In an era where every player who has Hall of Fame-worthy numbers is scrutinized under the harshest of microscopes, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa have become the steroid era figureheads, examples of what happens when your career is tainted with suspected or proven use of performance-enhancing drugs—but that shouldn't deny them access to the hallowed grounds of Cooperstown, NY.
The MLB Hall of Fame is an exclusive club, and rightly so. For some fans, it's the place they take their baseball loving son or daughter to show them the history and legends of the game they love. For others, it's purpose is to determine the good players from the legends.
Hall of Fame voters shouldn't punish presumably clean players (Craig Biggio, for one) for playing in an era where steroid use was rampant, simply for not knowing who was clean and who wasn't. Players who have never failed a test now are often tossed in the category of "they didn't get caught, but everyone was cheating so they probably were too," which is a poor, lazy attempt to discard an entire generation of players and their records.
What needs to be done, if the Hall of Fame is to achieve its former glory and respect for the process, is to find how to deal with the steroid era players. Clean or not, the players from that era obliterated records. Even with normal progression (players over generations have become more and more machine-like (Patrick Willis in the NFL, Albert Pujols in the MLB, etc) and as players become more naturally physically gifted, they will undoubtedly break the records of the players who played cards in the locker room instead of lifting and training. Its been long joked about how Babe Ruth, one of the ten best baseball players ever would down hot dogs during games. I doubt we'd see a player at his peak performance level sneaking a few ballpark dogs in the dugout anymore.
As times change, training, general skill level and a better understanding of the game put today's players at a better starting point than they ever have had previously.
To better make the case that players who are elite are just that much better today, look at Bonds' first 13 seasons (up to the season prior to his 73 home run season). Clearly, Bonds was already a Hall of Famer if he retired mid-season.
2,010 Hits, 400+ doubles, 445 Home Runs, 1299 RBI, 460 SB and a .288 AVG.
That's a Hall of Fame résumé if I ever saw one. He went on a historical tear after, ripping 73 HRs into the stands, and breaking the single-season record set by McGwire in the magical 1998 season.
Which brings us to the next man left out of the Hall this year: 1998's other half, Sosa.
For all his ups (10 straight seasons of 35 HRs, 100+ RBI, a member of the 500 HR club, an NL MVP and HR Derby Champion in 2000) Sosa's career has been marred by corked bat incidents, steroid allegations, testimony in front of congress denying his use of PEDs, and his slightly awkward change in skin color leaving some to think that he was trying to look more "white." Considering the oddities in Sosa's career, he might not have as strong a case as the other players in this article. His batting average was only .273 and that is including likely steroid influenced years. Bonds' statistics were outstanding before his use.
Clemens, too, famously appeared before congress, denying use of PED's through his illustrious career with the Red Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays and Astros, which began a lengthy legal circus around his testimony. His career is almost unparalleled, and stands up well among the greats in baseball history: 354 Wins, 1.17 WHIP, 3.12 ERA, 4,672 Ks, seven Cy Young Awards and an MVP.
Career numbers like those will continue to be an inconvenient problem for the MLB and the Hall of Fame voters to say no to after a while, once context and perspective can frame the era. Too many pre-steroid era writers and voters refuse to consider the careers of the tainted players, though some were Hall of Fame worthy before their alleged or confirmed usage.
To fix the Hall of Fame's steroid era problem, there isn't one quick fix solution. Realistically, time may be the only thing to forward the conversation to a better solution than exclusion. Personally, I'd be OK with a ''steroid era wing'' or at least a description of the allegations briefly stated on their plaques in the Hall. For example:
''BARRY LAMAR BONDS
HOME RUN KING, 762 HR
14-TIME ALL STAR
SUSPECTED USE OF STEROIDS MAY HAVE INFLUENCED HIS CAREER NUMBERS.''
This makes a clear statement that while a great player, the integrity of his numbers is to be questioned and his career deserves a closer look than just a look at his stats. This statement could of course be amended per player, if they tested positively or were found to have cheated.
No solution will be perfect, but much like when the NCAA sanctions a school, it's not as if that team didn't exist or no one saw the BCS game they won; and it's certainly not as if steroid era players who hit more than 60 home runs and seven-time Cy Young award-winning pitchers never happened. They did, and baseball needs to recognize that. This era cannot be swept under the rug, and its records forgotten. If voters cannot agree to the candidacy of steroid tainted players, perhaps they should be replaced by veterans of the game, who may be a better judge to weigh the careers of the accused.
Who closer to the game, more knowledgeable, more trustworthy than former players, to be the key holders to the greatest club in all of sports? A jury of their peers.
When writers reflect back on this past era in baseball, they will note that several of its greats made the Hall of Fame. As for the list of lucky players, it will be up to time, and the voters, to tell us who they'll be.