Talking Baseball: The Asterisk ‘Steroid Era’ Hits The Hall

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

BaseballsFor the first time since 1996 (and I do not recall why it happened then), the Baseball Writers' Association of America failed to elect anyone to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

On the ballot for the first time this year were pitcher Roger "the rocket" Clemens, all-time homerun leader Barry Bonds, Jr., and Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa who, along with Mark McGuire with the Cardinals at the time, dueled in the homerun chase of 1998 to catch and surpass Roger Maris' mark of 61 homeruns in a season (both surpassed the record). 

We all suspected that something was up with the sudden rise of super-human feats, but it was years later that our suspicions were confirmed about the widespread use of steroids and human growth hormones in baseball (and other sports) during this era. Baseball Hall of Fame: Hall voters: No steroid users allowed.

Major League Baseball, the Players Union and baseball writers turned a blind eye to the abuse at the time, enjoying a resurgence in popularity and revenue in the wake of the disastrous baseball strike in 1994 that canceled the World Series for the first time. They knew, they all knew, and profit took precedence over the "purity" of the game envisioned by Baseball's first self-righteous Commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, following the "Black Sox scandal" of the 1919 World Series.

Suddenly, everyone has found religion and self righteousness. Pitcher Curt Schilling makes the salient point: "Everyone was guilty. Either you used PEDs, or you did nothing to stop their use." Shame on everyone associated with baseball's steroid era. The solution is an asterisk with an explanation of why their records are not comparable to the players of an earlier era (similar to the longstanding argument about the dead ball era and live ball era).

And yes, baseball's all-time hit leader Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame. Why? Two words: "Ty Cobb."

As Bill Pennington writes at the New York Times, the Baseball Hall of Fame Has Always Made Room for Infamy:

Players linked to steroid use have been resoundingly rejected by Hall of
Fame voters in recent years, shunned as synthetically enhanced frauds.
But drawing an integrity line in the sand is a tenuous stance at a Hall
of Fame with a membership that already includes multiple virulent
racists, drunks, cheats, brawlers, drug users and at least one
acknowledged sex addict.

In the spirit of Groucho Marx, who refused to join any club that would
have him as a member, would not baseball’s 77-year-old gallery of rogues
be the perfect fit for Bonds and Clemens?

Robert W. Cohen, who wrote the 2009 book “Baseball Hall of Fame — or
Hall of Shame?”, readily recalled a catalog of reprehensible acts by
Hall of Fame inductees.

“Baseball has always had some form of hypocrisy when it comes to its
exalted heroes,” he said. “In theory, when it comes to these kinds of
votes, it’s true that character should matter, but once you’ve already
let in Ty Cobb, how can you exclude anyone else?

Cobb, portrayed as a sociopath in biographies and a Hollywood film
starring Tommy Lee Jones, is without question the Hall of Famer
mentioned most often whenever the integrity of the game’s top players is
questioned. Known as the Georgia Peach, he was often painted a racist
and had numerous documented altercations with African-Americans off the
field, including one that led to a charge of attempted murder.

Cobb, along with his fellow Hall of Famer Tris Speaker, was also
implicated in a game-fixing scheme. Several researchers have written
that Cobb and Speaker were members of the Ku Klux Klan, although that
has never been conclusively verified.

“Plaster saints is not what we have in the Hall of Fame,” said John
Thorn, perhaps the nation’s most widely known baseball historian and the
author of more than a dozen baseball books. “Many were far from moral
exemplars.”

Cobb, who was included on 222 of 226 ballots during the inaugural 1936
Hall of Fame voting, is far from alone when it comes to baseball elite
old-timers and imputations of racism, some of them blatant, recurring
and historic.

“Cap Anson helped make sure baseball’s color line was established in the
1880s,” Thorn said of the Chicago Cubs first baseman and manager who
was enshrined in the Hall of Fame the year it opened in Cooperstown,
N.Y., in 1939. “He was relentless in that cause.”

Anson repeatedly refused to take the field if the opposing roster
included black players. Anson had plenty of co-conspirators. The Chicago
White Sox owner Charles Comiskey, also a member of the Hall of Fame
class of 1939, “outed” the African-American infielder Charlie Grant, who
was posing as a Cherokee on the preseason exhibition roster of the
Baltimore Orioles team led by John McGraw (Hall of Fame class of 1937).

Overseeing baseball’s segregationist policy in three decades was
Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis (Hall of Fame class of 1944). When
Landis died in 1944, an initiative was begun to break the color barrier,
an effort that culminated with Jackie Robinson’s Brooklyn Dodgers debut
in the spring of 1947.

However, the Boston Red Sox, owned by Tom Yawkey (class of 1980), did not field their first black player until 1959.

Often, the miscreants in the Hall of Fame are viewed more like rascals
than scoundrels or bigots. Babe Ruth (class of 1936), a prodigious
drinker and womanizer and yet popular and revered, fits the category.

Casey Stengel (class of 1966) once called right fielder Paul Waner (class of 1952) a graceful player. Why?

“Because,” Stengel said, “he could slide into second base without breaking the bottle in his hip pocket.”

