The Baseball Hall of Fame announced the results of the 2012 round of voting yesterday. It was the first time on the ballot for some of baseball’s most impressive modern day players: Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza and Curt Schilling. But guess what? None of these players were voted in. In the case of Bonds and Clemens, possibly the best hitter and pitcher of their generation, not even 40% of the voting body (the Baseball Writers Association of America, or BBWAA) deemed them fit to join the Hall. In fact, nobody made the cut this year.
The reasons for this aren’t mysterious, however. Rumors and allegations of steroid use have swirled around Bonds, Clemens and other players on the ballot for years now. And many writers are taking a stand that the players they believe used performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) do not belong in the Hall of Fame.
This is, in the most delicate terms, bullshit. Here’s why.
First off, the fact that many of these players actually used PEDs has hardly been conclusively proven. At no time during almost any of the players’ major league tenure did they test positive for PED usage. The lone exception is Rafael Palmeiro, who tested positive months before his last at-bat. To be clear, many of these player’s careers took place before 2004, when the new drug policy took effect and random testing started. Before that point, PED usage was disallowed but infractions were largely treated by looking the other way (more on this later). So all we are left to work with is a couple muckracking books, a witch hunt of a report (in which players are named with insufficient evidence to prove any wrongdoing), and a lot of anecdotes. This is the evidence with which we are to convict baseball players? God forbid anyone should be tried and convicted under such conditions.
Now, even granting the likely possibility that many of these players did use PEDs, there is hardly evidence to support the fact that performance enhancing drugs actually, you know, enhance performance. Once again, we can cherry pick single achievements like home run records. But the statistics used to measure performance in baseball are prone to statistical variation like anything else. How are we to tease out the influence of PEDs among differences in league-wide competitive levels, baseball park dimensions, opposing teams' defense and pitching, and weather conditions, to name a few? Go ahead and try. Take the list of players named in the Mitchell Report and the list of players who have been suspended for PED use and show me the evidence. I'll wait.
Now, let's grant both of these assumptions correct -- that players used PEDs and it affected their performance. Even after doing this, there are still problems with this stance.
- Steroids are the latest in a line of questionable things that baseball players have done to gain unfair advantage over the years. Corked bats. Doctored baseballs (the favored tool of Gaylord Perry, Hall of Fame class of 1990). Hell, steroids aren't even the only PED or even the most prevalent: amphetamines have been far more commonly used in baseball and for far longer than steroids. The BBWAA has elected dozens of players who most likely used and benefited from "greenies" to the Hall of Fame. Where is the outrage there?
- If this is a moral issue, spare me. The Hall of Fame is full of "multiple virulent racists, drunks, cheats, brawlers, drug users and at least one acknowledged sex addict" (thanks to Bill Pennington for his excellent and timely article). Baseball players are far from saints and what does that have to do with their baseball performance, anyway?
- It's patently obvious that no one involved with the actual business of running a baseball team and playing the game cares about players who have been found guilty of PED usage. Ryan Franklin, suspended for usage in 2005 and named in the Mitchell Report, was held in such low regard by the baseball community that he... um... went on to sign million-dollar contracts with the Phillies and the Cardinals and was voted to the All-Star game in 2008. Michael Morse, suspended in 2005. The horror! He signed a 2 year, $10.5 million contract with the Nationals last year and received votes for Most Valuable Player in 2011. Guillermo Mota, suspended in 2006. What shame! Was a valuable part of the 2010 World Series Champion San Francisco Giants. The modus operandi in baseball is players get caught, they serve their time and they come back again. No one cares.
Finally, the most infuriating problem with this stance is how bald-faced hypocritical it is. Baseball writers ate up the steroid era with a spoon. They loved it. Long paeans about the majesty of the home run chases and the explosion in offense. They were right there, in the clubhouse, face-to-face with the evidence of PED usage. Everyone benefited from it, from the players to the owners to the writers. How much did they care about all the cheating and the "immoral behavior" then? Enough to say absolutely nothing about it the whole time. And now they're going to stand as the guardians of honor at the doors of the Hall of Fame? The writers' refusal to take a stand when it benefited them the least entirely negates the stand they are taking now that it benefits them the most. It makes me sick.
The Hall of Fame is about baseball performance. Nothing else. For many years, the BBWAA had the sole vantage point with which to make judgments about the quality of baseball performance. But that time is over. Now it seems that the BBWAA wants nothing else but to make Hall of Fame voting all about themselves and the cockamamie storylines they build about Jack Morris pitching to the score and Jim Rice being the most feared hitter of his time.
Hall of Fame voting is becoming a joke and not a funny one. Jim Rice wasn't the most feared hitter of his time; that was Barry Bonds, who holds the all-time baseball record for walks. He belongs. Jack Morris isn't a Hall of Fame pitcher. Roger Clemens, with his seven Cy Young awards, is. He belongs. As do many of the other players who appeared on the ballot this year. The Hall would be stronger for including them. It's as simple as that.