I admit that it’s not easy to know what to do with a baseball Hall of Fame vote these days, since Barry Bonds most likely would not have hit 73 home runs in a season or 762 in his career without the benefit of performance-enhancers.
And Bonds, of course, isn’t the only player whose numbers were artificially inflated.
The Baseball Writers Association of America failed to elect a single player to the Hall of Fame this year, a development that has led to outrage amongst baseball fans, as well as hand-wringing from some corners of the media and shameful smugness from others (seriously, Jon Heyman is the worst).
I honestly don’t have the energy to compose a long piece about how stupid and/or self-important the writers are, or one about the complicated steroid issue.
If you want to read that sort of thing, I’d point you here, here or here.
I’ll just say this.
Forgetting for a minute about guys like Bonds, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, etc., the writers still had a chance to elect guys like Craig Biggio, Tim Raines and Alan Trammell — guys who have largely avoided steroid suspicion and are deserving of enshrinement.
They could’ve elected Mike Piazza (the greatest hitting catcher of all-time) or Jeff Bagwell, two guys who have never been on-the-record accused of or attached to steroid use, but apparently don’t pass the smell test for a collection of doctors/personal trainers/former athletes — wait, I mean overweight English majors who for some reason think they are the guardians of baseball history and athletic integrity.
Please, spare me the character and integrity angle.
The Hall of Fame already has cheaters in it (Gaylord Perry, among others). Allegedly attempted murderers (Ty Cobb). It has devout racists in it (too many to name, and while he was not necessarily a full-on racist, commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis is in the Hall and all he did was stand in the way of freakin racial integration). It has a local hero in it (Kirby Puckett) who was adored throughout his career, but in retirement was accused of multiple instances of domestic abuse, and frankly, is no more or less worthy of steroid suspicion than Bagwell or Piazza.
Oh, and it already has at least one steroid user in it.
Next year the writers are likely to elect Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas. Biggio will probably get in. Jack Morris might.
Any and all of them will be lauded as guys who ‘did it the right way’. They will be deemed to sufficiently pass the “character clause” part of Hall enshrinement (a clause that, by the way, was written by the aforementioned Landis to get a War Hero enshrined).
The problem, of course, is that — and I’m not implicating any of these guys — we have no way of knowing that Greg Maddux didn’t also use performance enhancers. Or Glavine, or Thomas, or Puckett or Cal Ripken or Dave Winfield or Reggie Jackson or Ozzie Smith or Goose Gossage and on and on.
We can’t just pretend that the 1990s and 2000s never happened and not elect anybody. And we can’t possibly know who was clean and who wasn’t — or, honestly, how much the users actually benefited from what they took (seriously, take steroids for a year then try out for the Pheasants — see how well you do).
Would Barry Bonds enshrinement to the Hall of Fame be uncomfortable or awkward? Yes. Then again, Michael Irvin’s induction to the football Hall of Fame was hailed as a proud moment due to his gracious and moving acceptance speech, and Irvin was involved in drugs, solicitation and even supposedly once tried to cut a teammate’s head off (Note: That may be a slight exaggeration).
Ray Lewis copped a plea to avoid jail time for his involvement in covering up two still-unsolved murders, and the media celebrated his final home game in Baltimore last week as though he were an American hero (Lewis is gregarious and media-friendly, Bonds and Clemens are surly and hate the press, so that can actually be pretty easily explained). Lewis will soon be a TV talking head, will later be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and no one will bat an eye.
Oh, and for some reason, no one cares about steroid use in the NFL, even though many, many writers and media types cover both sports extensively.
Ultimately, so what if inducting Bonds, Clemens and others is awkward? A Hall of Fame that includes them is better than a Hall that disingenuously tries to disavow an entire era by electing no one.
Grow up, writers. Or turn in your vote.