The famed Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko once wrote that Hack
Wilson (class of 1979) should have been moved to first base from the
outfield, where he usually played, “because he wouldn’t have as far to
stagger to the dugout.”

Grover Cleveland Alexander (class of 1938) pitched better drunk than
sober, according to the team owner Bill Veeck (class of 1991).

Meanwhile, pitcher Gaylord Perry (class of 1991) had a disregard for the
rules that was far more patent and unashamed than any steroid user.
Perry doctored baseballs with spit, Vaseline and other substances to
confound hitters. All of baseball knew what Perry was doing even if he
never admitted it — until writing a tell-all book after his retirement.

Orlando Cepeda served 10 months in prison after being arrested in 1975
for smuggling marijuana in Puerto Rico. The Baseball Writers’
Association of America did not select him for the Hall of Fame; instead,
Cepeda was elected by the Veterans Committee in 1999.

Other players have confessed to serious use of illicit recreational
drugs (Paul Molitor, class of 2004) or had racetrack gambling issues
(Rogers Hornsby, class of 1942). And Wade Boggs (class of 2005), after
an extramarital affair was exposed during his playing days, announced to
Barbara Walters on national television that he was a sex addict.

“But there’s a real distinction between a player who does inappropriate
things not related to his job and a player who does inappropriate things
that affect his job,” said Bill James, an influential and pioneering
baseball author and statistician who wrote the book “Whatever Happened
to the Hall of Fame?”

* * *

It is the reason that certain players, like Pete Rose who gambled on
baseball games, are on baseball’s ineligible list and prohibited from
the Hall of Fame ballot. Taking drugs to hit more home runs apparently
falls into a similar category for many voters.

“Being inducted is an honor, not a paycheck you are entitled to,” James
said, defending the character clause written into the criteria on the
Hall of Fame ballot. “No one is entitled to be elected. The voters
choose who to honor.”

In a Similar vein, Jonathan Mahler writes at Newsday, In baseball hall of fame, character shouldn't count:

[T]the reason [Clemons and Bonds] were denied entry is that both men, as well as
several other worthy candidates who didn't make the grade, have been
linked to performance-enhancing drugs.

Specifically, they violated Rule 5 of
the Hall of Fame's election requirements, the "character clause," a
self-important criterion that should have been stripped from the ballot
decades ago. According to this clause, votes for induction to the Hall
must be based not only on a player's record and ability, but also on
"integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s)
on which the player played."

This is ridiculous.

The almost 600 members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America
who are responsible for deciding who's worthy of baseball immortality —
or a made-to-order $2,000 bronze plaque, anyway — should be instructed
to confine themselves to metrics that can be measured and compared.

* * *

The Baseball Hall of Fame had two framers: The Hall's founding father, Stephen Clark, a Cooperstown
aristocrat who wasn't much of a baseball fan, and Kenesaw Mountain
Landis, the game's self- righteous commissioner who levied lifetime bans
against eight members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox — after they'd all been exonerated of criminal charges related to the fixing of the World Series.
("Regardless of the verdict of juries, baseball is entirely competent
to protect itself against crooks, both inside and outside the game,"
said Landis, a former federal judge.)

These two conservative, moralizing men
were the prime movers behind Rule 5. Landis, in particular, hoped it
would help ensure the election of Harvard Eddie Grant, a passable third
baseman who was killed in action in World War I — and the exclusion of Shoeless Joe Jackson, a member of the 1919 Black Sox and one of the greatest hitters in the history of the game.

We can blame the clause for the
ever-thickening fog of mythology that has since enveloped the Hall,
turning ex- ballplayers into moral exemplars and puffing up a sports
museum into a holy American institution.

In truth, the Hall is representative
of America only in as much as it, too, has its share of unreconstructed
racists, wife- beaters, drug dealers and sociopaths.

* * *

Whatever Clark and Landis may have envisioned, the annual Hall of Fame
election has never been anything more than a reflection of the whims of
voting sportswriters and a group of former players and executives, known
as the Veterans Committee. Yet through it all, the character clause has
endured — a single, smug sentence calling the Hall to some higher
purpose than identifying and honoring the game's greatest players.

* * *

A simple solution is at hand. The Clark heir who has inherited
control of the Hall of Fame, noted equestrian Jane Forbes Clark, could
stop protecting her grandfather's character clause like a precious
family heirloom and call for it to be deleted from next year's ballot.

My guess is that most writers would
welcome the development. They can't be comfortable playing the role of
moral arbiters, especially in such a murky realm. We're never going to
know who used what when, or how much it helped them. How can we justify
punishing virtually everyone who played during the Steroid Era on the
basis of an almost 70-year-old rule that was a bad idea from the start?
What we can say with certainty is that Cooperstown is already something
of a Potemkin Village.

The longer the character clause
continues to exist — keeping dominant players like Bonds and Clemens
out of the Hall — the further the place is going to drift from reality.

Just go with an asterisk with an explanation of why their records are not comparable to the players of an earlier era. Otherwise, the Hall of Fame is going to be in for a long drought of inductees.

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