I want you to do something for me. Right now. Close your eyes and think about baseball from 1996 to 2005. Go!
Guess what, friend. Whatever moment that just popped into your head was almost certainly centered around or contributed to, by an alleged ‘roider. Were you thinking of the great 1998 home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa? Were you thinking of Barry Bonds’ 73 long balls in 2001? Were you thinking of Roger Clemens throwing his bat at Mike Piazza, or A-Rod’s 40 home run, 40 steal season for the Rangers? These gems, and hundreds more iconic moments from the game we love have featured alleged cheaters, a point many fans use to discredit their accomplishments and contributions to the history of the game. But, I’m here to set the record straight. I’m not here to change your mind. I’m just here to give you some different ways of looking at the history of steroids in baseball, and why these guys should (maybe) be looked at a little more favorably than they are now, including by the Hall of Fame.
Point 1: Ignoring a major part of the history of baseball defeats the purpose of the Hall of Fame.
This is the biggest point that I hope everyone takes away from this. If you had ran museum of European History, would you exclude 1930s Germany because it’s obviously viewed as a negative thing today? Of course you wouldn’t. I realize that example is a tad ridiculous, but i stand by my point. What is the Hall of Fame? A collection of the best players and moments from baseball history, right? Wrong. Not right now, it isn’t. The Baseball Writers Association of America members think that they are hurting the legacy of the accused cheaters by keeping them out of the Hall. But really, they are just hurting the legacy of their own institution. Right now, fans who became fans in 1996, and fell in love with the game because of this era, have nothing to celebrate when they visit Cooperstown, New York. In 20 years when we visit the Hall, it will just be odd to see such a gap. No one will forget about these guys. Ever. So keeping them out, and insisting on a 15 year gap in history in your museum will only reflect poorly on the Hall itself.
Point 2: Not all alleged cheaters have to be treated equal.
Another thing that always twisted my knickers in regards to the steroid/HOF debate, is the idea of treating this whole era of players as one. There is a very clear distinction in the levels of production between good players and bad players, and steroids don’t change this. Let me provide an example: Alleged cheater Barry Bonds (zero failed drug tests, but I digress) is either the best player of all time, or he is in the top 5. If you don’t give him the latter, then you’re in denial. Bonds is the all time home run leader. He has a career on-base percentage of .444. His best OBP for a single season was an impossible .609 (play The Show on veteran difficulty, and try to do this: you can’t) and his best slugging was a depraved .863. He has 400 more walks than the second man all time, Ricky Henderson, who played for one eternity. In 2001, he homered 73 times in 476 official at bats. I could do this all day. But, then we could feast our eyes on a handful of useless wet-noodles and glorified B.P. throwers, that probably wouldn’t have sniffed the big leagues if it weren’t for sitting on a needle. John Rocker. Glennallen Hill. Maybe even a modern day schmuck like Dee Gordon. The overarching point is PEDs don’t make the player, and putting out-of-this-world superstars like Bonds and Roger Clemens in the same boat as a triple-A glory boys who sprinkled Winstrol on their Wheaties, is a disservice to us all. So, my plea to the aforementioned B.W.A.A.: treat the legends like legends, and feel free to throw mud at the guys who sucked (Hey, that’s how fans normally act anyways. Easy!).
Point 3: The two main arguments to keep these guys out of the Hall are flawed.
