Already this year, without a single game being played, Major League Baseball has made history.
With the help of a select few sportswriters privileged enough to determine the destinies of some of the game’s greatest players, 2013 will mark the first year since 1960 that the Baseball Writers’ Association of America didn’t elect anyone to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Though it’s a well-known fact that many recent potential inductees enjoyed careers during baseball infamous “steroid era,” the association has undoubtedly changed the game and the tradition that accompanies it forever.
Fan favorites and record holders like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and Craig Biggio — all shut out last week in their first bids for hall.
While the effect of baseball’s battle against steroids has undoubtedly cast a shadow upon the game, it seems unreasonable to shun an entire class consisting of some of the sport’s most successful and popular players.
A quick look at the results from this year’s voting proves that not only have a majority of writers formed an agenda to keep admitted steroid abusers — and even suspected users — out of the halls of Cooperstown, but that major accomplishments in the sport hold little value following the steroid era.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but did Barry Bonds not assemble one of the greatest careers in the history of the game? Long before challenging Hank Aaron’s record for career home runs, Bonds was widely regarded as a surefire hall of famer. Granted, Bonds cheated in the eyes of many, but should his accomplishments be completely ignored in baseball’s history books?
Or what about former Tulsa Driller and Chicago Cubs star Sammy Sosa? He too was on this year’s impressive list of candidates, but managed to gain only 12.5 percent of the vote (75 percent is required for induction). Though Sosa’s name had been linked to steroid use in a 2009 New York Times story, Major League Baseball has never confirmed the former slugger’s alleged steroid abuse, with league commissioner Bud Selig stating the league doesn’t even so much as possess a copy of the report that supposedly incriminated Sosa.
Should Sosa’s 609 career home runs — the eighth most in baseball history — be denied access to the hall of fame because of mere speculation?
Of the ten historic players with comparable statistics to Sosa, seven of them are hall of famers, with the other three too recently retired to be eligible. Sosa’s career numbers share similarities with those of the game’s greats. Mike Schmidt, Reggie Jackson, even Eddie Matthews and Mickey Mantle all rank similarly to Sosa in regard to the quality of their respective careers.
Yet a significant portion of baseball’s elitist writers organization feels empowered enough to slam the door to Cooperstown’s hallowed halls on Sosa.
Most likely, Sosa and a handful of other alleged steroid users on this year’s ballot did use performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) at some time during their careers. We’ve learned over the years that an astonishing number of players have taken steroids, many of whom failed to have careers anywhere close to that of hall of fame caliber. Such widespread use has raised legitimate questions about the actual effectiveness of PEDs. Regardless of the skepticism, many significant accomplishments of the last generation of baseball players have been diminished.
What many critics of baseball’s steroid era fail to understand is that these alleged cheaters didn’t defiantly break the rules, but rather took advantage of the league’s carelessness. Major League Baseball’s refusal to test for PEDs didn’t subside until well into the careers of many of these now eligible hall of fame candidates.
Basically, until 2003 Major League Baseball had no testing system in place. Though they’d banned steroids in 1991, the league did nothing to uphold its policy for over a decade.
Such ignorance is akin to police officers trying to enforce speeding without the use of radar detectors.
And yet some of the game’s greats continue to suffer the consequences brought about by a terribly flawed system.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m not implying that these players are victims. What I’m arguing is that they played the game better than anyone during a flawed era. For that they should not continue to be punished by a highbrow organization with inexplicable standards. If Hank Aaron’s 755 home runs were good enough for induction, Bonds’ 762 should be more than adequate, regardless of any drug Bonds may have taken.
Voters didn’t seem to mind so much when admitted spitballer Gaylord Perry came up for election in 1989. Though Perry narrowly missed induction in his first two years on the ballot, voters elected him into the hall of fame in 1991 without much mention of his illegal pitches or career antics that included a proposal to the company Unilever about promoting their popular product, Vaseline. Basically, Perry was a confessed cheater, but voters didn’t seem to mind.
Throughout the history of baseball, players have been attempting to gain an edge over the competition. The great Ty Cobb was widely known to sharpen his spikes before games to deter fielders from tagging him as he slid into bases. John McGraw, former member of the 1900s New York Giants had a reputation for holding players by the belt loops and tripping them as they ran past him. Even Yankee great Whitey Ford admitted to doctoring baseballs throughout his career, splattering mud on them and gouging them with whatever object he could find.
Outside of cheating at baseball, the only thing these three have in common is that they’re all members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America should be ashamed for taking it upon themselves to police the history of baseball. Because of their insistence to dismiss the monumental accomplishments of many of baseball’s greatest players, they’ve further tainted an era and a sport desperately in need of forgiveness.
Regardless of steroids, those players scrutinized by hall of fame voters most likely would have produced similar results. Though their cumulative statistics may not have been quite as swollen without the help of PEDs, those players should still be regarded as some of the best to ever play the game and earn a place among the game’s legends.
Instead, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America continues to soften the accomplishments of some of the game’s most important players and, in doing so, cheapens the memories fans like us hold dear to our hearts.
Sadly, we now have more unnecessary validation that our heroes weren’t really all that heroic.
Thanks a lot, baseball.