Roommate Rumble: Steroid Use and Baseball’s Hall of Fame

The sporting world is notorious for cheating allegations flung back and forth. Baseball has always been one of the worst offenders, with a seemingly endless string of players engaging in questionable behaviour. As a result, baseball frequently features as one of the key examples in the steroids debate. Furthermore, in a sport where cheating occurs so often, how do you determine who will be indicted into the Hall of Fame? Here, Zach and Labib take each other on in a bid to answer the question: Should baseball players faced with steroid allegations still be indicted into baseball’s Hall of Fame.

STEROIDS ARE BAD – BUT THROWING OUT AN ENTIRE ERA OF BASEBALL IS WORSE
By Zach Goldaber

The steroids scandal in baseball, whispered about for years in certain circles, broke through to the mainstream in December 2007 with the release of the Mitchell Report. The Report, authored on commission for Major League Baseball by former Democratic Congressman George Mitchell, named 89 current and former major league players as users of performance-enhancing drugs. A furor ensued, with reporters and fans alike asking what this meant for the legacy of the accused players, how pervasive steroids were in the game, and how to distinguish the guilty and suspected from the innocent.

While the pure substance of the steroids scandal -performance-enhancing drugs yielding unquantifiable effects on player performance – represented something brand new, in reality steroids simply form the latest link in the long chain of baseball history. Since organized baseball’s birth, players have done whatever they think it takes to give them a competitive edge.

In 1889, Hall of Fame pitcher Pud Galvin injected himself with a concoction consisting of monkey testosterone and bull semen on a routine basis because he thought it could make him a more effective pitcher. It is widely known that former home run king Hank Aaron used amphetamines on a routine basis. Gaylord Perry made a Hall of Fame career out of using the spitball and emery board ball long after both were banned. Cheating, in other words, is ingrained in baseball history. Many players have been rewarded, and even admired, for trying to get ahead, even if they did so outside the laws of the game.

Steroids, for some reason, have provoked an entirely different reaction. In the wake of the Mitchell Report, the consensus among the writers and the fans seemed to be that those who admitted or were accused of steroid use would suffer. Surefire Hall of Famers like Mark McGwire have languished on the ballot, and some first-ballot candidates suspected of use with no concrete proof like Jeff Bagwell are engaged in struggles for their own legacies. All-time home run king Barry Bonds, statistically one of the top five hitters of all time, and Roger Clemens, a top ten pitcher, face their own reckoning this fall when they appear on Hall of Fame ballots for the first time.

It is undeniable that steroids violations are unfortunate. Organized baseball did not test for steroids until 2004, and most reports indicate that use began in the majors sometime in the late ‘80s. That leaves a 15 year gap where, admissions of guilt and Mitchell Report aside, the innocent are indistinguishable from the guilty and everyone is tainted with the brush of playing the so-called “Steroid Era”.  Every power hitter or power pitcher, regardless of what they actually did, is tainted with the idea that they might be dirty. That’s wrong and absolutely ludicrous, and harmful to many, many good or great players who had the misfortune to happen to become a pro baseball player in the 1990s or early 2000s.

Shamefully, organized baseball and the writers that vote for the Hall of Fame have placed 99% of the blame on the players for what happened. But they should be ashamed, because when players are willing to step forward and clear the air to establish a true image of who was innocent and who was guilty in the Steroid Era, those players are roundly assaulted. When Mark McGwire owned up to his steroid use last year, his Hall of Fame vote totals actually dropped. I am all for punishing players for wrongdoing, but in this situation punishing a player for admitting to his mistakes and being honest is counter-productive, as it completely de-incentivizes other former players’ desire to clear the air. Why be honest if you know you’re going to be punished for it?

So baseball needs a change in attitude. Major League Baseball needs to realize that their negligence for 20 years in testing and unwillingness to discuss steroids with players for so long makes them almost as complicit in the scandal as the offending players.  Put the allegations on Bonds’, Clemens’ and McGwire’s plaques, if you must. Do no more – because we have no idea how steroids truly impacted their performance.

The only proper thing to do in that situation is judge the Steroid Era players by their numbers, and no more, just like the writers do with every other player in baseball history. Doing so allows players to admit what they did and receive a degree of punishment while gradually establishing a picture of who was truly clean. It’s not the simplest solution, but it’s the one that baseball needs to truly move on from the mess it created.

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PRESERVING THE GAME’S INTEGRITY
By Jonathan Labib

The Baseball Hall of Fame is a venue to celebrate the greatest athletes who have ever played the game. But the sport’s rich history of cheating has prevented the venue from celebrating the true integrity of baseball, as many of its members were far from upstanding citizens. From the spitball and pitchers scuffing baseballs to players popping “greenies” before games, baseball has been riddled with cheating, especially during the steroid era of the 1980’s 1990’s and early 2000’s. This raises questions as to whether or not players who have been linked to steroid use should even be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

While personal integrity isn’t a factor considered for admission, integrity to the game of baseball certainly is. Two of the best to ever play the game, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and Pete Rose, are not in the Hall of Fame because they violated baseball’s cardinal rule. Both players were implicated in gambling on baseball with Jackson throwing games in a conspiracy, and Rose betting on the Cincinnati Reds while he was managing them. These two scandals were the biggest disgraces in the history of the game, until the revelations of the steroid era.

But the difference between steroid use and other forms of cheating is that we have positive tests, admissions, and league sanctioned reports that identify steroid users. Despite this there is lingering doubt about many players who played during the steroid era but were never implicated for using steroids. While suspected players should be given the quintessentially American treatment of being innocent until proven guilty, players that have been linked to steroid use should have to face the consequences of their actions.

Every player that took steroids during the steroid era knew that they were violating the integrity of the game and still chose to do so. Their cheating diminished the accomplishments of players that chose to follow rules, which forced them to play on an unlevel playing field. The most egregious cases are the players who tested positive for steroids once major league baseball implemented testing in 2005. Potential Hall of Famers Rafael Palmeiro and Manny Ramirez both tested positive for steroids, with Ramirez testing positive twice. Both players knew that they would probably get caught when they used steroids but decided to anyway, and for brazenly defying the rules of the game they deserve to be shunned from the Hall.

But then there are players who never tested positive for or admitted to using steroids, but were identified as users in the Congressional Mitchell Report. The Mitchell Report identified 89 players who are alleged to have used steroids or other performance enhancing drugs. Implicated potential Hall of Famers include Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. I am confident in the veracity of the report, and feel that Bonds and Clemens should also be kept out of the Hall of Fame. If we do take the report at face value, those players implicated took the morally reprehensible action of using performance enhancing drugs to try and gain an edge. Many of these players were already good enough to be in the Hall of Fame before their alleged steroid use, it was their hubris that caused them to try and game the system. To put it bluntly, cheating is wrong, and the correct message to send to cheaters is that their actions are not acceptable and they will not be rewarded for them.

We know that there are already players in the Hall of Fame that have cheated at the game of baseball, and I don’t advocate for their removal. I do feel that we can’t in good faith vote in players that are up for consideration while we already know that they violated the integrity of the game. Every player that took steroids knew very well that what they were doing was wrong and chose to do so anyway, they need to face the repercussions for their actions.

Unless the Hall of Fame voters come down with any iron fist on anyone that has admitted to, tested positive for, or been implicated with steroids it will validate their cheating. For the sake of maintaining the Hall of Fame’s integrity as it pertains to athletic merit, players who took performance enhancing drugs should be kept out.

 

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