It seems the Baseball Writers Association of America, the organization that elects newly eligible players to the Baseball Hall of Fame, passed on this year’s probables, resulting in no selection at all. As I understand it, this hasn’t happened in 40 years.
Why? The five-year waiting period between a player’s retirement and eligibility for Cooperstown ensured that 2013 would be the first chance for the BBWAA to sit in judgment on the most notorious names of the Steroid Era, including Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa, among others. Some of these men have faced various trials and investigations, or tested positive or admitted using steroids. Others, though, like Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza, were gossiped about but never proven to be PED users. Nevertheless, all were apparently tarred with the same brush, thus the vote of “no confidence.”
What bothers me most is the weasly way the talking heads justify their no votes. “Only players of character and integrity should be in the Hall of Fame, and steroid usage was cheating.” When confronted with the less than sterling personae of some Hall members like Ty Cobb, they bleat “It’s character and integrity between the first and third base lines that count, not what they do off the field.”
What about the racists and anti-Semites who yelled epithets at Jackie Robinson and Hank Greenberg, or slid into them, spikes high, or headhunted them without let-up? Some of those players are in the Hall of Fame. What about the players who popped greenies? What about the masters of the corked bat, the virtuosos of the spitter and the scuffed ball, the aces of sign stealing? They’re in the Hall of Fame, too, and they brag about what they did. Don’t give me your pious tut-tut-ing about “the integrity of the game” when all of this went on (and then some).
Let’s remember that at the time juicing was at its peak, it was not a violation of any MLB rule or the players’ collective bargaining agreement. Now there’s a great hue and cry about the unfair advantage the so-called cheaters had, and how so many non-steroid users were left behind in the minors because they couldn’t compete, and how long-standing records were broken by artificial means. From the MLB hierarchy to owners to unions to players, everyone knew for years about (a) the existence of PEDs and (b) what effect they had on athletes. Exhibit A: the 1972 Olympic East German women’s swim team. Exhibit B: Pro football’s Lyle Alzado, who went public about his steroid use before dying of a brain tumor in 1992. Let’s face it: the MLB looked the other way because they wanted to recoup some of the market they lost to professional football, and home run sluggers, no matter how they beefed up, were its meal ticket. And at the time, the press celebrated and was as seduced as the public by the exploits of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.
Now the baseball writers are acting like avenging angels by denying Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds their place in the Hall of Fame. To me this is totally misguided. Both deserve membership on their pre-steroid stats alone. And to deny election on the basis of suspicion and rumor, as in the case of Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza, is even worse. I won’t even get into the non-election of Jack Morris and Curt Schilling, who pitched the two gutsiest games I ever saw.
I suppose being holier than thou gives the baseball writers some comfort. But to me they’re just enablers now trying for redemption.