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.
100% agreed, Jeff.
You either let them all in, or you let none of them in. Of course MLB took the third option guaranteed to piss the most people off.
This is a topic that many people have strong opinions about so let me throw my two cents in. The era Babe Roth played in was very different from what Hank Aaron did, and both are different from Mike Trout’s era. I don’t see that admitting Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens into the Hall of Fame cheapens anything as they were the best players of their time. I realize that in their time steroids were widely used and that their overall achievements can’t really compare to others, but then I can’t compare players who played during segregated baseball to Willie Mays or Frank Robinson. To pretend that era didn’t happen is to put on blinders in my opinion. And if you’re going to hold up the morals clause, admitted cheaters like Hank Greenburg are in and Ty Cobb, who bragged of killing a mugger, isn’t anyone I’d want to hang out with but is a Hall of Famer. You can argue whether David Ortiz did enough to merit induction, but a possible failed drug test shouldn’t be a factor.
I should write a longer piece on this. I believe if MLB had been integrated in the 20s and 30s Babe Ruth would have hit a lot of home runs off black pitchers and Josh Gibson would have hit a lot of home runs off white pitchers.
True. However, Ruth’s era was weak for two reasons: segregation and lack of formal minor leagues.
Integration definitely would have increased the talent level Ruth faced. It almost certainly costs him in the stats, though, as a white guy who shouldn’t be on the mound would be replaced with a player who should.
What really separates Mays era from Ruth’s in my mind is the combination of integration and formal minor leagues. Not only was talent picked based on talent, that talent was then sifted through a few levels of minor leagues to ensure that only the best of the best talent made it to MLB.
I can’t help but think the steroid era has a place in the history of baseball. It happened. The HOF is a baseball museum. A museum documents history. This era was part of baseball history and was related to bringing fans back after the 1994 strike.
I am not a fan of cancel culture. Bad things happen and are part of history. Ignoring these events are the best way to ensure they happen again.
Make a separate permanent exhibit in Cooperstown documenting the steroid era and it’s greatest players. That, to me, is the most logical solution.
I’m in the camp that they should have been banned from baseball. They cheated. No honor for them at all. Period.
Even now I still want that. In fact I prefer that unperson thing to what you are suggesting.
Bad news on labor negotiations:
I’m still scratching my head how Ortiz gets a magic pass into the HOF, even though he FAILED A DRUG TEST in 2003. He is a proven past cheater. But Sosa, Bonds, McGwire, Clemens and ARod all are still treated as pariahs (and all 5 listed here come off as standoffish assholes in some way). I guess just because people seem to like Ortiz’s goofy personality, he gets away with it.
I’ve always been all about keeping the known or proven drug cheats out of the HOF, but now that they voted Ortiz in (along with Pudge and Bagwell before)… seems a bit hypocritical and shortsighted to continue to exclude these other guys. Also… Schilling. He’s not a drug cheat, but he’s excluded simply because he expresses opinions that others do not like. A bit disturbing for a country with free speech, but that’s a whole separate topic.
I guess I just wish I knew if MLB was going to end the lockout on time, so we could focus on the upcoming season and be able to ignore the mockery of the HOF. Instead, this is the only baseball news we have right now…
Big Poopy getting in is an example of the popularity factor in HOF voting
My memory still has not completely restored itself after my koonking, so forgive me if I am just babbling, but what I recall regarding David Ortiz was that he was allowed to skate in the steroid investigation, because George Mitchell was on the investigatory committee while he was in the Bosux front office. Perhaps there is no documented evidence that he ever juiced, but in my opinion there was a large amount of circumstantial evidence that he did once he got to Boston: the physical changes, the alternate mellow/nasty demeanors,
What I think BBWAA (or whatever that acronym is) is just whistling past the graveyard in an attempt to put the steroid era behind them. But if they were going to allow one juicer in to the HOF, it should have been Bonds, much as I dislike what he did, because he did show HOF merit before he was juicing.
I’m in the “let them all in” camp. But if you’re not going to, then none of them get in. You can’t ….but they did.
Phil Spector is in the RnR Hall of Fame. Admittedly, the RnR HoF sucks but he’s in it because of what he did musically. So Shoeless Joe, Bettin’ Pete, Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Sosa…put them all in for what they did on the field. I mean, now that the writers are going all hypocritical and voting in roid ragers…
I’m still opposed to Rose.
The roid guys cheated to win. Degenerate gamblers don’t always want to win.
I guess I expect people to cheat to win. It is incentivized, after all. But I can’t forgive a guy for throwing or even likely throwing a game.
I agree re Rose and Shoeless Joe, they still belong out. Gambling and throwing games to lose is the ultimate transgression. Cheating to improve performance and win… a bit more gray.
