The Steroids in the Hall of Fame Debate Verdict

January 13, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Babe Ruthless.

If ever the game of baseball found itself in a lose-lose situation, this would be it. Let me once again sarcastically thank the dirtbags who introduced steroids into the game for ruining it for EVERYONE!

Thanks to greed, egotism, and self-service over fair play and competition, an entire generation of baseball is forever sullied. And what angers me the most about the whole thing is that it was MY era that was ruined!

Ignorance Was Bliss

Our fathers got to grow up watching Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Reggie Jackson. Their fathers grew up watching Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Walter Johnson. These were titans. They were larger-than-life baseball stars turned legends.

Yes, there were “bad guys” back then, too. Ty Cobb was no saint on the base path, and the Black Sox made sure to leave a mark on history. But the actions of those few did not destroy the luster of an entire generation. In fact, for some players (like Cobb), it actually added to their legend.

I, on the other hand, grew up watching cheaters and drug users. The players I idolized during my youth – Canseco and McGwire, Strawberry, and Gooden… and now even more recent stars like Manny and A-Rod – have one-by-one toppled from grace.

At first, it hurt. It was the death of my innocence as a boy. I used to imagine myself in the same dugout as The Bash Brothers, or The Killer B’s. Now the curtain has been pulled back on those moments of herculean accomplishment that I witnessed, and with that action, the illusion of greatness vanished.

At one time I celebrated with these legends. I carried with me what I thought were indelible images, like those of McGwire and Sosa crossing home plate during their great 1998 homerun chase, or Roger Clemens’ twenty strike-out night against the Mariners in 1986, or of rookie sensation Wally Joyner winning the 1986 homerun derby.

Those have all been replaced by images of sad and broken men, none of whom are celebrating now.

Instead of wearing baseball uniforms they are now clad in business suits, standing before Congress or the cameras. Some are making tearful apologies, others making impassioned pleas. But they are all addressing the same problem – destroyed legacies.

The Time for Debate is Over

It is time for history to officially begin passing judgment on the actions of these athletes. Accomplishments that surely would have otherwise merited immediate induction into Cooperstown are now besmirched with an ugly (albeit implied) asterisk. Like a good pair of concrete shoes, no one with an asterisk has managed to break through the barrier that is the collection of HOF voters yet. None have been able to overcome the stigma of being a cheater.

So why do I include Roger Clemens in the same ranks as McGwire, Sosa, and Joyner? He has never been PROVEN to have cheated, and he vehemently denies any and all accusations.

The problem that faces Clemens, Jeff Bagwell, and many other players who are sure to follow after them comes in the form of a very simple question – Do I believe them? My answer is “not really.”

Here is where we find that lose-lose situation. Should the voters of baseball’s Hall of Fame ignore accusations and allegations of cheating and vote players like Roger Clemens into the Hall, knowing that there is a possibility of their being proven guilty after induction? Or do they preclude anyone shrouded in suspicion from ever being inducted, knowing that there will surely be innocent players unfairly denied an honor that they truly deserved?

In defense of those players still only suspected of steroid use, Babe Ruthless calls upon a predictable, but no less valuable, defense. The insistence that a player is “innocent until proven guilty” is one that is hard to deny, and Babe Ruthless wastes no time in applying it to this situation.

As much as I hate the overuse of that adage, I cannot deny its value. While a comparison to McCarthyism or the Salem Witch Trials may be a bit extreme (we are just talking about baseball), the notion that mere accusation could bar someone an otherwise deserved honor is very unpleasant to consider.

But that is nonetheless where Loyal Homer chimes in with hi argument.

There is already a cloud of unpleasantness surrounding this infamous era, and so avoidance is an impossibility. According to Loyal Homer, it is the integrity of the hall itself, not the integrity of the athletes, that is really at stake. Fairness to a player is secondary when you consider the virtues that the Baseball Hall of Fame embodies.

Induction into the Hall is a privilege, not a right. The voters each year want to ensure that only the greatest of baseball’s ambassadors are the ones chosen for immortality.

So do you risk the integrity of the Hall, or sacrifice good faith at the expense of the individual athlete’s legacy?

Preserving the Institution

I am awarding this verdict to Loyal Homer for one reason – the Baseball Hall of Fame is the last piece of the game not yet tainted by steroids.

Records may be called into question and athletes’ resumes may be cheapened, but the Hall remains a bastion where the very best that baseball has to offer can still be respected and honored without question. As Loyal Homer states, the Hall must remain free from the cloud of suspicion.

Do I feel for the wrongfully accused? Absolutely. They are innocent victims, simply caught in the cross-fire of a witch hunt to clean up baseball. But that is not the concern of the Hall of Fame.

Cooperstown does not have to solve the problem of steroids. It does not have to pass judgment on players like Clemens or Bagwell. The only function which the Hall and its voters must perform is to honor the game’s greatest.

