September 19, 2014

The Steroid Question

July 31, 2011 by · 3 Comments 

On last week’s edition of The Seamheads.com Radio Hour, George Kurtz, Phil Van Horn, and I were involved in a tough debate about steroids in baseball. We confronted a question long avoided by those in the baseball world. In two years, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and Sammy Sosa will be voted on, and it’s time we answer the question that many have left behind in recent years: how do we deal with steroids in baseball?

I took the neutral approach: I am unsure about how to deal with players who we know took steroids. Does A-Rod stay out of the Hall because he took steroids for a small amount of time? Does admitting it change the circumstances? If so, how do we deal with players who we are unsure of? If the player had a bad attitude, such as Bonds or Clemens, how does that play into it?

I am the most concerned of anyone about how this will all play out. I strongly believe that steroid-users should not hold a place in baseball heaven. But I also think there should be some question of the player’s personality and their handling of the issue.

If it is just a question of whether a player did it or not, we would enter a world of problems. In a world-wide vote, A-Rod would certainly be voted in before Clemens would, just based on their personalities. The problem, though, is that we know for sure A-Rod took steroids, but we are not 100% sure Clemens did (ok, so we’re 99.999% sure). Should be punish players for telling the truth and admitting it? And if we don’t, where do we draw the line? Can any player get into the Hall of Fame simply by admitting they took steroids?

In my mind, the legitimacy of the Hall of Fame is soon to be gone regardless of what happens. In the case of Bonds, either we will have a known steroid-user in the Hall, or the Hall will not include baseball’s all-time home run kind. Either way, there is an argument to be made that the Hall of Fame will loose its luster.

The biggest issue, of course, is principle versus merit. You cannot simply argue on merit anymore, since there is such a strong case for principle. The Hall of Fame voting requirements open a window for a possible solution in regard to principle. They state that “voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, [and] character.” That opens up the small possibility for players like Bonds and Clemens, who have disgusted everybody, to be left out of the Hall without taking a vote on the legitimacy of, say, Bond’s home run record. Invoking that clause, though, is rare, and would raise questions as to why Ty Cobb, for example, is allowed in the Hall.

Phil Van Horn took the strong anti-steroid approach: he argued that if you want to take steroids and collect your cash as a player, that’s your business. But you should not, Phil argued, be permitted to engrave yourself in baseball history by being admitted to the Hall of Fame.

That argument was popular and worked well for me and George, but it also neglects the real issue. It settles the argument as to whether players should be allowed into the Hall of Fame, but it does not solidify a position on something like the home run record. It kicks the can down the road and doesn’t really address the issue and take a stance.

George Kurtz questioned our skepticism. He is concerned about leaving the home run king out, and he argued that players have been cheating for a long time. That may be so, but in an era like this, with glaring evidence and strong opposition, it is not a winning argument for Major League Baseball to turn a blind eye and accept steroid use. Congress would not be thrilled either.

These are not easy questions, and they will soon become impossible to ignore. One way or another, the fabric of the Hall of Fame and the record books is going to drastically change. The question that remains is how that fabric will change and how much honor will remain when the steroid question is finally answered.

jess@jesskcoleman.com

Comments

3 Responses to “The Steroid Question”
  1. MIKE HOBAN says:

    I think the question of WHETHER a steroids user will get into the Hall is somewhat academic. I think our cerrent evidence is that no steroids user WILL EVER get into the Hall (in the forseeable future).

    What evidence? The voting record of the BBWAA on Mark McGwire. Lest we forget, Big Mac was the “savior of Baseball” and a “national hero” in 1998. In a number of years on the ballot, he has yet to break 30%.

    It is clear he will not be elected. And if a writer will not vote for Mac, why would he/she vote for Bonds, Clemens or ARod?

    Mike Hoban

  2. Dennis Corcoran says:

    I address the question of steroids in the Afterward of my recently published book by McFarland “Induction Day at Cooperstown A History of the Baseball Hall of Fame Ceremony.” Writers like Bill Madden cite the five criteria set down by the writers in 1945 as the reason why he would never vote for McGwire. (Note- the criteria were mentioned in the article.) Jayson Stark takes the opposite approach when he states “I think I feel more comfortable for players like McGwire than I do trying to pick and choose who did what and when and why.” The BBWAA tried to address the issue at a national meeting in July of 2009. Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times proposed forming a committee to develop guidelines on evaluating players from the steroid era. The proposal was voted down 30-25.
    I then state, “Stay tuned because the issue will undoubtedly get more heated when accused steroid users Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds come on the ballot in the next few years.”

  3. Jon Pessah says:

    I hate to burst the bubble, but I’d bet the mortgage that there are steroid users already in Cooperstown. And I know an awful lot of HoF voters who plan to vote for Bonds and Clemens. Had typical conversation this year with a Hall of Famer, who was railing against the steroid users. I asked him about his generation’s use of amphetamines. The answer: “Hey, it was a long season, how did you expect us to be able to play every day,” he said. “Besides, they were not illegal.” Ah, yes they are. I’m not defending steroid users, I’m just being realistic. Plenty of steroids users, not tarred by Mitchell’s wretched report, will be voted into the Hall. And so will some of those he and the government screwed. Oh, and so will the man who presided over the entire era. Some how, the buck never stops at the top when it really matters.

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