Steroids are an Ugly Chapter in Baseball History, but not the Only Ugly Chapter

Steroids and the Hall of Fame have been infamously connected for decades, and the baseball world is arguably as divided as it has been since the introduction of the designated hitter regarding if steroid users should be considered for the Hall of Fame. This week’s voting results continue this trend, as all-time greats Barry Bonds and Rodger Clemens remained stagnant at 56.4% and 57.3% of the Hall of Fame vote, respectively. The all-time home run leader and a pitcher with 354 wins being left out of the hall of fame is a true tragedy. Generally speaking, there are two main reasons given to leave steroids users out of the Hall of Fame, but neither hold up when considered in depth.

Often, voters and fans point to the morals clause – rule 5 in the process for electing players – as a reason to keep steroid users (and accused steroid users) out of the Hall of Fame. However, many players in the Hall of Fame fail to stand up to the lofty standards the morals clause establishes. For example, Ty Cobb’s many famous altercations clearly fail to stand up to any morals clause, despite being named on over 98% of ballots in 1936. It is harshly unfair to punish players simply for playing in an era where there is broader media coverage, and hence more publish outrage, for their modern indiscretions, and it begins a dangerous precedent where the morals clause is only applied selectively to certain players and certain indiscretions.

Additionally, some fans and voters argue that simply using steroids – potentially a single instance of cheating – as reason to deny them entry into the Hall. However, even the great Willie Mays and Hank Aaron have admitted to trying amphetamines, which would carry a suspension under modern rules. If a single instance of cheating (by modern rules) should deny players entry to the Hall, then Mays and Aaron should have the same standard applied (clearly a ridiculous idea).

The second major argument against admitting steroid users to the Hall of Fame is that their statistics, and hence their reason to gain entrance to the Hall, are tainted, and so we do not truly know if the player’s ability matches the ability of those already enshrined in Cooperstown. While this argument carries more logical weight, it is impossible to draw a bright line – does anyone truly doubt that Barry Bonds didn’t have Hall of Fame talent prior to using steroids? The only objective standard is judging based on the numbers as they exist – any other standard necessarily introduces bias as each individual voter ‘adjusts’ player’s numbers to be some different value. Uniformity in voting (and standards) is crucial to upholding the integrity of the Hall of Fame. We do not apply ‘what ifs’ to player’s numbers in any other scenario when considering entry to the Hall, and we should not change that standard for steroids.

In addition, it seems unfair to punish players for using steroids when Baseball was not explicitly against their use at the time – there was no testing (or punishment mechanism) until 2004. Prior, Baseball preferred to simply ignore the problem. Baseball is a job for players, and punishing them for trying to be more successful at their given profession when their employer explicitly turns a blind eye (and profits from their choices) is unfair. Since 2004, the process for punishing players has (mostly) done its job – if a player tries to gain a competitive advantage, they are suspended for a certain number of games. Theoretically, the number of games lost should counter the gain from using steroids when looking at a player’s overall resume at the end of their career. Any complains that 50, or 100, games is not enough of a punishment is not an argument for denying entry to the Hall, but rather for changing MLB’s current rules.

I hate steroids in Baseball, and I absolutely believe players who use them should be fully punished under MLB’s current rules. But that punishment should be enough, and the discussion should end there. If a 100 game suspension isn’t enough of a punishment, then increase the length of the ban in the rule books, but don’t doubly punish players for playing in an era with more media coverage and more fan outrage for this specific infraction when such a standard has never truly been applied to the Hall of Fame process before.

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