Unfortunately for players like Clemens, suspicion is all it takes. How can voters confidently induct him into the Hall of Fame if there are very real doubts as to the legitimacy of how he accomplished many of the things which would have made him great?

Let’s be honest, this would not be the first time that suspicion deprived someone from induction into the Hall (e.g. Shoeless Joe Jackson).

Voters for the Baseball Hall of Fame have demonstrated an ongoing commitment to preserving the purity of the game. If there is even a shred of doubt as to the validity of a players’ accomplishments, the voters cannot let him in. To do so would irresponsibly risk the legacy of the entire history of the game.

If just one Hall of Famer is found to have cheated AFTER the fact of his induction, the integrity of the entire Hall is lost forever.

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The Steroids in the Hall of Fame Debate

January 11, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Babe Ruthless.

Boy is it nice to be back! (A huge thanks to everyone here at TSD for picking up the slack while I was gone!)

What better way to get back into the swing of things than to tackle a debate that has probably been a long time coming – steroids and the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Although it feels like we have been talking about steroids in baseball for ever, the issue of steroids in the Hall of Fame is really a problem that is still in its infancy. We are just now at a point where players from the notorious “Steroid Era” such as Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro are eligible for Hall of Fame candidacy.

With each year of voting, it becomes clearer – steroids are a black mark that simply cannot be erased from an athlete’s resume. Voters are sending a message loud and clear that they will not reward any steroid-tainted player with baseball’s highest honor.

I think it is safe to assume that most people are in agreement with those voters when it comes to an athlete who has either admitted to steroid use, or some other form of proof has been provided to definitively confirm that fact.

But what about players who are only SUSPECTED or ACCUSED of steroid use? Should a player who has never admitted to using or been a proven user of steroids be shunned from the Hall of Fame by voters?

The cloud of suspicion around steroids can itself be a powerful influence in how the public perceives an athlete. Loyal Homer believes that suspicion alone should be enough to justify banishment for HOF voters while Babe Ruthless feels that mere suspicion should have no bearing whatsoever on a HOF vote.

How will history look back on the Steroid Era? It’s time to find out…

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The Steroids in the Hall of Fame Debate… The Steroid Era: Innocence Abandoned

January 11, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.

Steroids are dangerous, self-destructive, and unethical. Society has become well aware of these facts, and has thoroughly – and appropriately – vilified known steroid users. While professional sports as whole have been slow to deal with the issue of how to punish steroids users, at the urging of society and Congress leagues have taken active steps over the past half decade to address the problem. But America’s great steroid purge has also created new problems of its own.

The purge has transformed an entire generation of fans into skeptics, doubting Thomas-es that scrutinize and distrust any and every above average athlete out of fear that success might be the result of a bottle and not hard work. The MLB Hall of Fame has mirrored fan skepticism, essentially locking the door to anyone who was even accused of using steroids. While I understand the HOF’s need to make wise decisions in order to protect its integrity and validity, banning every player with even a modicum of unsubstantiated accusation against them is simply an act of unabashed paranoia. The MLB Hall of Fame should allow in worthy players who have not been proven guilty.

Everyone is a Suspect

In the wake of the Steroid Era EVERYONE is a suspect. I’m sure some readers are trying to qualify that last statement thinking, “He can’t really mean everyone is a suspect,” but that is indeed actually what I meant. Every single MLB player that was in the majors from the 1990s through the mid 2000s can uniformly be lumped into the Steroid Era, and is thus viewed through a lens of doubt that opens them to accusations of guilt. Isn’t this doubt an accusation in and of itself?

Sure not every player is mentioned by name in the Mitchell Report or by informant testimony, but what if they were? Suppose in Jose Conseco’s next tell all book he boldly claims that no one in baseball is clean (after all, Jose has been right about a lot of guys in the past – McGwire, A-Rod, and more). Would that be cause enough to ban the entire player universe during this dark age for baseball?

My opposition in today’s debate, Loyal Homer, would say “Yes!” He would believes that anyone who is accused of steroid use should be banned from enshrinement in the Hall of Fame, regardless of evidence or credibility of the testimony. Banned, remind you, not because of an admission of guilt or proof, but because of an allegation. I don’t know about you, but I find something patently un-American about finding someone guilty until proven innocent.

Loyal Homer’s steadfast rule of zero tolerance for the accused would not just target the usual suspects like the big and bulky Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire. It also accuses the slim and nimble players, too. We know that designer PEDs exist that help players build lean muscle, the way A-Rod did, so even small guys like Ichiro Suzuki, Dustin Pedroia, and Derek Jeter could have used them (although I HIGHLY doubt it). But Loyal Homer’s zero tolerance policy would ban these guys solely based off of accusations. Even if they vehemently deny the charge and there is no hard evidence to prove otherwise, Loyal Homer would exclude guys who revolutionized the sport simply because they playing in baseball’s darkest hours.

