YAHANDA: Hall of shame?

Baseball players who have abused steroids should remain in the baseball Hall of Fame

If you are a college-aged baseball fan like me, then you remember growing up watching a different game than the one seen today. Sluggers like Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa ruled Major League Baseball (MLB), producing ridiculous offensive numbers. I vividly remember games from the early 2000s in which players hit towering home runs farther and more frequently than I and the other Little Leaguers thought humanly possible. And in some respects, we were right. We didn’t know it at the time, but many of our childhood idols were taking advantage of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) — most commonly anabolic steroids — to boost their performances on the field. Now the time has come for those players to face Hall of Fame voting.

The rationale behind denying PED users a place in the Hall is simple: the users cheated, so they should not be granted baseball’s highest honor. This is the stance taken by most of today’s Hall of Fame voters. This year, only three players received votes on 75 percent of ballots, the threshold necessary to be inducted. Last year, nobody was selected. In both instances, the ballot included some of the greatest players in MLB history. Yet nobody who was associated with PEDs was voted in.

In my opinion, the PED debate is not so black-and-white. There are a multitude of factors to consider, and participation in baseball’s steroid era should not preclude a player from entering the Hall of Fame. And such a period of rampant steroid use is not the only morally dubious period in baseball history. But no other checkered periods in baseball’s history have led to so many players being shut out of the Hall of Fame.

Cheating, or at least trying to gain an unfair advantage over opponents, has forever been an integral part of baseball, whether it comes in the form of stealing signs, physically altering baseballs, corking bats or changing home fields to throw off opponents. I’m not saying that these tactics or PED use should be accepted — I support efforts to clean up baseball. But major league baseball has always been plagued by questionable methods of winning.

Opponents of PED users argue that the players were cheating because they unfairly elevated their competition relative to other players. Athletes who used PEDs got a competitive edge beyond natural talent and hard work. But this argument could be extended to players from other periods in MLB history. Many of baseball’s most celebrated names played before baseball’s color barrier was broken. Before 1945, only whites and the occasional light-skinned Latino were allowed to play in the MLB. Black and dark-skinned Latino players were relegated to what was called the Negro Leagues. Pre-integration players thus reaped benefits by limiting the MLB’s talent pool in a way that is, in my view, more morally appalling than steroid use.

And it is well-known that players for many decades before steroids abused amphetamines as a way to keep energy levels high during the season’s gruelingly long schedule. Mickey Mantle and other beloved figures became Hall of Fame members despite taking what would now be considered PEDs. Moreover, Gaylord Perry, a Hall of Fame pitcher, is known for his use of greasy substances to alter the spin of his pitches. Those against steroid users should remember that the Hall of Fame has not always elected perfectly clean players.

Finally, the MLB itself bears some culpability for the excesses of the steroid era. Between the late 1980s— when the use of testosterone, steroids and other muscle-enhancing products became widespread—and 2002, when routine drug testing began, home runs and RBI numbers spiked. The quality of pitching was not decreasing (in fact, a number of pitchers have also been linked to PEDs); rather, hitters were becoming bigger and stronger.

Despite marked increases in performance statistics — looking at the numbers, it’s clear something was up — the MLB did little to discourage a steroid culture. Congress banned many steroids nationally in 1990, and the MLB reminded players that they were not to take any illegal substances. Beyond that, no further restrictions were put in place.

This was, no doubt, because the steroid era was good for baseball. The MLB had been experiencing a decline in attendance before PEDs became pervasive. During the steroid era, however, baseball’s popularity rebounded. People became much more willing to watch baseball when players were prone to hit home runs. According to many reports, the MLB knew that its league policy was probably being violated. If the MLB really cared about keeping the game drug-free, it had decades to implement stronger drug testing policies. By not doing so, it willingly allowed PED users to flourish.

Yes, PED use helped inflate some players’ numbers. And those players probably could not have performed as well without chemical help. But why superstars from the steroid era are being held to a different moral standard than all other players in MLB history is arbitrary.

Hopefully history will be kind to the great PED users of the last twenty years. While PEDs may have made those players more muscular or more quick to recover from injuries, PEDs do not alter the other components that go into making a Hall of Fame player. They cannot alter the exquisite hand-eye coordination, perfect fundamentals or high baseball IQ that are required to become great players. Look at Bonds, Alex Rodriguez or Roger Clemens — all known steroid users. Even without PEDs, every technical facet of their games would be nearly perfect. Indeed, those players could have become Hall of Fame candidates even without any drugs.

Most players who took PEDs have not generated the numbers necessary for the Hall of Fame. But those who have should be inducted. Even if they had a physical advantage, they used that advantage in ways that most players could not. The MLB should create a wing in the Hall for PED abusers. Voters can put asterisks next to all statistics produced by steroid users and can even label certain players cheaters, but they should not deny great players a place alongside baseball’s best. Even PED users can deserve spots in Cooperstown.

Alex Yahanda is a senior associate editor for The Cavalier Daily. His columns run Wednesdays.

Published January 15, 2014 in Opinion

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