There's no mention of steroids in the National Baseball Hall of Fame's rules for election, nor do they say anything about performance-enhancing drugs in general.
And that's weird, don't you think? Given all the bickering that happens whenever baseball's Steroid Era and the Hall of Fame are put in the same sentence, you'd think that somebody would have gotten fed up and moved for it to be put on paper once and for all:
Nobody's saying that should happen. Not that I know of, anyway. I only bring it up because the notion itself is worthy of the thought experiment treatment.
Do I think there should be a rule that officially bans juicers from Cooperstown? I most certainly do not.
But if you ask the players already in the Hall of Fame, you might get a different answer.
We already know from what he told Joe Capozzi of The Palm Beach Post last December that Andre Dawson doesn't want PED users in the Hall of Fame. The latest guy talking is a (hopefully) soon-to-be Hall of Famer who happens to be pretty tight with the Cooperstown crowd: Frank Thomas.
The Big Hurt had this to say to ESPN's Jerry Crasnick:
They say, "Hell, no." They don't want any of these guys in. These are super-superstars in my eyes, and they're serious about it. I would suggest you get around the Johnny Benches, the Ozzie Smiths, the Dave Winfields and Mike Schmidts. Hold court with them and see how they feel. I've talked to them and it was eye-opening.
I want the game to be where it's supposed to be. Guys have climbed that mountain for a reason, and that's important to me. To hear the Hall of Famers talk, their legacy is important to them. I respect that. That's why I had such feelings for Hank Aaron and those guys coming up, and I wanted to get to the level of the Hall of Fame. When guys take drugs like that, they're not deserving of being on that level.
The guys with the plaques aren't alone. The voters have made it abundantly clear that they also have a "Hell, no" stance on juicers and the Hall of Fame, and the fans feel the same way. Everyone and their uncle is adamant on the Hall of Fame being as clean as can be.
Well, maybe not everyone. I'm not sure that Thomas is right about Mike Schmidt being so steadfastly against the idea of having to welcome PED users into the Hall of Fame.
The former Philadelphia Phillies great told Jayson Stark of ESPN a couple of years ago that he would welcome Alex Rodriguez, an admitted PED user, into Cooperstown. On top of that, Schmidt had little trouble admitting that he would have been tempted to use PEDs had they been a "culture" in his era just like they were in the Steroid Era.
"Most likely," said Schmidt. "Why not?"
Many players had that same mindset during the Steroid Era, and we really shouldn't kid ourselves by thinking that it was the only era in baseball history in which a PED culture existed.
As Schmidt pointed out in his book, Clearing the Bases, amphetamines were a huge part of the game for many years before Major League Baseball finally banned them in 2006. You can also find this on page 28 of the Mitchell Report (h/t Hardball Talk):
In 1973, a Congressional subcommittee announced that its staff had completed an “in depth study into the use of illegal and dangerous drugs in sports” including professional baseball. The subcommittee concluded that “the degree of improper drug use – primarily amphetamines and anabolic steroids – can only be described as alarming.”
Yup, anabolic steroids in baseball. In 1973. Forty years ago.
There are players already in the Hall of Fame who used amphetamines. We know there's at least one steroid user in the Hall of Fame, and I'll go out on a limb and guess that guy's not alone. Factor in the racists and the scoundrels, and the Hall of Fame is hardly a paragon of virtue.
Don't worry, I'm not about to say that all PED users should be allowed in the Hall of Fame no questions asked just because the shoe fits. I'm all for scrutiny. I just can't get behind any notion to make it an official requirement that a player has to have been clean in order to get in. That would be the ultimate farce.
And besides, it's not like making it an official requirement to ban PED users from the Hall of Fame would actually, you know, work.
If a new rule like that were to become a reality, those putting it in place would at least have to have the good sense to take suspicion out of the equation. A "NO JUICERS" rule would really have to be a "NO (KNOWN) JUICERS" rule. Under it, a player would be barred from the ballot only if he had a failed test, a non-analytical positive or an admission in his history.
Simple enough, but therein would lie the fundamental flaw. Most PED cases that come to light are anything but simple.
Take Barry Bonds, for example. We know he took steroids. There's a mountain of evidence that says he did.
What nobody can prove, however, is that Bonds knowingly took steroids. We all believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that he did, but not even Uncle Sam could make that accusation stick.
There are many years of baseball ahead of us. The rules and penalties are in place and should only get tougher. But players are going to continue using PEDs anyway. More players are going to get caught. More players are going to be vilified.
That means there's going to be plenty of opportunities for players to use the "I didn't know" card, just like Bonds. Calling BS on them will continue to be easy, while actually proving it will continue to be hard.
These guys would have to be granted an exception to the "NO (KNOWN) JUICERS" rule, in which case it would be up to the voters. They'd probably still vote no, but one thing that's for sure is that all the annoying arguments we have today could still be had.
To that end, the rule would change nothing.
Another complication would involve juicers sneaking into the Hall of Fame anyway because, let's face it, there's not a force on this earth that can ensure that every player who decides to cheat is going to get caught.
There are always going to be players who find ways around the testing, and there are always going to be new drugs of choice that MLB will be late to the party on. That's what testosterone is now. The league has nabbed a few users in the past year or so, but its testing for testosterone isn't as advanced as it should be.
So at the end of this thought experiment, my vote would be for the status quo. Which, for the record, is as follows:
Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.
Very specific, yet very vague at the same time. These guidelines help ensure that the Hall of Fame will always be populated to a diverse mix of players. The doors are not open to only certain types of players.
It's only fair that they should never be closed to certain types of players too.
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