If the members of the BBWAA voting for members of the Hall of Fame wanted to maintain credit, if they wanted to get away with the type of moralizing that many baseball fans do not care about, they should not have waited till the early 2000s to start writing about the problem. It’s really as simple as that.
Look, there are things that should be taken into consideration vis-a-vis the character clause: has a player ever been arrested for driving under the influence—thus putting other lives at risk? Has he been arrested or charged with assaulting another? Has he promoted racist thought or dogma? Has he done anything that is actually harmful to other members of society? These are the things that should matter, but as evidenced by the inclusion of Ty Cobb in the Hall of Fame, often don’t.
No, PEDs are not optimal. No one would *prefer* it if his or her favorite player used artificial enhancers, but answer me this: if you’re a baseball player in 1998 or 1999, and you’re trying to keep pace with everyone else who IS using PEDs, what are you going to do? It’s more than just social stigma, it’s trying to make sure you can still get a contract*. Now, for some reason, those writers whose duty it was to report the problem when it ran rampant but did not do so, think it is ok for them to be an arbiter of morality?
The way I see it, the moment Cooperstown admitted Ty Cobb (there are others; his name is the highest profile), the Hall of Fame said “we do not care about the character clause”. Barry Bonds was the greatest player many of us will ever see in our lifetimes. There is no way to argue that, unless Mike Trout or Bryce Harper goes on to have a career far better than even their most optimistic projections. He would have likely been slated to go to the Hall of Fame even if he had not (supposedly) taken PEDs.** And yet, the same writers who glorified his home run chase, both single-season and all-time, refuse to now give him his proper due.
The worst part? Players whose sole crime was having the tenacity to play baseball in the late ’90s and early ’00s are now kept out of the Hall. Niether Mike Piazza nor Jeff Bagwell ever tested positive for ANY banned substance. Piazza may very well have been the best offensive catcher in the history of the game and he managed just 57.8% of the vote. I’m not sure which bothers me more—the writers sanctimonious enough to turn in a blank ballot, the ones who are snobby enough to say that no one should get in on the first year on the ballot, or those who think that just because a player was in the same locker room as other PED users, he is somehow now contaminated.
Didn’t anyone pay attention in high school when they did the lesson about the McCarthy witch hunts? Ok, maybe I’m dating myself—some of the writers may have been in high school when the witch hunts were current events…
I am a member of the generation that grew up watching Bonds, Piazza, Bagwell, and others—but most members of my generation haven’t been out of school long enough to be a member of the BBWAA, never mind have a Hall of Fame vote. I understand this is the way it’s always been done, but the message the writers have sent us here is that the experience we had watching baseball, going to the games with our parents or siblings as kids, and what have you…that it was all a lie, and one that could have been avoided had the writers done their job and put pressure on MLB to crack down when PEDs first became a problem—not years after it was established practice.
I don’t have a HoF vote (obviously) so my vote doesn’t really matter, but:
Bonds, Clemens, Piazza, Biggio, Bagwell, Raines, Schilling, Walker, Martinez, Trammell.
*Baseball Prospectus has convincingly argued that the players most helped by PED use were those on the margins of an MLB career; players like Barry Bonds would have had Hall-of-Fame-caliber careers whether they used PEDs or not.
**Let’s remember, Bonds was found guilty of perjury–not PED use itself.
Stacey Gotsulias helped contribute to this post. Read her work at It’s About the Money, Stupid and Aerys Sports.