The National Baseball Hall of Fame has been revered for years as one of the most respected entities in sports. But in recent years, Cooperstown has begun to lose the respect it has garnered for decades. Why? The steroid era. There seems to be a disconnect on how the writers feel about players who took performance enhancing drugs. But, the writers need to come together and make up their minds.
To our knowledge, steroids have been prevalent in Major League Baseball since the ‘90’s. Early in the 1997 season, MLB commissioner Bud Selig sent out a memo to the entire league, stating that steroids were illegal in baseball and it spurred teams to make sure the players were aware. But at that time, testing was not yet implemented and neither were any punishments. It wasn’t until 2003 that they started testing, but they were only doing it through “Survey Testing”. The Drug Policy has evolved a bit over the past 15 years and we have what we have now for Performance Enhancing Substance Violations: 80-game suspension for a first-time offender, 162-game/183-days of pay suspension for second violation, and a third violation results in a permanent suspension from Major League and Minor League Baseball.
When it comes to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the writers have not been shy on how they feel about players on the ballot that have been linked to performance enhancing drugs. Early on, when players who were linked to PEDs first entered the ballot, the writers were not so kind to them. Mark McGwire, who broke Roger Maris’s record of 61 home runs with 70 in 1998, fell off the ballot after his tenth and final year, after amassing only 12.3% of votes. Sammy Sosa, who hit 609 Career Home Runs, only got 13.9% on the ballot last year after his eighth try. And Gary Sheffield, who hit 509 Career Home Runs, was only able to grab 30.5% on his sixth time on the ballot. All three of these former players were tied to PEDs in their careers.
But, there is one thing I don’t understand: Why are there players with steroid ties in the Hall of Fame versus those that are not? And some of those that aren’t in the Hall may be equally as deserving than the ones that are currently in Cooperstown. Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza have both admitted to trying androstenedione. The same steroid that was in Mark McGwire’s locker during his chase of the Home Run record in ‘98. There was speculation that Ivan Rodriguez took steroids. Jose Canseco wrote in his book “Juiced” that he personally injected Rodriguez with steroids. Rodriguez has denied steroid use, but also has responded to questions about the list of 104 players who had tested positive for steroids during the 2003 season saying “Only God knows”. Just my opinion, but if a player knows he didn’t take steroids, wouldn’t they be kicking and screaming telling reporters they didn’t do it?
My point is this: There are two players in the Hall of Fame who admitted to steroid use, and one who might have used. But there are many others that used and have been kept away from the Hall…does that make sense? No. A big problem with the way that Hall of Fame voting has worked is that some of the writers take players personalities into consideration. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were linked to steroids, and they have been kept out because they may not have likeable personalities like Mike Piazza or Ivan Rodriguez. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa have not because fans and writers feel like they were cheated after they both broke Maris’s home run record in ‘98. So, it’s okay that Piazza & Rodriguez got in because they’re likeable, but Bonds, Clemens, etc. didn’t because they’re seen as villains? Even Curt Schilling, who has not been linked to PEDs, has lost votes because of his Twitter account and his unpopular political opinions.
One exclusion would be Manny Ramirez. He has the traditional numbers for Cooperstown (555 HR, 12 All-Stars, 9 Silver Sluggers), but he tested positive twice after the league started testing in the early 2000’s and well after the steroid scandal. It seemed like Ramirez purposefully didn’t care. He and Robinson Cano, who recently just tested positive for a banned substance for the second time, and will be suspended for the entire 2021 season are in a completely different category.
In recent years, Bonds and Clemens have gained some traction from the writers, reigning in a few more votes every year and both had around 61% of the votes in 2020. And some of that may be due to the fact that they both already had Hall of Fame resumes before people speculated the juicing began.
Regardless of the particular cases for Clemens and Bonds, the writers need to make up their minds going forward. I understand every voter individually has their own opinion, but the Hall of Fame has lost an edge in credibility in recent years.
There is no in between. Either players of the steroid era like Clemens, Bonds, Piazza, etc. all get in or none of them do. And since the reality is that there are already players existing in the Hall of Fame with these steroid-ties, then the others can not be discriminated against.
Featured Image: Jim McIsaac | Credit: Getty Images