Last Tuesday morning, members of the Baseball Writers Association of America received an email from a Hall of Famer himself, Joe Morgan, asking to exclude known and suspected users of performing enhancing drugs from their Baseball Hall of Fame ballots.
Morgan, a 10-time All-Star and twice the National League MVP at second base with the Cincinnati Reds, emphatically and passionately stated the desires of himself and unnamed others for cheaters like those in the infamous “steroid era” to never be included in such a cherished Hall.
It was, to many, a needed breath of fresh air. For what reason should a man like Morgan, who made the Hall of Fame on getting dirty and doing hard work alone, be accepting of the same Cooperstown stage featuring known cheaters? Morgan is right to be wary of the Hall, designed to immortalize the game’s most prolific and iconic personalities, being tainted by those who knowingly and willingly broke the rules.
But we’re too far gone already. There is no reversing our path, and there is no stopping what shouldn’t be stopped. Steroid users, and those who played in the era whether clean or not, should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame if their skill, team contribution, and personal conduct (criminal activity, etc.) are in check.
That’s Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and every steroid user, suspected juicer, or player in the PED era. They were the game’s best players, period. The generation of steroids and inflated numbers need not matter because baseball is a game of generational change, one that does not stop changing.
Because the Baseball Hall of Fame has thus far, though inadvertently, been a way to idolize racism, unfair advantages, drug use, and selfishness, voting the Bonds and Clemens types into Cooperstown would change nothing. The Hall has memorialized Cap Anson, who erected the color barrier in baseball that Negro League players like Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Buck O’Neil, Jackie Robinson, and many others worked so hard to break down for over 80 years.
The Hall of Fame has served as a frame for the picture of white supremacy with Anson and executives Tom Yawkey and Larry MacPhail in the Hall to this day. But that isn’t the point here; Yawkey and MacPhail did not experience their own advantages similar to the steroid era.
Anson cannot say the same, nor can Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, or Lou Gehrig. They played the best baseball America’s pastime had ever seen and are still recognized as some of the greatest athletes of all time. And that’s fine because they were only products of an environment with a bigoted nature that barred even the most talented dark-skinned players.
Being the one of the top players in the generation, despite the generation’s conditions being flawed, still counts for something. To blame Ruth for never facing an African American pitcher is like blaming Bonds for being the best player in an a generation during which everyone was juicing: pretty absurd.
Plus, legendary players like Tim Raines were often under the influence of cocaine, in addition to guys like Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, and Hank Aaron using amphetamines in their Hall of Fame primes. Although the effects of the drugs are far different, the premise is the same: gaining an advantage through the effects of foreign substances.
The moral judgment of the voters, and the Hall itself being “special,” as Morgan describes, are gone. To have white supremacists, drug abusers, and most importantly, Bud Selig, the man who oversaw the steroid era and did little to combat it as it helped Major League Baseball recover from the 1994 work stoppage, in the Hall strips it of the sanctity Morgan covets.
Steroid use was widespread in the 1990s and 2000s. Teams saw the players in the dugout who didn’t want to comply with the landscape and abuse PEDs themselves as self-centered, which meant the players at the top of the game were merely the best in a terrible landscape that wounded all of baseball. But we all saw those home runs, we saw those huge fastballs, we saw records go flying out the window.
The steroid era happened, and we can’t erase it, especially while honoring Selig, who presided over it. We can’t put the pre-integration era behind us, and we can’t put amphetamines behind us. The steroid era will be remembered as little more than problematic and troublesome, but the players deserve their Hall of Fame legacy the same way the greats of the past and present deserve it.