The Steroid Era happened in baseball. Not only did players use performance enhancing drugs prior to the 1990s, as evidenced by failed tests they continue to cheat nowadays. Some were just more prolific than others.
Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz. Yes, all those names belong together. For a variety of reasons.
These men were stars of the game. Names even the most casual of baseball fans knew. They all fit the Fame portion of the Hall of Fame. And they all used performance enhancing drugs.
I realize baseball is a game unlike any other. Numbers are revered in baseball. Any die hard fan knows what 714 and 755 mean. Yet not even the most rabid of NFL fans knows how many yards Walter Payton rushed for, nor the tally of the new all time rushing leader. Numbers are sacred here. And PEDs altered the numbers.
This leaves fans, writers, and even the Hall of Fame in a tough spot. One that needs to be handled candidly and consistently. So far, we’ve gotten the opposite.
We can’t just mentally blot out 15 to 20 years of highlights, records, and championships no matter how they were earned. This isn’t Stalin’s Russia, we can’t just erase people from history. Nor should we bestow the highest of honors without context.
So what to do? Be honest, learn from it, and move on. That’s what I try to do in all aspects of life.
The Hall of Fame missed a golden opportunity to do just that. Rather than electing one PED user while leaving out vastly superior players who also used PEDs they could have lumped the lot together and moved on. Preferably with notations on their plaques or in a separate exhibit. Even without the Hall or MLB officially dubbing it the Steroid Class, that is exactly how it would be considered by media and fans and the name would have stuck forever.
Candid? Yes, prolific players cheated. These players also brought fans back to the game after the 94 strike and created moments that grew MLB in popularity. It is impossible to tell the story of baseball without them.
Consistent? Yes, as all of these guys are in the same boat. It defies logic that the best PED users are not in the Hall while a guy like Ortiz, who couldn’t carry a pre PED Bond’s jock, is in. Would anybody really choose Piazza or Ivan Rodriguez over Clemens and Bonds? The Hall did. And that is ridiculous.
I realize some will say this is a tacit endorsement of their behavior. I don’t mean for it to come across that way. But in the case of two less than perfect options, trying to ignore the best players of an era vs. endorsing cheating, I think this is the best way to move on.
For years I was on the “keep them all out” train. And, really, in a lot of ways that is still my preference. That shipped sailed as the Hall started letting PED users in. So now let’s be honest and consistent.
Look. It happened. MLB and the owners rode it all the way to the bank. Why? Because we paid ticket money to see it and tuned in on TV. Its not like the fans are blameless in all of this.
The Hall really dropped the ball here. They had a chance to address the Steroid Era once and for all and move on. Instead we’ll continue to hear for years how Bonds just might make it with the next committee next year. Same for Clemens.
A Steroid Class would have allowed the game to move on. It would have acknowledged the biggest stars of the 90s and 2000s while also keeping a stain on their legacies. They were the best and they cheated. Both of those aspects need to be remembered.