Please excuse the interruption of your football frenzy.
But this baseball issue is timely, with today being the deadline for Hall of Fame voting. It’s also controversial, so take your best swing, Nation.
This morning, John Fay, beat writer for the Cincinnati Enquirer, announced that he wouldn’t be casting his vote for the HOF. His reason: drugs.
I’d rather abstain than play judge and jury this year. The two most deserving players statistically of the 37 on the ballot are Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Bonds was the best hitter I’ve seen. Clemens was the most dominant pitcher. Both should be absolute locks to be first-ballot inductees. But Bonds and Clemens also top of the list of players linked to performance-enhancing drugs. I believe both players used PEDs. From the BBWAA Rules for Election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame: “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”
He apparently went back and forth on his vote.
At some point last night, I made up my mind that I would vote Bonds and Clemens on basis that they would have been Hall of Famers if they used PEDs or not. There’s also the argument that steroids in 1990s and 2000s were like the amphetamines in 1970s and 80s. Everybody used them, so just vote based on the stats. But this morning, I was too torn to pull the lever. My gut feeling is that I’m done as a voter. Maybe time will give me clarity on the issue, but, right now, I’d rather not vote than send in a ballot I don’t fully believe in.
I certainly understand Fay’s anguish and respect his thoughtful opinion. (He doesn’t explain why he didn’t vote for any presumably untainted players – Biggio, Raines, Martinez, Schilling, Morris?)
But I disagree with his conclusion. If I were a HOF voter, I’d ignore the question of steroids and other PEDs. Here’s why:
You can certainly make the argument (which almost persuaded Fay) that a few players posted HOF careers even excluding their PED-contaminated seasons. Further, if the Clemens trial was any indication, the “evidence” that the Mitchell Report list was based upon doesn’t hold up well when exposed to the rigors our legal system imposes for determining guilt and innocence. Can a HOF vote be cast for any player of that era, sufficiently confident the accomplishments weren’t drug-aided?
All strong points, but not the most decisive in my view.
And let’s bracket off the angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin question of whether a sportswriter is truly competent to judge the “integrity” and “character” of a baseball player.
PEDs were used league-wide over decades. Hundreds of players took part. Pitchers and hitters. Superstars and bench players. Almost everyone ignored the situation – the Commissioner’s office, owners, front offices, managers, medical staffs, the players union, journalists and certainly other players. PED use became a regular – and essentially accepted – part of what it meant to play MLB. Those used drugs were participating in a sport-wide behavior of keeping up, not simply a few outliers looking for an unfair edge. It’s impossible not to view it as a regrettable, but collective, failure.
Given that, is it appropriate to express our condemnation for what transpired by singling out individuals? One can certainly conclude that PED use was wrong or bad for the sport without punishing individual players. Countless barroom opinions, barrels of ink and megabytes of pixels have and will be spilled criticizing the era and practices. Baseball fans have reached a consensus that that era was tainted.
But HOF ballots aren’t a fitting outlet for expressing that powerful judgement. Admitting specific players to the Hall of Fame signifies individual achievement in comparison to peers. We should vent our legitimate sport-wide outrage other ways.
Happy New Year!
Steve grew up in Cincinnati as a die-hard fan of Sparky’s Big Red Machine. After 25 years living outside of Ohio, mostly in Ann Arbor, he returned to the Queen City in 2004. He has resumed a first-person love affair with the Cincinnati Reds and is a season ticket holder at Great American Ball Park. The only place to find Steve’s thoughts of more than 140 characters is Redleg Nation. Follow his tweets @spmancuso.