Let ’em in or keep ’em out?
There is no middle ground in the debate about admission to the Baseball Hall of Fame for users of performance-enhancing drugs. The bigger issue is figuring out whether a whole generation of players is suspect.
Thanks or no thanks to Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, the issue is again center stage.
Results of 2014 voting will be released Wednesday. Greg Maddux is a slam dunk to make the Hall in his first year of eligibility.
Beyond that, there is mystery shrouded in perpetual debate about whether otherwise clearly qualified PEDs-tainted players will get the nod.
Bonds and Clemens are the unwitting poster children, superstars tied to doping scandals that tainted the latter parts of their careers. Sure, there are other PEDs users on the ballot — Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa among the notable — but they are not as close to receiving a “yes” vote on 75 percent of ballots, the requirement for admission.
Clemens got 38 percent and Bonds 36 percent last year, with many voters taking their integrity into account.
Should it be that way? Should Bonds, MLB’s all-time home-run leader (762) be kept out of the Hall? Should seven-time Cy Young winner Clemens be excluded?
Your answer may depend on how you view the honor. Is it a matter of tribute or simply a recognition of achievement?
George Will, the conservative columnist and baseball aficionado thinks the latter. He argues for the induction of Bonds.
“His hits happened. Erase them, and there will be discrepancies in baseball’s bookkeeping about the records of the pitchers who gave them up,” Will wrote. “George Orwell said that in totalitarian societies, yesterday’s weather could be changed by decree. Baseball, indeed America, is not like that.”
Yes, Bonds’ hits happened. But the Hall is not about raw statistics. If it was, a mathematical formula could decide entrance.
What about the impact that actions had on those who follow the game?
“Players that are guilty of taking steroids are not only cheaters, you are cowards,” said Donald Hooten, father of a high school baseball player who committed suicide after steroid use. “Show our kids that you’re man enough to face authority, tell the truth and face the consequences.”
One of those consequences should be the exclusion from historical honors like the hall.
So, where does that leave us? Should the best players, warts and all, be in the hall? Or should integrity play a role?
If you follow the “warts and all” philosophy, then how do you account for PEDs directly impacting the performance of Bonds, et al?
Here’s the bigger issue for the hall: We only know about those players who failed drug tests or others associated with certain labs. Those may be in the minority of users if we are to believe anecdotal evidence that as many as half of players were juicing and that creative labs continue to be far ahead of the testing process today.
As Peter Gammons wrote this week:
“These elections will forever be fractious until we come to grips with The Steroids Era, which despite the hours and money put in by (MLB) to try to get the enablers and chemists that lie below the skin of the sport, we still don’t absolutely know still don’t exist. Again: not one of the 13 players suspended because of the Biogenesis lab actually tested positive.”
Let that soak in. We are dealing with guilt by association.
There lies the problem with Wednesday’s vote, which likely will keep out Bonds and Clemens again. A whole generation juiced, just as a generation took amphetamines through the 1980s and beyond without any consequence. It may be still be going on today. Indeed, we seem naïve to think otherwise.
One lab expert suggests that for every identifiable PED, there are 100 that escape current detection through slight chemical modifications.
Baseball writers are dealing in a vacuum with little precise information in deciding how it affects their Hall votes. There is no “Baseball America” guidebook of juicers, Gammons laments.
That leads voters to be more cautious, as was the case last year, when no inductions were made.
Let ‘em in or keep ‘em out?
Most writers are still trying to figure who “they” are. Until they do, the doors to the Baseball Hall of Fame will open for only a few.
Bob Johnson is a correspondent for the Daily Journal. His columns appear Tuesdays and Fridays. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.