A New McCarthyism

The worst part about this rise in skepticism is the fact that it actively encourages abandoning the American principle of innocence of the accused until proven guilty. This is not a new phenomenon, however, as we have seen it at least twice before in America – once in colonial Salem, Massachusetts and again in Congressional Red Scare of the 1950s. Each time Americans were prone to hysteria over unsubstantiated claims, and each time the lives and reputations of the innocent were ruined. It should not be allowed to happen again.

I realize that someone not completely sold on my argument will think I am haplessly appealing to patriotic rhetoric (subliminal message – USA! USA! USA! Bald Eagle, Constitution, Statue of Liberty), but we should give players the benefit of the doubt. Certainly it is not an unalienable right to play professional baseball, much less be commemorated in its holiest shrine, but it should not be so difficult of a task that even unproven accusations of guilt keep an individual out either.

Take Roger Clemens, for example. The man has already lost most popular support in the fight to clear his name, yet he maintains his innocence. If current trends continue, this seven time Cy Young winner will never see Cooperstown without buying a ticket. But his case highlights the most ludicrous aspect of this whole episode of paranoid skepticism – it has become impossible to prove a person’s innocence.

Just for argument’s sake, re-examine the Clemens saga with a fresh, unbiased perspective. A man faces 30 years in prison and a $1.5M perjury charge simply because he maintains innocence. This man could have admitted to wrong doing, if any existed, and been forgiven as he has seen former friends Jason Giambi and Andy Pettitte successfully do, yet he continues to tell anyone that will listen that he did not use PEDs. Still the man’s reputation and legacy are defamed because the accusations of an admitted HGH user (Pettitte) and a guy accused of sexual assault with the date-rape drug (former trainer Brian McNamee). Does that sound fair? While Clemens specific guilt or innocence is immaterial, it highlights the greater need to give people a fair chance, which Loyal Homer’s stance does not.

Guys like Clemens should be let in, at least until they are proven to be guilty. Then, you can Reggie Bush-Heisman them all you want.

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The Steroids in the Hall of Fame Debate… Remove Suspicion, Keep Integrity in The Hall of Fame

January 11, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.

With last week’s results of the 2011 Baseball Hall of Fame class, it became increasingly apparently to me that anyone remotely tied to the steroid era was going to have an extremely difficult time gaining an invitation to Cooperstown. We all knew there was no reason for Mark McGwire to begin work on any type of induction speech. We were fairly certain that, despite the lasting image of seeing Rafael Palmeiro in Congress saying that he had “Never used steroids – period” he’ll never be portrayed in baseball history as anything but a steroid user, fair or not. What made last week’s results interesting, was the low vote total for Jeff Bagwell.

By all accounts, Jeff Bagwell was a stand up guy both on and off the field. He was the consummate professional. You never really heard a negative peep out of him from his playing days as a Houston Astro, at least not on a national level. He, along with Craig Biggio, helped make professional baseball relevant in Houston for over a decade. He made Larry Anderson relevant to a baseball transaction junkie like myself (he was traded from the Red Sox to the Astros for Anderson… oops, Boston!). But the fact that he played in the so-called Steroid Era is playing against him, and is likely going to keep him out of the Hall of Fame, despite his Hall of Fame worthy credentials. Well, that and the fact that you look at him and think, “How did this guy hit 449 home runs?” Keeping guys like Jeff Bagwell out of Cooperstown is unfortunate, but it’s necessary to keep the integrity of baseball’s most sacred membership.

As I type this, I have yet to read the argument written by Babe Ruthless. But if I had to guess, I’m going to step out on a pretty stable limb and say that he is going to hide behind that “innocent until proven guilty” line of reasoning. That line of defense may work in our judicial system, theoretically, and it may have worked for the likes of O.J. Simpson and his legal Dream Team back during his murder trial in the mid 1990s. But that’s just not the way it works with public perception, and it’s not the way it works in the mind of Hall of Fame voters.

We live in a time where you are often lumped together by who you “hang” with, for lack of a better term. It’s called “guilt by association.” It’s an indirect mindset that we humans deal with on a daily basis. Parents deal with it every day with rebellious teenagers. Police deal with it when investigating potential criminals and drug dealers. Translating to baseball, guys like Jeff Bagwell played during the Steroid Era during the prime of their careers. While it’s true that it was never proven that he took steroids, the dark cloud still hangs over that era, and, quite frankly, it’s an era that Major League Baseball as a whole would prefer to forget. What better way to forget than not elect anyone with any assumed guilt?

When you think Cooperstown, you think of a place to honor and respect baseball’s greatest, both past and present. You don’t think about steroids and needles and ‘roid rages. The integrity of the Hall of Fame must be preserved to help continue the “moving-on” era. To do so, all clouds and suspicions must be kept in the sky – outside the halls of Cooperstown.

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