The Indians announced last week that three Tribe figures will be inducted into the Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame in August: Jack Graney, Jim Warfield, and Gaylord Perry.
Graney spent 14 years in a Cleveland uniform, followed by 21 years in the broadcast booth; he won a World Series ring in 1920 and was watching from the press box when the Indians won the championship in 1948. Warfield, meanwhile, spent 38 years with the Tribe, including 26 seasons as head trainer. Both men will be inducted posthumously.
But the biggest name here is Perry, and he’s not your typical candidate for immortality. There’s no denying the extraordinary skill he showed during his three-and-a-half seasons with the Indians (let alone the rest of his storied 22-year career). But in an age in which even incredibly deserving players are denied entrance to Cooperstown because of completely baseless suspicions of doping, it’s significant that a known cheater will be enshrined in Heritage Park.
Let’s be clear: Gaylord Perry cheated. That’s not conjecture, that’s fact. Perry was famous for spitballs, which were banned 18 years before he was born. And yet, Perry readily admitted that he had “tried everything on the old apple, but salt and pepper and chocolate sauce topping.” Not to mention that he was caught and suspended for doctoring the ball in 1982.
I’m not saying the Indians shouldn’t enshrine Perry. He’s already in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, as are a whole host of other undesirable characters who weren’t known for their sportsmanship. My philosophy for these matters is that if matters of cheating (let alone character and off-field issues) can’t be judged by a consistent standard, they shouldn’t be taken into account at all.
But Perry was elected to Cooperstown 20 years ago, and things have changed. After years of looking the other way and whistling in the face of rampant league-wide steroid use (not to mention Willie Mays’ “red juice,” Mickey Mantle’s “greenies,” or Pud Galvin’s testosterone elixir), the baseball media have gone beside themselves in spewing vitriol at any player they remotely suspect may have cheated.
One of the most common rationalizations I’ve heard from writers who don’t think modern dopers get into the Hall of Fame is that Perry’s election was a mistake, and that he wouldn’t be elected if he were up for induction today. Looks like they’re wrong.
The Indians Hall of Fame is not the same as Cooperstown. I know that. But still: Rafael Palmeiro, a man who got 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, got less than 13 percent of the vote from the BBWAA this year. Barry Bonds, the second-best player of all time, probably won’t get in, even though he was never punished by Major League Baseball for his PED use. Mark McGwire got less than 20 percent of the BBWAA’s vote this year even though he retired before any of the substances he used were banned by MLB. And Jeff Bagwell missed enshrinement this year because of a completely unfounded whispering campaign to the effect that he might possibly have used steroids.
Spitballs seem more intuitively acceptable than PEDs. Doctoring the ball seems folksy and gritty—a throwback to the gold old days—while doping conjures up images of chemicals, needles, and unnatural human figures with biceps the size of watermelons. In the collective mind of the game, spitballs are to steroids as David Eckstein is to Adam Dunn.
But cheating is cheating. Perry broke the rules of the game in an attempt to gain an unfair advantage over his opponents. In that sense, his actions were no better or no worse than Palmeiro’s taking PEDs or Derek Jeter pretending that he had gotten hit by a pitch. In fact, since steroids merely aid muscle growth and do not inherently cause it, I’d say applying a banned substance to the ball while on the field is a more egregious subversion of the rules than doping.
I have no problem with Perry being in either Hall of Fame. But the fact that he is being immortalized—again—while Palmeiro, McGwire, and Bagwell are still sitting on the outside is ridiculous. And that there hasn’t been an uproar about a cheater receiving such an honor just because he broke the rules in a different way sends a powerful message about how pervasive this completely arbitrary distinction in the sport.
Cooperstown isn’t Heritage Park, and the Indians Hall of Fame is better for having Perry in it. But if we still think of Perry as an honorable figure, there’s no excuse for keeping out Palmeiro and McGwire.