By Benjamin Chase
As the Hall of Fame ballot is again debated, a new element has entered this year – a confirmed user of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) that has popular support for election among voters. That has truly turned a now-decades-old argument on its head.
A Misleading Argument
I’ve taken deep dives into this topic that are beyond the scope of what can be covered in the time here. Reviewing whether players were already in the Hall of Fame that had used substances to enhance their performance and taking a deep look at the myriad reasons that offense actually exploded in the 1990s and early 2000s, beyond JUST substances led me to one pretty easy conclusion – arguing about PEDs and whether a player’s statistics were earned simply removes the historical look at so many other eras that inflated numbers and put hosts of other players on plaques in the HOF by manipulating the game.
More than anything, the argument has consistently been over whether a steroid-using player is worthy of being in the Plaque Gallery of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. While it’s understandable that certain people want to gatekeep that particular room, most visitors to the Hall of Fame spend significantly more time in the museum portion of the Hall than in the Plaque Gallery.
In fact, when my wife and I visited the Hall of Fame on our honeymoon, she walked right past the Plaque Gallery to the gift shop.
Within the museum, you’ll find plenty of displays honoring all the players that are being debated this year, and even some who are currently banned from consideration from the other room. We visited Cooperstown during an anniversary year of Hank Aaron’s 715th home run, so there was a notable display for him, but the two most-visible players when visiting beyond Aaron were Pete Rose and Roger Clemens, both of whom had life-size cutouts on display along with various memorabilia.
The players that are being debated for the Plaque Gallery? Regardless of your stance on PEDs, they’re already in the Hall.
Adding In Off-Field “Stuff”
Getting back to this year’s ballot, the PED issue is among a host of off-field considerations to take into play. Barry Bonds, Omar Vizquel, and Andruw Jones have documented cases of domestic abuse, there is ample evidence that Clemens forced himself upon an underage female country singer, and Curt Schilling has taken the stance that his own financial misgivings are the fault of anyone who doesn’t believe and/or look like him – and he’s willing to make some very strong and loud statements to that effect.
Should anyone with those backgrounds be allowed to take the microphone during an induction ceremony? Many have that have done as bad or worse and continue to work in the game of baseball, so to take some sort of moral stand at this point seems a bit late in the game.
Sadly, baseball had a brief, shining moment when it took a platform as a beacon of inclusion and acceptance for the world to follow, but the game has found its pre-integration roots in recent years, with every stringent domestic violence suspension accompanied by one that is disgustingly light.
Add in the disturbing behavior still prevalent in the Latin American market for players, and there really is no way to consider a moral high ground when players are brought into, developed within, and then expected to shine as part of a game that is so wrought with inequality, degradation, and false machismo.
The Argument Done?
So if a voter really can’t consider PEDs or the character clause as a separator because, frankly, we simply don’t know exactly who did horrific things during their career, what can be done?
Honestly, look at the numbers. Vote based on the numbers and who the player was on the field. Was Bonds the best hitter of the last 50 years? He should be in the Hall. Was Jones unmatched in the outfield for a decade? He should be in the Hall. Was Clemens one of the most dominant pitchers that has toed the rubber in the last 40 years? Then he, too, should be in the Plaque Gallery.
This year, multiple arguments for BBWAA voters will be taken away after this vote, as Bonds, Clemens, Schilling, and Sammy Sosa all are on their 10th and final ballot. Argument done, right?
Except we are just getting started with the debate over Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz – not to mention that every time a modern era ballot comes up once those players go off the official BBWAA ballot, they can be added in to receive consideration through one of the Veterans Committees.
All the while, they’ll still be mentioned and honored in the part of the Hall that the average visitor sees. So what are we arguing about anyway??
Benjamin Chase is a newspaper reporter in South Dakota with a huge love of baseball, especially prospects. He hosts the IBWAA Up Next Zoom call on prospects and amateur baseball with excellent guests from around the world of prospects. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @biggentleben.