Now that Ortiz is magically allowed in on the first ballot, I’m now firmly in the camp of “just let em all in.” There’s no valid justification for excluding Bonds, Sosa, McGwire, ARod, Clemens, or even Palmeiro if you voted in Ortiz.
At least eventually the Veterans Committee will fix some of this. Ultimately I think Bonds, ARod, and Clemens will get in, and then maybe Sosa, McGwire, Palmeiro and (non-drug cheat) Schilling will be inducted that way as well. Given more time and space since their era, I think the Vets will then have a less biased perspective on the steroid era and players’ off-field personas vs their actual performance and impact on the game.
Well written, your best ever piece imho. The way that the MLBHOF can step up is by making a display area of a wing and address and explain the Steroid Era and allow the Steroid Players to have their stories told. It was wrong what they did, but it was MLB and their story should be told whether or not they are in the Hall of Fame.
Personally, I do not feel that cheaters and liars belong there. But the writers and a majority of fans disagree with me.
Why can’t the steroids players have their wing, without being inducted? I think that would be a better way to account for them without rewarding them for cheating. Maybe a domestic violence wing too. Or in the the case of Bonds, he can be part of both.
Ha ha! Because Pierzynski got votes I though about suggesting an “Asshole Wing” but it brings up the tricky question of what to do with guys like Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby who are already in.
Asshole wing works for me.
Interesting thought but we don’t put other eras in wings.
Ruth played during the segregated era. His numbers are inflated because at least a quarter of the guys he played against wouldn’t have made MLB post integration.
Then we have the War Years era where guys missed time for WW2 and Korea.
What we have are plaques of the biggest stars of the games with some wording to put their careers into context (at least for the guys who served in the wars).
THIS! Rec the whole post! This is exactly what to do. It’s totally stupid to play like all of this didn’t happen because it basically blots out most of the best players (with or without PEDs) in an era of the game. Sure, there are people who just want to watch consequences because…. I don’t know why. It’s obvious that Bonds stats are seriously padded by PEDs, any moron can see that and sniff accordingly, and they will. Also, any moron can see that Aroid, Clemens, Bonds etc are Hall of Famers. Most people can also tell that they are assholes.
It would be different if a player like Bonds stood out alone. That’s a cheater in a fairly clean game. But Brady Anderson hit 50+ home runs back then. Brad. Fulmer. The whole era had a problem. So enshrine the era’s best, then make sure the story of the era is told so it’s clear how different a player like Bonds or Clemens was from Aaron/Drysdale. But just being a bunch of bitter old men “protecting” a sanctity that really wasn’t ever all that sanctified because their childhood hero was surpassed is a net negative and doesn’t fix or improve anything.
If Bonds stood out alone that would be different. Because many players’ used steroids to different degrees of success that makes it different in another direction. Justifying bad behavior with bad behavior never makes anything better, never, as it will stay bad behavior.
FYI, I do not consider myself bitter nor old, but my grandkids just might agree you on this one.
The one thing that has separates the Baseball Hall of Fame is that for a majority of fans it is a sacred place of history. If you visit the MLBHOF as I have, those that live and/or work in Cooperstown would disagree with you. The visitors that are sharing the experience with you feel different than you. The same vibe is not present in Canton at the Pro Football HoF. I have only visited the Rock and Roll HoF once and did not feel the special vibe in reminiscing there. But in Cooperstown it exists, just not for you.
There are many of us who feel that cheaters and liars do not deserve the honor of enshrinement in the Hall of Fame, and you may want to consider that there is another way of looking at this issue rather being disrespect to “a bunch of bitter old men”. As for the youth of today they did not experience the “Steroid Era” and therefore I would not refer to them as morons.
I’ve always pictured you as more of a tender little guy than a bitter old man…. old baseball writers not so much.
I agree with you, the Hall’s awesome. But I can’t call any place with Enos Slaughter, Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby in it “sacred”. Hell, Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle are “heroes” but they were also total assholes. That’s part of what makes it cool, Stan Musial and Hank Aaron are classy, Dizzy Dean was a nut, Tim Raines was all 80s and loved cocaine, Rickey Henderson raped his sister… all of them rolled together.
It’s a museum. It displays the best players, warts and all. Those players listed above are the best players of their era. They should be in there, as should an explanation of what made their era unique… thus also making “Musials” out of some of the guys who did it clean.
It’s moot anyway. By the time I am a grandpa most of those guys will be in.
I’m a father. I love baseball. I’m starting to be able to talk to my son about baseball a bit and hopefully those conversations will grow over time.
If they do I will talk about what made all these guys great but also put their careers into perspective. The museum should be there to preserve baseball’s history, not edit it to fit their narratives.