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Baseball Steroid Users Need Not Apply for the Hall of Fame

Don’t even bother us! Keep the rascals and cheats OUT!

The January 2011 Baseball Hall of Fame vote showed again that the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) is in no mood to admit steroid and alleged steroid users.

Mark McGwire, who over the past season confirmed using steroids and human growth hormone, saw his vote total drop from 23.7 percent in 2010 down to 19.8 percent in 2011, according to MLB Network . Some had thought McGwire’s total might actually rise because “confession is good for the soul” and people wanted him to state what he had done before he could be forgiven. Those who thought along those lines will have to reconsider. McGwire helped revive baseball after a crippling strike, but the method he used to lift baseball from the doldrums places him in the category of a pariah.

Rafael Palmeiro, a newcomer to the ballot, garnered an anemic 11 percent of the vote. This rejection came despite the fact that he has two career numbers that usually mean automatic induction on the first ballot– he amassed over 3,000 hits and slugged over 500 homers. In fact, he is one of only four players in Major League Baseball history to reach both numbers (the others being Henry Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray, all of whom are in the Hall of Fame). Palmeiro has denied using steroids but had a positive drug test in 2005 for the potent anabolic steroid stanozolol and was suspended for ten days. The fallout from the positive test hastened the end of his career and he was denied a farewell tour around the league.

Another newcomer to the ballot, Juan Gonzalez, barely stayed afloat, receiving 5.2 percent of the vote when a minimum of five percent is required to remain on future ballots. He won two MVP awards and had well over 400 career homers, but Gonzalez still received the cold shoulder from the BBWAA because he has been implicated in steroid use.

While newly elected players Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar, along with executive Pat Gillick, should be congratulated on their achievements, the big story in the 2011 voting was the continued shunning of the steroid users. The BBWAA demonstrated clearly that they intend to keep the door slammed shut on the alleged cheaters.

There will be a lull in 2012, with no strong first-time candidates for the Hall. Carryover Barry Larkin stands a good chance of being elected. But it is the year 2013 when the day of reckoning will arrive. Three of baseball’s greatest and most dynamic recent stars, who also happen to be poster boys for steroid use, will be eligible that year. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and, to a lesser extent, Sammy Sosa, will provide the test cases for how the voters think and what they will do in the future regarding the treatment of steroid users and alleged users. Mike Piazza with also be eligible for the first time in 2013 and there have been those trying to link his name with steroid use.

An illustrious baseball panel on the MLB Network, including Tom Verducci, Bob Costas and Peter Gammons, discussed the implications of the latest vote shortly after the results for 2011 were announced. Opinions ranged from Verducci stating he absolutely would not vote for anyone linked to steroids, period, to others who stated each case must be looked at individually and those players who had Hall of Fame careers before being linked to steroid use should perhaps be elected.

There is a strong argument to be made that Bonds and Clemens had Hall of Fame careers before any hint of steroid use tarnished their image. But should Bonds and Clemens be elected solely on the basis of what they did in the years prior to their suspected steroid use? Both men are facing perjury charges which could further complicate the issue. And there is a big hole in the argument that they should be considered based on what they did before the alleged use of performance enhancing drugs. No one knows for sure when they started using steroids.

When admitting he used steroids while playing for Texas in 2001-2003, Alex Rodriguez asked that those three years be tossed aside and that when he becomes eligible for the Hall he should be considered for his totals in all the other years of his career. But how do we know he was clean while playing in Seattle prior to arriving in Texas? We are just taking his word for it, and his word has already been proven untrustworthy. He told a national audience and Katie Couric that he had never used steroids. Then, when it was leaked that his name was on a 2003 report of players with failed drug tests for steroids, he “fessed” up to using in 2001-2003. There is no reason to believe him about what happened before 2001, and the only reason to believe him about his Yankees years is that there has at least been testing during his New York years.

The best approach to take is that we don’t know who used what and when. Since there was no drug testing until 2003, and baseball seemed to turn a blind eye toward the issue before that, can anyone really blame players for trying to gain an edge? Baseball has always had a little bit of cheating occurring. Knowing an umpire can’t watch the ball and the runner at the same time, a first baseman might pull his foot off the bag a split second early and get a close call at first base. The umpire is listening for the sound of the ball landing in the glove and watching the runner and the first baseman’s feet. Middle infielders pull the “phantom” double play, knowing full well they are not touching second base when they receive the throw. Outfielders trap a ball and rise up claiming they caught it. And catchers frame pitches in an effort to fool the umpire. Hall of Fame pitchers such as Gaylord Perry, Don Sutton and Whitey Ford, often doctored the ball. Whether you call all of these examples gamesmanship or cheating, they are in any case players trying to gain an edge.

During the discussion on MLB Network, it was pointed out that there are racists, drunks and wife beaters in the Hall of Fame. It was argued that these shortcomings and character flaws are personal failings and don’t affect the game itself. But can anyone really say that the virulent racism of Tom Yawkey, the once owner of the Boston Red Sox, didn’t affect the game? The Red Sox were the last team to elevate a black player to the Major Leagues. They passed over the likes of Aaron, Mays and Roberto Clemente, and if they had added even one of these future superstars, Boston with Ted Williams likely would have played in another World Series during Williams’ tenure. Spending his entire career with the Red Sox, Williams made the World Series in 1946, the year before Jackie Robinson integrated baseball. Williams did not make it back to the Series, but his team usually finished within striking distance of the New York Yankees. If Yawkey had just added one outstanding African American, it would have put the Red Sox and Williams over the top.

The writers have been rejecting steroid users because they feel they are cheating the game and fall short in the areas of integrity, sportsmanship and character, which are clearly stated as part of the criteria the Hall of Fame voting should be based upon. Yet look at Ty Cobb. Cobb had the most votes in the first class of Hall of Famers, and therefore is regarded as the first Hall of Famer, and by extension, the gold standard of Hall of Famers. During his career Cobb, on the base paths, intentionally spiked many players, including Hall of Fame third baseman Frank “Home Run” Baker in an incident that prompted Baker’s manager, the legendary Connie Mack, to label Cobb as the dirtiest player ever. Cobb assaulted and severely beat up a handicapped fan. He beat up umpires, teammates and opponents, and of course he lost many of his brawls as well. He stabbed a black man and probably was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. In conjunction with Tris Speaker, Cobb may well have thrown games while playing for and managing the Detroit Tigers. Given the example set by its first Hall of Famer, can baseball really think the steroid users fall short in the areas of character, integrity and sportsmanship?

The steroid users who have Hall of Fame credentials should be voted into the baseball’s Hall of Fame. If baseball needs to put wording on their plaques that they used steroids, then do that. But the game will be thoroughly embarrassed if it continues to reject steroid users. There will be a hole the size of the Grand Canyon if record holders like Bonds and Clemens aren’t in the Hall. The Hall already lacks Pete Rose because of a gambling scandal. To lose Bonds, Clemens, Palmeiro, Sosa, McGwire, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Ivan Rodriguez and others because they allegedly tried to enhance their performances through steroid use, is to sacrifice a generation of players upon the altar of false morality and hypocrisy. There are probably players in the Hall right now who furtively used steroids and got away with it. There are those who will gain admission to the Hall in the future who used performance enhancing drugs but will slip in under the radar. There is no way to sort out the mess. So players should be put in the Hall if they have the stats to be elected. That should be the test, did they meet the playing standards or didn’t they? Anything else would be to pass judgments no one is qualified to make.