Well, it’s that time of year again. No, not Christmas. It’s Hall of Fame time and that means it’s time for most of the BBWAA to get all high and mighty on us. They’ll exclude guys because of arbitrary numbers and ridiculous standards. But, more than anything they’ll exclude guys because of the dreaded C word, character. See, I bet you didn’t know this, but the criteria for the Hall of Fame actually contains some language about its admitted needing to be fine, upstanding citizens of Planet Earth in addition to being the greatest ballplayers to ever play the game. The problem with the morality clause (that’s what we’ll call it) is that it is applied exclusively to those that are under suspicion for using steroids, Pete Rose, and Shoeless Joe Jackson. The process to be elected into the Hall of Fame has become one of the most pointlessly arbitrary and hypocritical award processes in sports and it’s time to question whether or not the BBWAA should even be making these decisions in the first place.
Look, I, as much as anyone, have grown very tired of the PED controversy in baseball. To be perfectly honest, I wish I didn’t have to spend another keyboard stroke on the subject. This is why I was so annoyed with Ryan Braun – not because he cheated, but because his positive test put this back into present day context and not just Hall of Fame voting. However, as long as guys like Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro are being excluded from the Hall strictly because they did steroids, it’s a subject that needs to be discussed.
Currently, there is a growing contingent of progressive baseball writers that think the power of PEDs are being overstated – something I agree with – and some have even gone so far as to argue that they don’t even help. I’m not willing to take the argument that far. Steroids will never help anyone square up a fastball. However, for those that already have the natural ability to hit a baseball, steroids can help them hit it just a little bit farther. This applies to all sports. You will never see an example of steroids turning someone that is a bad athlete into a good one. However, they will give a good athlete a slight edge. The extent of which is still largely unknown, but it’s a good bet that whatever edge they get is much slighter than most would think.
Barry Bonds was a Hall of Fame player before he took PEDs. Of course it didn’t take much to send him into another stratosphere. So, I guess I will concede the point that taking PEDs is cheating, but it’s the level of cheating that I call into question. It’s probably not as bad as corking a bat – something that would not preclude a player from reaching the Hall of Fame – and it’s definitely not any worse than taking amphetamines by the handful as the old saints of baseball did in the ‘70’s. Let’s not kid ourselves about this. One of Mark McGwire’s top five HR seasons came when he was a skinny rookie — well, skinny relative to his ’98 self. The man had a gift that steroids didn’t create. Rafael Palmeiro was one of the sweetest swinging lefties we have ever seen. That was not steroid created. The same thing needs to be said about A-Rod, Clemens, and whoever else you want to call out as an immoral cheater.
However, let’s put the cheating thing aside and look at this on a moral level. After all, that’s why writers like Ken Rosenthal say they won’t vote for the likes of McGwire and Palmeiro. There is a moral clause and that prohibits him from voting for anyone that used steroids. The problem with this is that the Hall is full of some of the biggest dirtbags to ever walk the planet. Ty Cobb was an SOB. He was a bigot who was known to bet on his own team. Rogers Hornsby, along with a whole slew of other Hall of Fame members, was a member of the freaking KKK. I do not want to live in a world were taking steroids is considered worse than racism.
Not to mention, who are these writers to judge the character of a baseball player in the first place? You will never find a human being with impervious character – no, not even Tim Tebow. So, it’s a load of BS when a writer excludes a player because they judge that player’s character to be inadequate. Not that it matters, but Mark McGwire is one of the nicest people you will ever meet. Classifying him as a guy with bad character is absurd. He made mistakes. It’s time to move on.
Is taking steroids such a egregious moral error that it should exclude a great ballplayer from the Hall of Fame? I can’t get on board with that. There are so many worse things a man can do that wouldn’t get him excluded from the Hall, adultery and rampant alcohol abuse are a couple of examples that come to mind. (Can you say, Mickey Mantle?) Apparently, hating an entire race of people is okay too. At some point, hopefully soon, we will look on the exclusion of the steroid era from the Hall as a mistake. Unfortunately, there is no telling when the BBWAA will come down off their high horses and get this thing right. In the end it’s all about perspective and right now our perspective on the Hall of Fame is completely skewed.