A little more than a year before his 756th homerun, I watched Barry Bonds play a game in Philadelphia. The fans booed and jeered, throwing syringes at him as he took his place in left field. All that changed when Bonds ripped his 713th career homer over the outfield.
The crowd showered him with cheers. For a fleeting moment, nobody thought about Bonds’ congressional hearings, his obstruction of justice charge or his polarizing demeanor. Instead, people in the stadium soaked in that moment of baseball history; a moment that they would undoubtedly share with their children and grandchildren. When my children ask about Barry Bonds, I will tell them about how I saw the home run that brought him within one homer of Babe Ruth’s career mark before I say anything else.
With the National Baseball Hall of Fame election ballots due in two weeks, anecdotes of Bonds’ greatness will fall by the wayside. For a fourth consecutive year, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa will probably not be voted in, while some less notable names such as Tim Raines may sneak into the Valhalla of baseball.
The vague criteria that define a Hall of Famer contribute to the issues with the voting process. Some voters will select Bonds, who holds the record for most home runs but still received less than 40 percent of the vote last year, on their ballot, but will omit Clemens, who won a record seven Cy Young awards. Others will vote for Clemens but not Bonds based on their own interpretations of what defines a Hall of Famer.
Many of those who choose to exclude Bonds from their ballot cite Rule 5, which emphasizes that the integrity and character of the player should be considered when deciding who to choose for the Hall of Fame.
If character matters, why is Ty Cobb in the Hall of Fame? Cobb assaulted several people during his career, including an African-American who just wanted his autograph and a handicapped man who insinuated that Cobb was partially black.
If integrity matters, why is Gaylord Perry in the Hall of Fame? Perry’s success came in part because of his tactic of illegally doctoring the baseballs by spitting on them. MLB banned spitballs in 1920, and despite openly admitting to consistently using the spitball, he was still deemed worthy of a Hall of Fame selection. The spitball, like performance-enhancing drugs, gave pitchers an unfair competitive advantage.
On top of all this, why is Pud Galvin in the Hall of Fame? He openly injected himself with monkey testosterone prior to games, yet the Veteran’s Committee put him in the Hall of Fame. If the Baseball Writers’ Association of America can overlook Perry’s spitball and Galvin’s elixir, they should overlook the use of steroids.
Another problem with voting on players from this era is that it is impossible to differentiate which players used steroids and which were clean. Currently, many of the players who the public knows used steroids admitted to it themselves, failed a test or were mentioned in the Mitchell Report, which was the result of an investigation into PED use in baseball. Yet, the Mitchell Report lacks credibility. According to the report, the only teams that had no players doping while with their team were the Boston Red Sox and the Milwaukee Brewers. Senator George Mitchell, who led the investigation, was a Red Sox fan, and former MLB Commissioner Bud Selig once owned the Brewers.
The investigation lacked thoroughness and it is unjust to say that a player is not a Hall of Famer because he was on the Mitchell Report, but another player is because even though he may have taken PEDs, he was not mentioned. Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez found themselves left off of the Mitchell Report, but in the following years, Ramirez would test positive while somebody leaked Rodriguez’s name from a 2003 drug test that was supposed to be confidential.
In my opinion, the best measure of what makes a Hall of Famer is his star appeal. Years from now, I will not be telling my children about the time Craig Biggio turned a double play; rather, I will tell them about how I got to see Barry Bonds hit balls into McCovey Cove. I will tell them about how Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire captured the attention of the nation for a summer. In no way is that a knock on Biggio, but his career statistics simply pale in comparison to the aforementioned group of hitters.
The BBWAA wants to pretend that the accomplishments of some players are tainted, but at the end of the day, Barry Bonds’s record of 762 home runs has no asterisk. All of Roger Clemens’ Cy Young Awards sit on his shelves without asterisks. Bonds hit those home runs and Clemens received those awards. By not voting these players into the Hall of Fame, the BBWAA is whitewashing the steroid era, ignoring that PEDs were a huge part of the game.
Voters need to recognize that my generation grew up only watching these players and that most of my childhood memories involve players who took steroids. Additionally, the BBWAA needs to realize that the steroid era must be put into a different context. How does the BBWAA possibly know if someone like John Smoltz, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez or Craig Biggio took steroids? The answer is that they do not.
Nick Barton is a junior in the McDonough School of Business. This is the final appearance of More Than a Game this semester.
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