Should steroid users be allowed into the Baseball Hall of Fame?


Alex Daugherty

baseball barry bonds

As an avid baseball fan, I’m angry. I’m Angry with the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) for producing a ridiculous hall of fame ballot. Writers across the country inappropriately acted as the morality police by keeping suspected steroid users and others with no connection to steroids out of the hall of fame.

For the first time since 1996, not a single player was given enshrinement to Cooperstown.

Now, since this is a Forum piece and not a Sports piece, I’ll spare you the boredom of having to hear my whining about Kenny Lofton falling off the ballot or former Red Sox pitcher Aaron Sele actually receiving a vote.

The central question about the Baseball Hall of Fame vote this year is: how do we as a society view athletes who used, or may have used performance enhancing drugs? The answer that the BBWAA has produced is that anyone who played in the steroids era (roughly ten years between 1995 and 2005) is guilty of cheating the game and does not possess the character of a worthy hall of famer.

This answer is absurd.

There are plenty of men enshrined in the hall that failed to meet this lofty moral standard.  Gaylord Perry “doctored” the baseball by using Vaseline to increase pitch movement. Ty Cobb was a virulent racist who sharpened his spikes before games to maim opponents. Even Hank Aaron used performance-enhancing amphetamines throughout his career.

Steroids, on the other hand, were completely legal in baseball until 2005. The only player on the ballot who tested positive for steroids was Rafael Palmeiro, and he has gained little support among hall of fame voters. Every other player on the ballot, including Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, never tested positive for steroids when steroids were illegal.

Okay, so players like Bonds, Clemens, and Mark McGwire most likely used steroids (McGwire has admitted to doing so) but they never broke a rule. Still, even when that moral standard is applied it is still absurd to think that players like Mike Piazza, the greatest hitting catcher of all time, and Craig Biggio, a member of the 3,000 hit club, would be refused entry by the all-powerful BBWAA. Neither of those players have any connection to steroids use.

If it isn’t clear by now, I am fully in support of players like Bonds, Clemens, and potentially Mark McGwire gaining entry to the hall, regardless of steroids. None of them broke the rules throughout their career and in the case of Clemens and Bonds, were already hall of famers before any potential steroid use.

I realize many might not agree with the logic that the best players on the field gain enshrinement and that character must come into play, but by that standard there is no reason not to induct Biggio, Piazza, and Jeff Bagwell.

The problem only intensifies next year when many high-profile players including Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas, join the ballot. Writers who continue to pull stunts like submitting blank protest ballots and voting solely for undeserving candidates like Jack Morris undermine the Hall of Fame’s viability and meaning.

Steroids in sports have been, and will continue to be, a huge issue. The fact that testing today can actually catch steroid users and can test for a multitude of drugs means that fewer athletes will be willing to risk the penalties and public scrutiny that come with a positive test.

Professional leagues like Major League Baseball should set a standard of changing the drug culture in sports and showing young athletes that performance enhancing drugs are detrimental to themselves and the game.  However, certain players should not be barred from the hall of fame simply based on when they played.

The hall does not bar players like Babe Ruth who gained their fame and statistics during a time period when African American players were not allowed to play, which by virtue of numbers makes it easier for white players to succeed.

Giving at least a partial voice to the fans, say 5% of the overall vote, would make writers accountable to public opinion when assessing Hall of Fame candidates. I’m pretty sure most baseball fans regardless of how they feel about steroids would have voted for Piazza, Biggio, and Bagwell.

It’s the least that could be done to assuage my anger.