Let Barry Bonds In: Steroid Use and the Hall of Fame
Every year the Baseball Writers Association of America, or the BWAA, selects 10 players from a ballot of recently retired players to make the Hall of Fame. The National Baseball Hall of Fame celebrates baseball history through the recognition of the game’s greatest players. The whole process is ostensibly cut and dry. Demonstrate playing ability and statistics superior to those of your peers and you’re most likely a future Hall of Fame enshrinee, barring any potential mishaps from the voters.
In recent years, however, the process has become much more difficult. Particularly, for the past 5 or so years, voters have been faced with the difficult decision of voting Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, two alleged steroid users, into the Hall of Fame. Bonds and Clemens are just two examples out of several players who have exhibited stunning career lengths and statistical dominance but have become merely an afterthought in the voting process because of suspicion that their statistics were the result of steroids. As those enshrinees in question have come from the PED era, it has turned into an argument of morality. Those who are against voting these people in, namely the BBWAA voters, rely on the character clause to determine the status of potential candidates. It is a violation of the integrity of the game and they simply don’t deserve to be honored among the game’s greatest players. On the other hand, supporters choose to look at stats. Every single one of those candidates are great players. There’s a reason they are up for Hall of Fame candidacy.
When those who are against voting steroid users, use an ambiguous character clause as a rationale to reject these players, they completely ignore baseball history. They ignore baseball legends and each of their respective contributions to the game of baseball. Why is it now that everyone decides to have some form of moral compass especially when performance-enhancing drugs are nothing new? Why should voters decide to punish the greatest players in the history of the game when the Hall of Fame contains a huge number of alleged PED users? Seems that they are only excluded because of how good they are. Unless the Hall of Fame voters can reach a clear consensus on whether PED use disqualifies a player’s status, these players should remain at the forefront of consideration for the Hall of Fame.
As stated previously, opponents use a character and morality argument with steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. When a player does this, he associates a certain stigma with his stats, no matter how good they may be. The playing ability of these players is enhanced, influencing differing extents of inflation to their stats. When drugs are used to gain an advantage in this manner, it puts other “clean” players at a disadvantage. They feel cheated knowing that all their hard work and dedication is discredited by cheaters who are ultimately rewarded by a vote or even a spot in the Hall of Fame. When this occurs, they take away Hall of Fame spots from more deserving and “cleaner” players. In 2014, Astros legend Craig Biggio narrowly missed getting into the Hall of Fame by 2 votes. Meanwhile, steroid users Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, and Rafael Palmeiro received a combined 529 votes. If at least one of those players were taken off the ballot that year, Biggio would have gotten into the Hall of Fame that year.
Obviously, the integrity of the game is compromised as well as the overall voting process to the Hall of Fame. Players and media members alike have publicly come out, reflecting these sentiments. In 2018, former player and Hall of Famer, Joe Morgan, even wrote a letter encouraging Hall of Fame Voters to keep steroid users out of the Hall of Fame. In his letter, he maintains how steroids are “cheating” and users don’t belong “there.”
On the other hand, the Hall of Fame is indeed named the Hall of Fame and not the Hall of exceptional character and morality. If voters don’t reach an honest consensus on whether to qualify the character clause to exclude steroid users, then the character clause simply needs to be removed. These Hall of Fame voters hold their own individual biases, and when you add subjective criteria like the character clause, the process becomes much more difficult. Joe Morgan’s hardline stance on voting steroid users is fallible. If you take part in his opinion he states that “anyone who took body-altering chemicals in a deliberate effort to cheat the game we love, not to mention they cheated current and former players and fans too, doesn’t belong in the Fame.”
Are PED users the only ones guilty of this? If voters use Morgan’s logic, amphetamines would also fall under that criteria. Amphetamine use was widespread in the mid 20th century, as players used it to arouse the central nervous system and make them feel more alert. This would also be a violation of the character clause that voters rely so heavily on. Amphetamine gives players unfair advantages, which would violate the integrity portion of the character clause. If voters see enhancing drugs as a violation of integrity, then why are Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, and Hank Aaron, three notable amphetamine users and three of the best players ever to play the sport, in the Hall of Fame. Apparently, they shouldn’t. By using the character clause as criteria to disqualify steroid or PED users, it vilifies a certain era of players while not holding any prior era of players accountable for those same wrongdoings. Unless the Hall of Fame can retract their decision on amphetamine users, then steroid users should remain in contention for a Hall of Fame spot.
Not only is it hypocritical to exclude alleged steroid users from the Hall of Fame, but voters and others need to remember the advantages that occur everyday in baseball. Everyone can agree that steroids are a form of cheating. It gives players an advantage over other players, whether that may be in a game directly or over another player in the record books. By that logic, then any player who uses something to his advantage shouldn’t be voted to the Hall of Fame. Many past pitchers played on higher mounds, giving them an advantage over the batters they faced at the time. This also gave players advantages in the record books, inflating their stats. Yet, many if not all players who were eligible for the Hall of Fame were voted in. Players are also known for using substances like pine tar to help them with grip or ball speed. By using pine tar, that gives players an advantage over other players and other records. Yet, the use of these substances is overlooked and ultimately, these players are voted into the Hall of Fame. Moreover, players are notorious for utilizing corked bats to help them with batting. Clearly, advantages have been present throughout baseball’s history. Yet, fans and hall of fame voters are only irate about the modern cheating mechanism, steroids.
Arguments for both sides are logical. Ultimately, there are two possibilities. Keep the Hall of Fame the way it is now, a museum that celebrates baseball’s storied history. Mind you, this museum contains countless cheaters and players with character flaws. Or there could be a second version of the Hall of Fame which allows these steroid users in, but associates a certain stigma. Vilifying PED/Steroid users more than racists and cheaters is not logical, but hypocritical. Just keep the Hall of Fame the way it is, and vote these players in.