Steroids clouding MLB’s Hall of Fame judgements

Behind the Bench/Sports by

Let’s start with the truth about Major League Baseball: 1) We’re still in the “Steroid Era.” 2) We’ve always been in the Steroid Era. This week’s example: a player under suspicion of juicing has been retroactively accused and it may jeopardize his Hall of Fame chances. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

In the wake of last week’s Hall of Fame induction vote, a donnybrook erupted amongst baseball writers and fans. Jeff Bagwell, the legendary first baseman with the funny batting stance and tremendous power, received a shockingly low number of votes in what has been widely accepted as an accusation of past steroid use. Until now, Bagwell’s name hadn’t appeared on the juicing marquee alongside Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Mark McGwire.

Like Bonds and Clemens, Bagwell never failed a steroid test, and put up his best numbers before rules or a testing system were in place. By the time he entered the twilight of his career in 2001, he was already considered to be the fourth greatest first baseman of all time by stats analysis guru Bill James. Admittedly, this was BAP (Before Albert Pujols), but his numbers are fantastic. He was a pillar of his team and his community, and spent his entire career with a single team—the Houston Astros. In any other era, his Hall of Fame candidacy would be unquestioned. Unfortunately, Bagwell played amongst the juicers on the field and the jesters in the press who are all too happy to keep the steroid story mill churning. Unlike Bonds and Clemens, Bagwell wasn’t under suspicion during his career—he seems to be a victim of circumstance. Unlike many other baseball fans, I believe that juicers like Bonds and Clemens belong in the Hall. Put them in the “steroid wing,” or with some stupid asterisk, but get them in there, and fast. Hank Aaron and Mike Schmidt were admitted amphetamine users. Even the great Mickey Mantle used a primitive form of steroids late in his career.

Another legend on this year’s ballot, Rafael Palmeiro, has the on-field numbers to expect a first-ballot induction but barely got enough votes to stay on the ballot for next year. He lied about his steroid use before failing a test, and now he may never get in. The Hall of Fame is clearly romanticizing the past, and is caught up in a witchhunt zeitgeist.

Bonds and Clemens should be in the hall eventually, and they probably will. It would be tough to keep Barry Bonds out, and in retrospect we can say that the way he was railroaded into villainy by both the game and the media was both unprecedented and unparalleled. His demonization speaks to the mostly arbitrary nature of whom we as fans decide to like. There’s very little doubt that Barry Bonds is a total prick on and off the field. There’s also no question that he is one of the best left-handed hitters of all time.

Compare him to Roberto Alomar, one of this year’s inductees. In addition to a famous incident in which he spat in an umpire’s face, Alomar is also under suspicion of having had unprotected sex with an ex-girlfriend while suffering from AIDS.

Cheating in a game, which everybody else is doing anyway, is judged more harshly than lying to somebody about not having AIDS before having unprotected sex.

Did Jeff Bagwell cheat at baseball? Maybe, but that’s not the point this year. I’m not saying that the Steroid Era should be forgotten, but we already have our villains, our heroes, and our admitted juicers that people have forgiven and forgotten about, like Andy Pettite. There’s no need to look for more people to point the finger at.