How in the Hall do we handle PEDs?

In discussing the complications surrounding the review of candidates from “the Steroid Era” for the Hall of Fame, sportswriter Peter Gammons accidentally tapped into the real root of the problem:

“What I find is that there is no guidebook to what entails a Hall of Famer or a manual defining the criteria. Most of us vote based on our own vision of what the Hall of Fame is or should be, which, in reality, means we don’t know what the Hall is supposed to be, which is a fascinating part of what goes into each ballot due on New Year’s Eve.”

Gammons is absolutely correct. The Hall of Fame has never clearly defined for the voters what a Hall of Famer is. From the very beginning, the job of defining that has been left to the voters—a group of people each with a slightly different answer to that question. All we really know is that a man is a Hall of Famer once 75 percent of the voters agree that he is, and not before. The best measuring stick today’s voters have in determining whether a player should be in the Hall of Fame is by comparison to those already enshrined. With 237 players inducted to date, there is a 77-year history whereby a de facto definition has been settled on by previous generations of electors.

That standard has included players who cheated, broke baseball’s rules, or broke the law. It has included drug users, alcoholics, gamblers and racists. It has included many players who were not positive role models for our children in any way, shape or form other than to teach them how to play the game of baseball.

And that’s the point: The Hall of Fame elects people who play baseball very well. It is not in the business of canonizing saints. The clause about character, sportsmanship and integrity was a rhetorical flourish added in the 1940s to help boost the candidacies of players who might be borderline solely on the basis of their performance. It has never been used to keep out a single candidate who, on the basis of how he performed on the field, was worthy of election. That is how the Hall of Fame has handled players like this throughout its history.

The only players the voters consistently rejected as Hall of Fame material were those who threw games, players who intentionally lost. Shoeless Joe Jackson and Eddie Cicotte received virtually no support from the voters for a decade before the character clause was inserted into the guidelines, making absolutely no difference to the electorate. In 1991, the Hall of Fame codified the prohibition against players on baseball’s ineligible list (i.e., lifetime banishment from Organized Baseball) to keep Pete Rose from appearing on the ballot.

And that’s been the policy ever since. If a player’s sins are serious enough to kick him out of baseball forever, then the Hall of Fame won’t honor him. Anything less than that and, if the voters consider him one of the greatest players of his era, he should be elected.

The one issue serious enough to question the integrity of the game, so far as the Hall has ever been concerned, is throwing games. Players who defaced balls and corked bats, who stole signs or injured opponents, who flagrantly broke the rules in all manner of ways, were all trying to help their team win. The players of the past two decades who ingested and injected things into their bodies in order to heal faster and to build more muscle are in that tradition. And it wasn’t until threats from Congress forced MLB to act against performance-enhancing drugs did managers, team and league officials (and sportswriters) do anything more than turn a blind eye, often with a wink and a smile.

Baseball has a century and a half of applauding those who cheat to gain an advantage on its opponents. Rightly or wrongly, PED users fall within that tradition. At least they did until mandatory testing began to result in suspensions if you were caught.

But as far as the Hall of Fame remains concerned, PED-users are as eligible for election as anyone else. The only players ineligible for election on the basis of character, sportsmanship and integrity are those on baseball’s ineligible list; the guys with lifetime bans from the game. So far as Hall-worthy players go, that means Jackson, Cicotte and Rose. Some day this might include a juicer, but under current rules only if he fails three drug tests. Anything short of that and the Hall of Fame says he can be elected, which means the Hall clearly does not have a problem honoring a PED user who failed two or fewer drug tests (or none at all) any more than they did honoring players who corked their bats, used amphetamines, assaulted invalids in the stands or any number of other “crimes,” whether against baseball or humanity.

The Hall of Fame says that unless a player is banned for life, so long as he played 10 or more seasons, he’s eligible for election; not just consideration, but election to the Hall. Therefore, voters should apply to same standard to the eligible PED user (or PED suspect) that they apply to all other eligible players: Was he as good a baseball player as the de facto standard for Hall of Famers laid out by seven decades of elections? Was he one of the best all-time at his position? Was he one of the best of his era?

We each have our own version of what a Hall of Famer is or isn’t. But unless and until either Major League Baseball or the Hall of Fame changes its eligibility rules, the fact remains that the Hall of Fame says our individual definitions must include the eligibility of people we believe cheated unless those players fall on MLB’s ineligible list. So while Gammons was correct that the Hall of Fame has never laid out a clear definition of a Hall of Famer, the institution and past electorates have, at least, provided guidance on how to deal with players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens: Elect them.


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rubesandbabes
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rubesandbabes

From the Article:

“And that’s the point: The Hall of Fame elects people who play baseball very well. It is not in the business of canonizing saints.”

Yes, but Peter Gammons is in the saintmaking biz – Immediately, within minutes after Mark McGwire got done talking to Bob Costas with his half-confession, Gammons signaled to the other writers not to vote for him. He is the most influential voter, though he does have peers.

…Promises self to come back at some point in the future and read that Bathazar triple comment…

rubesandbabes
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rubesandbabes

Okay, I was wrong. Gammons is voting for Big Mac. I guess he just believes Big Mac will never make it. His quote at the time of the Costas interview said exactly this.

But he is not voting for Bonds and Clemens this year, and he doesn’t lower himself to even mention Sammy Sosa.

So sorta this article is throwing around Gammons’ name, but without his votes.

