Hall of Fame voting process “is a travesty. It’s a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham.” The whole exercise has become hypocrisy at its worst.
Baseball writers need to get off their high horses and do the right thing: vote some players into the Hall of Fame who did a wrong thing. Wiping an entire generation of players off the books isn’t the answer.
Should players linked to performance-enhancing drugs ever get into Cooperstown? Share your thoughts below.