The Steroid Era and the Hall of Fame
With the baseball season beginning once again and news that the MLB will extend the Performance Enhancing Drug use suspension to 80 games, one of the hallmark questions in baseball is bound to be argued: Should players from the steroid era, and specifically known steroid users, be elected into the Hall of Fame? According to a Bleacher Report poll, about 53% of sports fans say no. The most fair and logical choice, though, is to let them in. The decision to use steroids is a question of morals; steroids do not make Hall of Fame players alone, and there is still a general unknown element to the steroid era, so it does not make sense for steroid users to be excluded from the Hall of Fame.
One argument that many Hall of Fame voters use to justify their decision for not voting for steroid users is that the choice to use Performance Enhancing Drugs is an immoral one and that those who have made immoral and destructive decisions should not be in the Hall of Fame. Howard Bryant, a Hall of Fame voter, says he will not vote for steroid users because they are “liars and cheaters” and thus have made immoral decisions. The issue with this argument, though, is that players with gaps in their moral judgment have been elected into the Hall of Fame in the past. According to For The Win, an affiliate of USA Today, Tom Yawkey, Gaylord Perry, and Ty Cobb are just three examples of players with gaps in their judgment. Yawkey, who was an owner of the Boston Red Sox, continually pushed throughout his lifetime that baseball be segregated. Perry admitted to doctoring baseballs and Cobb once climbed into the stands during a game to fight a man that had no hands. Perry’s case is most applicable to the steroid argument, as doctoring the baseballs positively affected his performance, just as steroids positively affected Barry Bonds’ performance. Letting in some cheaters and not others is creating a double standard, and the Hall of Fame is not getting rid of Gaylord Perry anytime soon. This only leaves one logical option: allow steroid users into the Hall of Fame. Doctoring the baseball alone did not make Perry a great pitcher and steroids are no different.
When it comes to baseball, strength is not necessarily the most important attribute of a player in order for him to become great. Although it may increase the number of homeruns a player hits, there are still many other aspects to the game such as fielding, base running, and hitting for average rather than power. Even if a player is on steroids and thus is very strong, making good contact with a 90mph fastball is a challenge within itself. Steroids may give players a small advantage, but the talent and the work ethic still need to be there in order for a player to be great all-around. This claim is supported by the fact that plenty of steroid users have never reached the Major Leagues, let alone become a Hall of Fame level player. According to ESPN, “38 minor league players were suspended” in 2005 alone. If steroid players truly made players great on their own, then hypothetically no steroid users would be in the minor leagues, as they would have been promoted to the major leagues because of their steroid-based skill. Of course, since these players were in the minor leagues, steroids could not possibly be the only reason players such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were great.
Finally, there is still a general unknown element from the steroid era. Many players were suspected to have used steroids, such as Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell, even though there is zero evidence supporting this claim. People speculate that these players used steroids just because they were big, strong players that happened to play during the steroid era. Furthermore, some players such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have evidence against them showing they did steroids, yet they actively deny it and have not yet been convicted as guilty. Tom Verducci, a Hall of Fame voter, has stated that his goal when he votes is “to be fair”. It is only fair to give these players a chance to defend themselves or have a chance to be proven innocent. Finally, there probably are and will be players in the Hall of Fame that did cheat, but no one ever knew about it. This might be expected and hence accepted, but if a truly fair Hall of Fame is the goal, everybody would have been equally screened for steroids. Unfortunately, the MLB did not begin to investigate steroids until years after players had begun to use them, thus leaving the option of everyone being equally screened impossible. Allowing all steroid users in is a fair way of voting since there are so many unknown details about who and who did not use steroids.
One possible solution to the issue of whether steroid users should be in the Hall of Fame would be to ignore the use of steroids and just place an asterisk next to all players who played in the steroid era. This would thus take the speculation about unknown details out of Hall of Fame voting while still acknowledging the fact that the statistics of steroid users may be inflated. Although some might argue that allowing steroid users in the Hall of Fame sets a bad example for future players, an 80 game suspension adequately serves that purpose. Eliminating a whole generation of all time great players from baseball history is not good for the game or for its history. Allowing steroid users into the Hall of Fame allows the history of the game to be acknowledged, yet the new suspension system helps to ensure it never happens again. The purpose of the Hall of Fame is to enshrine the greatest players baseball has ever seen. If players like Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, and Roger Clemens are not all-time great players, then no one is. Let them in.