Last Monday, the Baseball Writers’ Association released its list of players eligible to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. On that list are names like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Manny Ramirez. And for yet another year, the vote will be shrouded in controversy. All three of these players have two things in common: They are undoubtedly good enough to be in the Hall Of Fame, and they took steroids.
Hall of Famer Joe Morgan recently re-energized the debate over whether steriod users should be allowed into Cooperstown, when he wrote a passionate letter urging the Writers’ Association to leave these players out. “We hope the day never comes when known steroid users are voted into the Hall of Fame. They cheated. Steroid users don’t belong here.” Morgan goes on to say that many Hall of Famers he’s spoken to agree with him. It makes sense. Steroid users cheated, and should not be honored for it. But in reality it is more complicated. To really understand, we have to better understand the Hall of Fame itself.
The selection process of the Hall of Fame is a complicated one. It is not the players, coaches or fans who vote players into Cooperstown, but a group of specific baseball writers. There is no exact science to the voting and voters examine both a player’s accomplishments and the way that player went about getting them. The Hall of Fame’s aloof “character clause” weeds out the good but rotten players—in theory. Upon closer inspection however, the Hall of Fame is home to many who perhaps have some character left to be desired.
Ty Cobb, one of the original five players admitted into the Hall of Fame, was a renowned jerk. On the field he was known for sharpening his cleats and sticking them up in the air while sliding in attempts to stab opposing players try- ing to tag him. As a result, his stolen bases record stood for almost 50 years. Off the field he was a vocal racist and had repeated altercations with African-Americans. One even resulted in a murder charge. Cobb was also implicated with fellow Hall of Famer Tris Speaker in a game-fixing scheme, and they were both rumored to be Ku Klux Klan members.
Cobb and Speaker are also hardly the only open racists in Cooperstown. Cap Anderson, a former Cubs manager and player, was instrumental in setting up the color barrier Jackie Robinson would eventually break. Anderson would go so far as to pull his team off the field if the opposition had any African-American players. More recently, Orlando Cepeda was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1999, despite spending almost a year in prison for smuggling drugs.
However, none of these men ever “cheated” at baseball. For the Hall of Fame voters, it would seem to be integrity on the field that matters more than character off it. Steroid users broke the laws of baseball. And for that, along with base- ball’s all-time hit leader Pete Rose (who gambled on games), they are to be shunned.
These three players’ use of steroids, however, is much less black and white than Morgan made it seem. These players played during the early 2000s, a time known as the steroid era, where almost every single player used steroids. Baseball didn’t begin testing until 2003, so not to use them was not to do everything you could to help your team win. Not to mention that the difference in performance after taking them could mean millions of dollars in contract money. If everyone was taking them, you had to to keep up. These three players didn’t shine because of their steroid use, they shined playing against an entire league of steroid users. So you can’t really blame them for juicing. What you can blame them for is what they did next.
Instead of apologizing for their actions, these players tried to cover their footsteps. The following trials and investigations opened a gap between steroid users and baseball that has yet to be closed. The same can be said for Rose, who repeatedly denied his actions, putting himself at odds with a certain select group of baseball writers.
So should steroid users be banned? I honestly have no idea. They cheated, but they had to. Perhaps the bigger question is whether this would all be for nothing if they had played along with baseball in the first place. Cobb also gambled on games if you recall, and many other steroid players who apologized could soon be up for the Hall of Fame. So are these three banned for cheating, or their defiance? Only a small group of powerful baseball writers in Cooperstown can answer that.