Here’s the link:

http://tinyurl.com/a5sml4p

Mike Erickson
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Mike Erickson
Brad Harris has brought out an interesting slant on why Bonds, Clemens, McGuire and others should be elected to the Hall of Fame. But there are some flaws in his argument. First of all, yes, many players who cheated during their careers have already been elected to the Hall. And he concludes that others should not only be considered, but elected, to the Hall since other failings were ignored. But do two wrongs make a right? Gaylord Perry, for instance, not only cheated, but got caught (even flaunted the fact he cheated during his career). Because it was a shame… Read more »
mando3b
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mando3b
The problem with PED use that gets consistently overlooked is that PEDs grossly inflate the “sacred” stats that we use to measure greatness. You hear comments all the time like, “If X wins his 200th game/reaches 500 HRs, etc., he’s a shoe-in for the HOF”. If there is an illicit/illegal chemical enhancement that allows otherwise HOF-marginals like McGuire & Sosa to reach such hallowed ground, they SHOULD be rejected. (By the way, I simply refuse to believe that amphetamines could have produced the same effect on raw stats; equating them with PEDs seems to be a red herring. Meanwhile, regarding… Read more »
Balthazar
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Balthazar
As you frame the debate, it is demonstrated that the Baseball Hall of Fame election process has no established criteria by which to exclude Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens, and hence their candidacies should proceed.  That’s a fair conclusion of fact, but hardly the whole issue.  You do not ask, “Should those candidacies proceed?” and since your mentioned criteria for consideration is ‘helped their team win,’ it’s easy to see why.  But I will ask that question, really of far more relevance:  “Should demonstrated users of PEDs be eligible for election to the Hall of Fame?”  No.  By itself, the… Read more »
Balthazar
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Balthazar
But those are my criteria; let’s consider the principle one you present in your argument that ‘players who helped their team win’ merit consideration regardless of their behavior since, as a corollary, players of high performance if unethical behavior are already elected.  There is no basis to conclude that Bonds or Clemens used _with the specific intent_ ‘to help their teams win’ even if in fact multiple teams did benefit unethically from the PED usage of these and many other past (and present) players.  This has never been a stated, primary reason of either one, nor for most others identified… Read more »
Balthazar
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Balthazar
Every baseball far knows who Bonds and Clemens and Rose are.  Baseball fans of any detail know who Joe Jackson and Cicotte were and why they aren’t in the Hall; their performances aren’t erased from evaluation and interest, only excluded from a particular stamp of approval.  They were all Hall of Fame scale talents before the used the stuff, or egregiously cheated, that’s demonstrable.  So were others who aren’t there, so leaving out unsportsmanlike individuals who decided to cheat for their own gain regardless of anything else and have brought the game into disrepute breaks no new ground.  Serious baseball… Read more »
John Cepican
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John Cepican
Why the rush to put Bonds etc in? You have 15 years to assess the effect of steroids, although it should be clear to all who would look that anabolic steroids distort the game almost as badly as gambling, and Bonds is Exhibit A.The real Bonds had his career year his first year with the Giants, at age 28. Bill James in his research found age 27 the most likely age for a career year, followed by ages 26 and 28, and others have independently replicated his results. Bonds then gradually declined following the usual career trajectory. By age 34… Read more »
hopbitters
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hopbitters
At its core, the HoF is (or at least should be) a museum of baseball history. Enshrinement is acknowledgement of having achieved a certain level as a participant (player or otherwise) and/or having historical significance to the game. In 50 years, nobody is going to know who was alleging who was abusing which substance or why that even mattered to anybody. They are simply going to look at the players enshrined and see a small collection of players and think “what a lousy era that must have been”. Instead of unleashing our moral outrage on those horrible human beings to… Read more »
Bob
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Bob

Bravo, Balthazar. And Mr. Cepican, as well.

I thank you both wholeheartedly for expressing many of my own views much more eloquently than I could have.

I saddens me to no end that 95-99% of the employed “analysts” and “thinkers” at SABR-related sites like HB Times, Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus, etc., would open the Baseball Hall Of Fame gates to every manner of PED cheat. I suppose they’d all put Lance Armstrong in the Bicycling Hall Of Fame, too. Sigh.

David Brown
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David Brown
I am certainly not a supporter of Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, etc. However, the idea of even having a “Hall of Fame Celebration” exclusively for people who have been dead for over 70 years, would be even worse. Think about it: No Biggio (He of the 3,000 Hit Club), no Piazza, no Bagwell, no Raines, not even Morris. Even the infamous 1996 class where no one was elected by the writers was better than this. At least the Veterans Committee elected someone who we can all agree belonged and was alive to pick up his award at the Hall of Fame(Earl… Read more »
Paul E
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Paul E
Balthazar:   Fantastic job of eloquently and concisely “orating” points with which I entirely concur. Didn’t you do prosecutorial work for the West Chester County NY D.A.‘s office?     If using PED’s isn’t so bad, then why the hell don’t any of these players come forward and admit they used, like Caminiti and Canseco have done. Perhaps they believe in their own legends? Or perhaps, more importantly, they don’t want their own children to know their accomplishments on the diamond are not quite worthy of all the respect, remuneration, and admiration already doled out? Bob:   Regarding the “pooh-poohing”… Read more »
fred
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fred

why is everone upset they did nothing illegle thn so they belong even if they ddmitted it or not if they cheated by gambling or throwing gmes and indited nd sent to jail tats different even thoug jckson and ciotte where bnned i dont think tey went jil so they hve cance to be elecected pete rose sould sed on his plying days who are we to ply gd

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