Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) voters this week added three players to the Baseball Hall of Fame, one of sports’ most prestigious clubs.
Former Atlanta Braves pitchers Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux and former Chicago White Sox slugger Frank Thomas each easily surpassed the necessary 75 percent vote total, and with good reason: Glavine and Maddux won a combined 660 games while helping the Braves win 16-straight division titles, and Thomas is one of eight players in major league history to hit at least 500 home runs with a career batting average above .300.
Few would argue the Hall of Fame isn’t gaining three of baseball’s finest when the induction ceremony takes place in Cooperstown, N.Y., in July, but the vote leaves plenty of room for debate, because it omits some of the best players to ever step foot on a baseball diamond.
Last year, several readers chastised me for my views on the 2013 Hall of Fame vote, which yielded zero inductees for the first time since 1996, in spite of a star-studded ballot. Your points were well taken, but I want to be clear: I am not advocating for situational ethics. That’s what I would argue the baseball writers are doing when they arbitrarily decide who is guilty of steroid use and who is not—and who is worthy of punishment.
Keep in mind that many of the 571 BBWAA voters are the same journalists who covered the steroids era. They were in the locker rooms every day. They were friends with these players. Once all the game stories were written, all the puff pieces published, and the sports journalism awards earned, journalists can now play the moral superiority card, pretending they’re shocked and incensed by the steroids era—after they’ve finished benefiting from it.
I don’t mean to question the motives of every baseball writer casting a ballot. Some of them mean well, and I’m all in favor of upholding the integrity of the game (for instance, Pete Rose shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame). But where do we draw the line? And who gets to draw it?
Of all the superstars being shut out, I can agree with Rafael Palmeiro being denied. He failed a drug test. Although he’s one of four players ever to amass 3,000 hits and 500 home runs in a career, I don’t blame voters for not giving him enough support to stay on the ballot.
I can also agree with keeping guys like Mark McGwire, who admitted to using steroids, out of Cooperstown. I can even go along with those who won’t support Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens, because trainers and suppliers have implicated them.
But I draw the line at declaring guilt by association. No one has produced hard evidence that Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, or Sammy Sosa, among others, used performance-enhancing drugs. They never failed a drug test, and all adamantly deny using steroids. They also didn’t show up in the 2007 Mitchell report, which named 86 then-current and former players.
But, cynics say, Bagwell, Piazza, and Sosa played in the 1990s and gained significant muscle mass during their careers. Well, so did Nolan Ryan. If the ’90s plus muscles equals steroids, how does Frank Thomas get in?
Bottom line: “We have absolutely no idea who was clean and who was dirty during the steroid era, and anyone who tells you they know for sure are lying to your face,” wrote BBWAA writer Bob Nightengale in a column for USA Today this week.
The Hall of Fame is a museum—with cheaters already in it—and induction recognizes outstanding accomplishment relative to one’s peers, not good character (Hall of Famers Tris Speaker and Rogers Horsnby were members of the Klu Klux Klan). Many of the players rejected again this week fit that description, and some have never been connected to steroids in any way, other than the era in which they played.
On top of that, it’s an era we all contributed to: While journalists refused to investigate, we were the ones who bought the tickets, watched the games, idolized the players, and helped create pressure to be superhuman on the baseball field.
The words of Jesus come to mind: “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”