Hall of Blame

I think everyone has a few unpopular sports opinions, whether they realize it or not. I’m going to tell you my most unpopular, most polarizing opinion: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Alex Rodriguez should be in the Hall of Fame. All three were incredible players who will forever be left out in the cold due to their involvement in the steroid era.

This article is being written on the eve of Baseball’s Hall of Fame induction. While the induction will be used by most to celebrate the fantastic careers of those inducted, I will be watching in frustration and confusion. The Hall of Fame induction process is already frustrating and confusing, but that isn’t the subject of this essay. This will instead focus on the parties involved in the steroid era — the parties I blame for players like the three aforementioned omission from the Hall of Fame.

Honorable mention Homer Simpson

It can’t go unnoticed that the Hall of Fame is more exclusive than the WASPiest of East Coast country clubs. Very few players ever garner the 75% of the vote required for induction. The most recent inductee was Homer Simpson. You have to wonder why voters chose to celebrate Simpson over peers like Bonds, McGwire, and Sosa. While Homer Simpson had an MVP level 1992 season, the rest of his career was incredibly lacking (His power plant team had gone 2-26 the prior season). More of a local hero, Simpson was immortalized in Terry Cashman’s hit “Talkin’ Softball.” I can hardly blame Homer Simpson for these players not being in the Hall, but it is important to note that a vote for Homer Simpson was one less vote for players with more illustrious careers.

John McCain, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden and the rest of Congress

By this point in the article, you are probably thinking that this entire article is a joke, but I assure you that it’s not. You may remember in spring of 2005, that Congress took it upon themselves to address steroids in baseball. With conflict in the Middle East nearing its second year, it's truly inspiring that the senate felt the need to address the problem with baseball. Spearheaded by then senators John McCain and Joe Biden, Congress held several hearings in which players testified on the use of performance enhancing drugs in baseball. Bernie Sanders even used the hearings to speak out about class inequality, I’m not even kidding. Though the hearings were on of the few truly bi-partisan victories in the last 40 years, they did more to expose baseball’s problem on a national stage. In my opinion, it was these hearings where steroid users were first blacklisted among the game. While steroid use to that point was taboo, following the hearings, as well as the subsequent Mitchell Report, players involved became pariahs and Hall of Fame voters took note. While many voters did not vote for players implicated out of “integrity,” one voter even went as far to say that he would not vote for any player who even played in the steroid era (which is why Ken Griffey Jr. was not a unanimous choice). However, Congress would have not felt the need to hold such hearings if not for…

The players themselves

Ultimately, it was the players who were most responsible for their own steroid use. The drugs were in every clubhouse, and we can never truly know how many of the players used the illicit substances. However, I chose to focus on Bonds, Clemens, and Rodriguez in the article because I feel like these three players (more than their peers) had the talent to get inducted without the use of steroids. Most baseball fans are against steroids, as they should be. For a long time, I also felt players involved with the era should be banned from the Hall of Fame. That all changed when I read the 2006 book, Game of Shadows.

Shadows was the first book to truly dissect the issue of steroids, as well as go in depth on the career of Barry Bonds. The book changed the way I perceived these players, most notably Bonds. It could be argued that before the use of steroids, Barry Bonds was the greatest player to ever play. He was a star of the game who could do it all. A great fielder, a player who could hit for power and average, and one of the game’s best base stealers, Bonds had it all. It was Bonds’ own pride that was his downfall. Following the 1998 home run chase between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, Bonds felt disrespected by his lack of attention. Everyone in baseball knew that these two were doping, and Bonds felt that with the addition of illicit substances, he could blow those two out of the water. He did. Bonds would go on to hit 73 home runs in a season (MLB record) as well as 762 for his career (MLB record). However in doing so, his walks also increased and he fell just short of 3000 career base hits. He also could not steal bases like he once could.  While Bonds’ steroid use came later in his career, it is widely assumed the Alex Rodriguez’ use occurred at the beginning. Fun fact, MLB actually granted Rodriguez permission to use testosterone in the 2007 season. Steroid use was most rampant in the minor leagues by players who wanted that edge that would get them to the Show. The idea that young players could dope in order to get them where they wanted to go was only furthered by the involvement of…

Bud Selig and the MLB as a whole

The MLB has always been against the use of steroids, right? Right? While Selig and the MLB have tried to perpetuate their stance against performance enhancing drugs, this could not be farther from the truth. In 1991, then commissioner, Fay Vincent announced that steroids were illegal. The punishment? Nothing. Doping in baseball was against the rules, but there was absolutely no punishment to deter the use of steroids. Prior to the 2005 season (14 whole years since their first official stance on the issue and several years after players like Bonds and Rodriguez began doping) Bud Selig announced MLB’s first initial policy which read: A first positive test resulted in a suspension of 10 games, a second positive test resulted in a suspension of 30 games, the third positive test resulted in a suspension of 60 games, the fourth positive test resulted in a suspension of one full year, and a fifth positive test resulted in a penalty at the commissioner’s discretion. Players were tested at least once per year, with the chance that several players could be tested many times.

Following the Congressional hearing, the MLB expanded their policy and has continued to do so over the past decade. It cannot go unnoticed that Selig and the offices of the MLB turned a blind eye to the issue for so long. But why? Why would they ignore the problem? Steroids were bad for the game. Again, the truth could not be more contrary. Following the 1994 player strike, interest in the league was at an all time low. Baseball was quickly losing its status as a national pastime. The NFL’s popularity had been steadily growing and fans were also more interested in the Jordan era NBA. Baseball needed something to attract interest. Home runs attracted interest and fans. The 1998 home run chase did just that. Fans were going to games again. Baseball was back. The MLB and Bud Selig were saved by steroid use in baseball. The MLB knew that steroids were an issue, but continued to turn a blind eye because it sold tickets and merchandise. As soon as the issue became apparent on a national stage, the players were used as a scapegoat to keep the MLB’s image intact. I firmly believe that Selig’s tenure as commissioner was defined by the steroid era — which is why I find it hypocritical and disgusting that Selig is being inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2017.

So there you have it, a brief history of steroids in baseball. I will continue to complain about the omission of Bonds, Clemens, and Rodriguez until my dying day. Finally I want to offer a half-hearted congratulations to the 2017 Hall of Fame class. Except for Bud Selig. I won’t even pretend to be happy for you.

Image: Penale522014 Baseball Hall of Fame plaquesCC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2014_Baseball_Hall_of_Fame_plaques.jpg