Steroid users in baseball should be allowed in the Hall of Fame. There, I said it: A group of players who cheated at their profession should be allowed into that profession’s Hall of Fame.
Let me explain. I fully object to any use of performance-enhancing drugs, and I want mandatory blood testing for steroids and HGH. Also, I won’t argue that steroid users should be allowed into the Hall simply because everyone else was juicing, because that’s like arguing your innocence with a cop by saying that everyone else on the road was speeding, too.
Here’s what I will argue: Taking steroids, especially more than 10 years ago, wasn’t that “bad.” It really wasn’t. How many people took steroids doesn’t matter, but the cultural attitude about steroids at the time does.
In the mid-1990s, steroids were rampant in Major League Baseball. In his autobiography, “Juiced,” Jose Canseco asserted that 80 percent of players were using steroids. Journalists have reported that players would casually discuss possibly using steroids with teammates, only to learn that the teammate had delivered a package of steroids to his locker. Former Red Sox second baseman Lou Merloni even revealed that a team doctor showed players how to properly use steroids in 2002. Furthermore, many Dominican players have stated that baseball scouts have “hinted” that — in addition to falsifying their names and ages — using steroids could be a good way to make the big leagues.
In short, no part of baseball’s organization structure was impervious to the phenomenon.
Beyond steroids, many other MLB cheaters have been recognized for their “greatness.” Tom Yawkey, a former Red Sox owner, was not only incredibly racist but was racist to the point that it hurt his team massively — he sometimes wouldn’t sign a black player no matter how much the team needed him.
Yawkey is in the Hall of Fame.
So are Gaylord Perry and Don Sutton, for that matter. Perry commonly used Vaseline to affect the movement of the ball; Sutton was outed for having sandpaper in his glove to scuff the ball.
In 1951, Bobby Thomson hit the home run later deemed the “Shot heard ’round the world” to send the New York Giants to the World Series. It was later reported that the Giants positioned a coach in center field with a telescope in order to steal the signs from the opposing catcher.
Numerous artifacts celebrating the home run reside in Cooperstown today.
Mike Schmidt, the Philadelphia Phillies Hall of Fame third baseman from the ’70s and ’80s, admitted that amphetamines were so blatantly kept in clubhouses that they were even in candy dishes in plain view of reporters who simply didn’t care. Amphetamines, which increase focus and attentive abilities, were illegal in baseball, but there was a code that no one would be ratted out because they were seen as such a part of the game. Based on Schmidt’s and others’ admissions — such as those of all-time greats Willie Mays and Hank Aaron — it’s clear that the number of amphetamines users to reach the Hall was quite high.
Oh, and there were no rules against steroids prior to 2003 in MLB.
The way that reporters view amphetamine users in the Hall of Fame is how we should likewise view steroid users getting into the Hall. The players didn’t feel that they were breaking the rules at the level that writers and owners — in an effort to cover up the fact that they were willing third parties to steroid use — are retroactively claiming that they were.
MLB used the home run explosion in the late ’90s to re-popularize the game after the players’ strike cancelled the 1994 World Series. That is why when some argue that steroid users were stealing money from the owners and the game in general, they’re forgetting that players were not the only ones responsible for the steroid explosion.
The second counterargument is one that I actually understand completely. Many will argue something along the lines of: “I’m not saying that taking steroids makes someone a terrible person, but if you cheated the game of baseball, you shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame. And that includes guys like Perry, Sutton, and Yawkey.”
I do admire the consistency of this viewpoint, but I feel that it’s a little too simpleminded. The contention states that we shouldn’t look at cheating in severity or in degrees but rather as a yes/no question: Did someone break the rules or not? However, cutting out everyone who has ever cheated once isn’t realistic — the number of players who have cheated in a minor way is huge, so there’s no clear way to draw the line.
When someone is recognized for his greatness on a field, we don’t nitpick to find any little thing that might diminish his legacy as a whole. Instead, we only debate whether or not a person’s transgressions were so egregious they somehow outweigh his outstanding achievement.
Clearly, that’s always going to be a judgment call, which is why we have to measure something like this in a matter of degrees. And my judgment is that given the culture of steroids in the game, the assumption by many players that they weren’t grossly breaking the rules and the history of baseball awarding those who cheated in other ways, steroids users should be allowed into the Hall of Fame.
With one caveat, that is: There should be a special note under their plaques demonstrating their steroid use. They might have ended up in Cooperstown, but no sin goes unpunished.
Tom Hoff is a sophomore in the McDonough School of Business. DOWN TO THE WIRE appears every Friday.