Steroids and Keeping Players out of the MLB Hall of Fame


July 23, 2011; Opa Locka FL, USA; A wall of hall of fame photos are seen at the professional baseball academy. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

In the poll I posted on Sodo Mojo this month, I asked the question, “Should Former Steroid Users be Disqualified from the MLB Hall of Fame?” The response was an overall “yes” with 77% of the vote (142) vs. the 23% (43) “no” votes for a total of 185 votes.

It turns out that no one was voted into the Hall of Fame this year. In fact, this was the first time since 1996 that no one was elected to the HoF – not even beloved Seattle Mariner Edgar Martinez. When one looks at the voting list, however, it’s not hard to see why the vote didn’t give anyone this top baseball honor. Several of the nominees were linked to performance enhancing drugs during the big steroid scandal. These players included Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire (imagine how devastated I, a long-time McGuire for the Oakland Athletics fan, was when I found out that he was linked to PEDs. I mean, my nickname when I played first base and right field for my little league team was “Stretch McGuire.), Rodger Clemens,  and Sammy Sosa, to name a few. 

Craig Biggio was the closest to being voted in, with only 68% of the vote (75% of the vote is needed in order to induct someone into the HoF). It seems odd for someone who holds a record for the most home runs in a single season to be locked out of HoF status, but when the record may not have otherwise been set, one has to step back. Perhaps it’s the case that such a record is a fiction.

Consider this example. Say a student takes the SAT test after gaining inside information that helps him to completely ace the test. He gets a perfect score – but he wouldn’t have gotten that score otherwise. What’s more, it comes to light that this same student was actually copying off a student next to him in his classes, and didn’t actually have the knowledge he purported to have when his instructors graded him. It would make no sense to admit this student into Harvard, Yale, Stanford, or UC Berkeley. In fact, I’d be hard-pressed to say that such a student – one whose scores reflect a high school career of cheating – should be admitted into any college at all, let alone a top college.

Likewise, I don’t believe that people who have been convicted of using PEDs should be able to hold various records or receive the honors associated with being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. I’m really reluctant to see how we can even compare Mark McGuire or Barry Bonds to men who did not use steroids.

That being said, drug use and debauchery in the MLB is not a foreign concept. While the Baseball Hall of Fame has striven to make sure all inductees have upstanding character and morals, the inductees haven’t always been the pinnacles of sportsmanship. Think of Ty Cobb and his violent nature and racist behavior. Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth were notorious womanizers.

I’m of a firm belief that when you know better, you do better. I’m inclined to think that sportsmanship and character go far beneath the number of home runs a guy hits or the number of batters struck out. Sure, there can be some great – even jaw-dropping – ball playing on the field, but if there is cheating, lying, or criminal behavior underlying that, it just drags the game down.

Prior to the great steroids scandals, I watched baseball religiously. After the scandals, however, I had to take a break. I was crestfallen that some of my favorite players would cheat in order to get ahead. Much like the dismay I would feel if politicians stuffed their ballot boxes and it later came to light with hard evidence that such was done, I felt disappointed in the baseball players who had squandered away character and sportsmanship to get ahead and set records.

We’ll never know whether McGuire, Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, and company would have played the way they did without the PEDs. I know, in 1988, as a young tween, I sat at the Oakland Colosseum and took pictures of my favorite players at the time – including Jose Canseco and Mark McGuire. I even shook their hands as they had a meet and greet with my little league team. I miss the simple naivete of the time.

While the argument can be made that we have let many ball players into the Hall of Fame who were less than upstanding citizens, it’s not a reason to continue to do so.  We should have higher standards for our sports players (and our celebrities for that matter). Sure, we’re all human and everyone makes mistakes. However, some mistakes cost people their lives and their livelihoods. Our sports heroes should be no different from the rest of us in that respect.