When you talk to a passionate anti-cheaters-in-the-hall person, they usually make one of two points: These guys were only Hall caliber players because they took drugs, or that they should be punished for cheating and that punishment is banishment from the Hall. I’d like to start with the latter, on account of it’s mental-ness. Is the B.W.A.A. some moral compass? Are they sitting on a throne so high, that anyone who steps out of line gets 50 lashes and can never get back in their good graces? Give me a break on that one, folks. Tris Speaker was literally a Klansman. Ty Cobb boasted of being a murderer. Cap Anson refused to play if there was a black person present at the game! Gaylord Perry doctored baseballs with every substance under the sun. All of Hall of Famers! So, politely, miss me with your high horse, B.W.A.A., because there are quite a few men in your fancy museum that set ablaze in front of me, I would spray with Febreze. The other point that the naysayers like to use is, admittedly, a better one: that some players only reached particular summits because of their drug use. To this I say: see point 2. To me, that part isn’t difficult or controversial! Take a man like Sammy Sosa, a one-tool (power) player who obviously, greatly benefited from his alleged steroid use. While his three 60 home run seasons and 600 plus career round-trippers deserve a spot in the Hall according to some (and me: see point 1), he is a guy who most likely would not have had nearly the success, had he been on the up and up his whole career. So, here’s a novel idea: Don’t vote him in! But a guy like Bonds, who had three MVPs, a closet full of gold-gloves and 400 home runs and steals (only man ever) before he was ever accused of popping pills, should be treated as such. If he retired in 1998 instead of beginning his alleged PED use, he would have been a first-ballot (yes) Hall-of-Famer. So, excluding him must be due to the second reason listed above: the moral compass. If you zoned out for that section of this paragraph, a quick reminder: that reasoning is stupid. Vote. In. The. Legends.
Point 4: Players of every era had some advantage compared to the rest of history.
Every single era. Every one, had some advantage. Let’s look at hitters for a second.. the hitters of every era. Today’s hitters? The smallest strike zone ever, and generally smaller ballparks. 1970s and ’80s? Remember greenies? Yeah, everyone likes to forget about methamphetamines in baseball, and for the life of me I can’t figure out why. What about the GOLDEN-ERA, MAN?! The glory days, pre-1940. This was also known as, white person baseball! Yup, not one black man, and very few foreign born players. At this time, please close your eyes and imagine Mike Trout or Bryce Harper, having 600 at bats against only white, American born pitchers. Hahahahahahaha. Trout would make 37 outs all season. It’s absurd that that era was so dumbed down, and the competition was so bad (a certainty, given all of the factors), and people look back and say, “nope! what those guys did was more impressive than anything!”. If you don’t use the heinous moral-compass argument, it is 100% out-of-this-universe-bananaland to say that 1990s juicers, facing other juicers (who happened to be the best players of all races from all over the earth), was less impressive than a bunch of white dudes smoking cigarettes and homering off of other fat white dudes. It’s just simply not true, and if you try and argue, I hope you go missing.
Final Point: They were awesome!
Forget all of the good, factual arguments I provided above. Let’s go back to this: these guys were the most entertaining thing to ever happen in professional sports. In the early and mid-1990s, baseball saw a strike and multiple lockouts. Michael Jordan was can’t miss television and football reached the summit of America’s favorite sport. Simply put, nobody cared about baseball! There are no memories of the early 1990s for baseball (unless you lived in Pittsburgh. Then some Barry Bonds memories aren’t so good), because interest just wasn’t there to the masses. There is a strong argument to be made, that the 1998 home run race between Big Mac and Sosa, saved the sport. No, no, no, not saved the sport like LeBron making the NBA a little more popular in 2004. I’m talking a 1995 strike that threatened to dismantle the future of the sport, due to an impossible collective bargaining situation, and turning that into one of the most captivating season in the history of professional sports. Ask any adult baseball fan about the ’98 home run race and they’ll say the same thing: You couldn’t miss a game! Fast forward a few years and the Giants were on Sunday Night Baseball 15 times per year. Eric Gagne’s saves streak made being a closer a cool thing. Roger Clemens was the biggest news in the sport in 2005, as a midseason free-agent because he was so dominate and so fun to watch. Like I mentioned at the forefront, most of our earliest baseball memories are centered on these guys. We don’t have to apologize for that, and neither should they.
I get it. I get why people want to keep these guys out. Some people were legends without the “stuff”. Derek Jeter. Willie Mays. Joe Dimaggio. Sandy Koufax. Randy Johnson. Pedro Martinez. That list could (obviously) go on. But we don’t need to play dumb when it comes to the alleged cheaters. They are every bit a part of the history of this sport as the men listed above, and for the aforementioned reasons, deserve not only the respect of fans, but a spot in baseball’s most hallowed grounds.
Because, in my view, the legitimacy of the Hall of Fame depends on it.