Original Post: January 9, 2013
Today’s Baseball Hall-of-Fame voting “shutout” clearly shows the difficulty BBWAA voters are having in evaluating the careers of players from the so-called “Steroid Era”.
Some voters have taken a “zero tolerance” position, saying they won’t vote for anyone connected in any way with the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PED).
Many others have decided to ignore the issue of PED expressing their reluctance to act as “moral arbiters”. They argue that they don’t know who did and did not use PED and don’t know the impact of PED use on the player’s career.
Still others have taken a middle stance, voting for candidates they believe were HOF-worthy despite being linked to PED.
It is understandable that voters are uneasy about voting for Hall-of-Fame candidates without a full picture of the impact of PED.
It is problematic.
And, there is no doubt that many who used performance enhancing drugs did so without being “caught”.
That said, when students are found to have cheated on an exam, we don’t excuse them because we did not catch every student who may have cheated on the exam.
We don’t consider how much they may have benefitted from the cheating and we don’t excuse the “A” student because he or she was the best student in the class.
Those who are caught cheating are not rewarded for it.
And let’s make this clear.
Anyone who believes that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens didn’t knowingly use performance-enhancing drugs is sticking their heads in the sand. Many likely are the same people who believed Pete Rose never bet on baseball.
(I never could understand how anyone could read the Dowd Report and not believe that Rose gambled on baseball games. Yet, those of us who said we didn’t believe Pete’s years of denial were labeled anti-Rose guys. It wasn’t true. As a believer in “effort and attitude”, I admired Pete’s work ethic. I was hardly an anti-Rose guy.)
As for the argument that “there are cheaters and bad character-people already in the HOF”, of course that’s true. But, following that “lowest common denominator” logic leads to a downhill spiraling of HOF standards.
My guess is that as more players tainted by the “steroid era” come up for Hall-of-Fame consideration, voters will soften their stance and elect the most dominate of those players linked to PED.
I’m thinking particularly of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.
Their career numbers and impact on the game will win out over their “lack of baseball integrity” in achieving some of those numbers. The argument will be that they were Hall-of-Fame worthy before they are believed to have begun use of performance-enhancers.
I understand that argument. But, how do you determine how much of a player’s career has been “authentic”? We can’t really know when a player started using PED and to what degree those enhancers affected the player’s performance or career path.
To me, the effort to cheat with the use of anabolic steroids and Human Growth Hormone is not consistent with the highest honor that baseball can bestow upon a player.
Shouldn’t the ultimate honor in a sport require that the competitor compete with integrity?
I believe it should. However, I recognize that in taking such a position, I run into difficulty on the issue of consistency.
There is a good argument that has been made pointing to the many years in which amphetamines impacted performance on the field. There is no doubt that “greenies” were both a performance-enhancer and were common-place in baseball for many years.
Yet, I do not believe players who used that form of “performance-enhancer” should be passed over for the Hall.
I accept that this distinction is open to considerable pushback.
If the “integrity” of the game is the issue, how is one chemical performance-enhancer different from another?
I choose to differentiate the use of anabolic steroids and HGH from the use of “uppers” based largely on the fact that taking amphetamines, while illegal without a doctor’s prescription, was not viewed within the sport as “cheating” at the time.
Greenies were readily available in clubhouses and their use by players was not a deep, dark secret kept from the other players, as we saw with anabolic steroids and hgH.
It didn’t change their bodies in the same way. It did not produce the dramatic changes in a player’s career trajectory in the same way and wasn’t seen by the player’s as gaining a competitive advantage over opponents.
I’m open to the idea I could be very wrong in trying to differentiate the two.
So, I’m not suggesting that any of this is easy and I certainly do not think mere suspicion rises to the level needed to disqualify a Hall-of-Fame candidate for PED use.
And this point should be emphasized.
The consideration of PED use in the Baseball Hall-of-Fame voting is not about punishing players.
It’s about honoring players.
We are not in a court of law in which a standard of proof is required and a defendant is innocent until proven guilty. This is not about a player’s “rights”. There is no legal “due process”.
HOF induction is baseball’s ultimate honor. And it is permanent.
That said, it is the job of the voters to follow the voting criteria.
The Baseball Hall of Fame states it clearly.
“Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team or teams on which the player played.”
The integrity and character a player exhibited in their baseball career are specifically cited as factors to consider when voting. Voters who ignore these factors, it seems to me, are abrogating their responsibility as a voter.
For the writers who don’t want to consider the subjective aspects of a player’s career, then why have human input?
You could eliminate much of the bias and subjectivity simply by utilizing computer analytics to choose the HOF class.
One other point on the Hall-of-Fame voting.
This 2013 BBWAA voting reflects the continuation of this “He’s not a first-ballot guy” mentality on the part of many voters.
This higher standard for 1st-year eligible players is entirely a concoction of the writers who see that some of the greatest players in the game’s history haven’t been elected in the first year of eligibility.
So, instead of basing their vote on the HOF criteria they should be using to evaluate candidates, many writers are adding in their own, extra, factor.
“Is he a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer”?
These writers have determined that a player is worthy of the Hall-of-Fame, but have decided they won’t vote for him…until next year.
The writers argue that “It’s a process”. That candidates will continue to be evaluated over the 15-year period.
But, that’s not always true.
Not every candidate deserving of more consideration will have that chance, especially with so many strong candidates making their way onto the ballot.
Thanks, in part, to writer’s holding a higher standard for 1st-year eligible players, Kenny Lofton is off the Hall of Fame Ballot after just one season. He didn’t get the 5% needed to stay on the ballot.
And it’s not as if he doesn’t have credentials for further consideration.
Lofton’s career WAR, ranked by Baseball-Reference, is higher than Edgar Martinez and Mike Piazza.
This “First Ballot” mentality is just plain wrong. It’s not part of the voting criteria and writers shouldn’t continue to apply this higher standard for first-year players.
But, since this voting pattern is unlikely to change, the BBWAA needs to change the 5% rule to avoid what happened to Lofton.
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Chuck Wilson is an award-winning host, interviewer, and commentator. He was an original host on ESPN Radio and was with the network for close to 17-years. In 2007, Wilson was named one of the 100 Most Influential Sports Educators in America by the Institute for International Sport. He is the founder of Even Field.