Look, this is an old, tired discussion. It was old back in 2007 when Mark McGwire first appeared on the ballot, and it’s even older 10 years later. But, it’s a necessary one because baseball is the only sport whose history is as valuable, as vital, as its future. The steroid era helped and hurt the game like no other before it or probably no era will in the future. But, the problem with thinking about the “steroid era” is that the term itself is too murky to really define. The Dead Ball Era, for instance, is typically defined as the period around 1900 until 1919 (Babe Ruth’s first record HR season), and is a very sharp and definite point in time. However, the beginning (and end) of the steroid era is much less defined. Some will point to the late 1980’s, some to the beginning of the 90’s. However, pitcher Tom House had admitted using steroids as early as the 1970’s, and amphetamine usage was common all the way back to the post-WWII years.
The sad fact of the matter is that cheating will exist in one form or another in all pro sports so long as there is a competitive advantage to be gained. Whether it be for money, fame or notoriety, someone will try to get ahead of the curve anyway they can. A famous baseball quote from Rogers Hornsby is that if a player isn’t cheating, he isn’t trying to win. It’s a sad tale, but true.
The Hall of Fame is filled with imperfect people. From recreational drug users to alcoholics to guys that cheat on their wives to many other sins. It has not, nor has it ever been, a club for good people only, and it is meant to honor those who had an excellent baseball career on the diamond. That’s where the separation is supposed to be. Curt Schilling, for instance, is a loudmouth, filter-less idiot who has made questionable business choices in his life. However, that shouldn’t take away from the great career that he had (even though many in the BBWAA feel he is more borderline than slam dunk) and doesn’t have an affect on whether or not he belongs in the Hall of Fame.
Steroids should have an affect on who gets in the Hall of Fame. However, it’s tough to say that players from the 1990’s that may (in the case of Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro) or may not have (in the case of Frank Thomas) used steroids did so in a completely cheating way. How effective is a rule if it isn’t enforced? The players union fought against steroid testing for years, the owners knew it was bringing money into the game so didn’t care and Selig and Vincent weren’t willing to use their overreach powers and lose face with both groups, especially following the ’94 strike. If the game allows it, then it’d be tough not to do.
That all changed, of course, with the Senate hearings in 2004 and 2005 and the subsequent publishing of the Mitchell Report. Selig now had the power to enact tough penalties (which came with time) on the players. And, since that’s when baseball drew the line, that’s where I draw my line.
I have sympathy for the players of the 1990’s that used steroids. I say this also knowing the list of players that have used steroids and other PED’s include average players like Ryan Franklin, Andy Pettitte and Brian Roberts. And, while homeruns and offense in general were on the rise, only 2 people ever hit 70 home runs while only 1 other ever topped 60. My point is that they had to have the talent first. Steroids won’t make me or most other people great baseball players. They still needed to have the timing and pitch recognition in order to execute completely and be effective hitters.
So, where should we go from here? Well, those who were juicers and played primarily before the Senate Hearings (which would include Sosa, McGwire, Palmeiro, Bonds, Clemens and maybe Sheffield) should be looked at as the great hitters they truly were. Guys that came mostly after the hearings (A-Rod and Manny, for instance) should be looked at like Rose and the Black Sox in that the rule was in effect and enforced and they broke it anyways. We also need actual positive tests to keep players out. Manny and A-Rod have both tested positive, and therefore get their exile. Ortiz, who may have been positive in 03 but those results have never been fully published or confirmed, is still deserving of enshrinement since he doesn’t have any real positive test results.
Just my opinion, and I know it isn’t popular, but I felt the need to express it just the same.