It’s that time of year again, when hypocrisy is put on display to its fullest degree. Of course, I’m talking about the annual announcement of the incoming class of the Baseball Hall of Fame, where the players lucky enough to be named on 75% of the ballots will be enshrined in Cooperstown. Every year, the baseball world comes back to the same old song and dance – what to do with players who have either taken or linked to PED’s.
The three players elected to the hall – Jeff Bagwell (86.20% of the vote), Tim Raines (86%), and Ivan Rodriguez (76%) – can all have convincing arguments made based off of their numbers and accomplishments. The biggest story here, however, are the players who did not receive that 75% threshold. Barry Bonds (53.80%) and Roger Clemens (54.10%), arguably the greatest hitter and pitcher, respectively, of all time, again sit on the outside looking in, which is nothing short of a crime. Looking at statistics alone, there is no logical argument that these two players don’t deserve to be enshrined. Obviously, there is much more to these players’ track records than numbers, so I won’t spend time on that.
The reason players such as Bonds, Clemens, and looking lower down the list to names like Sammy Sosa (8.60%), is very clearly their link to PED’s. That argument for keeping them out used to hold weight in past years, but it can no longer be made with an ounce of validity. Two of the three players elected this year, Bagwell and Rodriguez, both had suspicions of taking PED’s, yet trounced Clemens and Bonds in the voting. The reason, to put it simply, is that they had good relationships with the media during their playing days, so they get a pass and all is forgiven. On the other hand, guys like Bonds and Clemens, despite never failing a drug test administered by MLB, receive the scorn of baseball writers who refuse to vote them in despite being better players and having better numbers than almost any other human who has ever picked up a baseball or a bat, simply because the players were jerks to the media. If PED’s were the source of the issue, then guys like Bagwell, Rodriguez, and Mike Piazza would be left out as well, but sadly the BBWAA has turned Hall of Fame voting into a popularity contest that reflects their own views of players beyond the field.
The same writers who believe they have the moral authority to hold anyone who they don’t like who has a whiff of a rumor of PED use surrounding them out of the Hall of Fame are also the ones who wouldn’t name Ken Griffey Jr., Greg Maddux, or any other players to the Hall unanimously. Writers continuously send in ballots blank or waste their votes on players like Jacque Jones. Each writer gets 10 votes – you cannot possibly argue that 10 players deserved to be in the Hall over Bonds, Clemens, or Sosa. That being said, 10 votes should almost never be used, but at least use them on players who deserve it and not to wage a personal vendetta. Fred McGriff finished with almost 22% of the vote for crying out loud. Fred McGriff! There is ZERO argument he is more deserving of a vote than Bonds or Clemens. This process has continued to become more and more of a joke.
As much of a travesty as the BBWAA voting may be, a large portion of this blame lies with the MLB itself as well. The MLB and its fearless leader Bud Selig had no problem sitting around and reaping the rewards of the steroid era. Most prominent among these rewards was the Sosa-McGwire home run race of 1998, often attributed with “saving” baseball from falling into unprecedented levels of obscurity as popularity continued to lag after the strike. Sosa’s and McGwire’s reward? Becoming vilified in the PED witch hunt of the early 2000’s that baseball started when it no longer needed saving.
Sure, you can place blame on the players for “cheating” even though there was no rule, testing, or punishment in baseball stating this was against the rules of the game until 2003, but the onus lies with the MLB itself. The NFL began testing for steroids in 1988 and the World Anti-Doping Agency was created in 1999, yet baseball chose to wait to ride the wave of popularity before enforcing any PED rules out of convenience. Hell, Selig presided over this era, let it go on, and will still enter the Hall of Fame in 2017, further showing how twisted the Hall of Fame process is. Apparently the head of the sport gets a pass, but some players do not.
All of this goes to say that baseball finds themselves stuck in a situation they got themselves into. You don’t get to use the Steroid Era to boost your popularity and then lead a witch hunt against the players who saved your sport, all while acting holier than thou. You own that as much as the players do for creating this environment. You can’t erase 25 years of baseball history, despite your best efforts. You don’t get to forgive the guys who were nice to you and screw over the guys who were jerks. After all, baseball is a game, not a lesson in morality.
The Hall of Fame is supposed to be a museum telling the story of baseball. Right or wrong, the Steroid Era is a major part of that story, a second act that reignited interest in America’s Pastime. All of us stood there cheering, not caring what went on behind the scenes, knowing at the time how truly special what we were witnessing was. Until guys like Bonds, Clemens, and anyone else who rightfully deserves a spot are in, the Hall remains a shell of what it’s supposed to represent.