When the BBWAA Hall of Fame voting results were announced on Wednesday afternoon, they wasn’t exactly surprising. Analysts had spent weeks predicting that 2013 would be a year without inductees. However, it was still disappointing to see names like Craig Biggio and Mike Piazza receive only a fraction of the votes they deserved solely because writers were too busy using the ballots for their own agendas.
Personally, I am strongly against PED use and would prefer to see the character clause applied during voting. It angers me to see some players cheapen the game by taking shortcuts, while hard-working (but honest) individuals never receive any recognition at all because their numbers just can’t compete.
That said, the so-called “Steroid Era” was a completely different age, and it’s impossible to fairly enforce a character clause written before those drugs were even a consideration. Players like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens were doing the same things as the majority of other major leaguers in their time. It’s hard to differentiate between those who used and those who didn’t, because even if a player wasn’t suspected or caught, there were many who flew under the radar due to the lack of drug testing.
To pretend that there is a clear way to separate the two groups is ridiculous. In many cases, writers were quoted as saying they suspected a player of drug use, and would therefore not vote for him. How can an argument be made to keep someone out solely because they might have cheated, despite a lack of evidence? There’s no guarantee that those already in the Hall haven’t done the exact same thing. Only the players themselves know the truth.
While PEDs can’t take a career minor-leaguer and give him the statistics of Bonds, it can give players who are already above-average enough of an edge to potentially affect the outcome of a season. When Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera was suspended last year, I bashed him for being a detriment to the game. His use of PEDs may or may not have contributed to his career-high season, but no one will ever be able to separate him from the drugs. Although his name should have gone in the record books, those numbers are tainted because of how he might possibly have achieved them.
It’s important to remember that Cooperstown isn’t just a list of the top individuals in baseball. It’s a celebration of the history of the sport, including players, managers and more. That might sound like an antiquated or sentimental notion, but baseball has always been a sentimental game, and it thrives on history and tradition. Pretending an entire era didn’t exist because most of its players may have used PEDs at some point is a disgrace to the game.
Baseball writers are entrusted with recording the history of the game, regardless of how they feel personally. Bonds and Clemens—along with several others—are a part of that story. The narrative attached to their careers isn’t going to disappear if the Hall acknowledges their greatness. They should be honored for their achievements because they are among the very best to have played the game, even if there will always be an invisible asterisk next to their names, declaring their crimes.
Yes, the players who used steroids knew that they were breaking the rules. But it was a rule overlooked at every executive level in baseball, right up to the commissioner, and that makes it a different situation than the one today’s PED users face. If Major League Baseball or BBWAA want to announce that anyone caught using those drugs from this day forward will not be eligible for entry to the Hall, that would be a fair decision. What isn’t fair is to revise history and retroactively choose not to include the players of an era where results and revenue mattered far more than enforcing the rules.
Submitting a ballot is an honor that BBWAA members should take seriously. Next year, voters should set aside their personal feelings and unproven suspicions, and select the best candidates instead.