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Say It Ain’t So Mark, Sammy, Roger, Barry…
It was a lousy way to start my 8th grade exam week.
I wanted to thrust my arms into my television, rip Sports Center anchor Scott Van Pelt out of his seat as he spoke, pull him into my living room, and wax his shiny bald head into oblivion.
I stared at the television, flabbergasted. Almost all of my childhood heroes had been mentioned in some government document accusing them of using steroids and performance enhancing drugs (e.g. human growth hormone, steroids, etc.). The players that I had once dreamed of playing with, becoming, surpassing in ability, were…cheaters.
Injections in their posteriors.
I felt the foundation of my childhood quaking below me, beginning to crumble. I shut off my television and coldly began to study for my algebra exam, surreptitiously wiping tears from my eyes in disgust.
Since the beginnings of organized baseball, some players have stood out more than others. These players played with a fire, a drive, a will to win, and they produced the numbers to prove it. In 1939, baseball’s Hall of Fame was created in Cooperstown, New York, to honor immortal players such as Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, Lou Gherig, Nolan Ryan, and others. It used to be such an easy formula for admission. Great ability plus great statistics plus Hall of Fame prerequisites equaled an automatic Hall of Fame invitation. And then baseball’s Pandora’s Box opened: The Mitchell Report.
“The Mitchell Report” (named after Senator George Mitchell, the man baseball commissioner Bud Selig asked to conduct the investigation), was a 400 plus page document listing the names of players who had been identified as users of performance enhancing drugs (Mitchell). Now another variable was thrown into the Hall of Fame equation. Should players listed in the report be admitted? If so, should their names have asterisks by them? The answer is clear. Because the players whose achievements would otherwise qualify them for admittance into the Hall of Fame were mentioned in the Mitchell Report, they should not be let into the Hall of Fame.
The idea of placing asterisks by the names of players mentioned in the Mitchell Report who were elected into the Hall of Fame is ludicrous. The article “Accused Steroid Users Aren’t Worthy Of Hall” states, “…There should be no asterisks, either. The record book would become a joke if that were the case” (Demarco). The last thing the Hall of Fame and baseball need is to look like a joke. Asterisks would make record books too cluttered and inexact. Frequent debates would occur regarding what names and records should or should not be marked, and the inclusion of tainted players would cloud the legitimacy of other players’ accomplishments and the Hall of Fame itself. The easiest solution would be to ban Mitchell Report listed players completely from the Hall of Fame.
It is important to understand how players are elected to the Hall of Fame. They are voted in by the Baseball Writers’ Association. The Hall of Fame’s official site states that “only active and honorary members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, who have been active baseball writers for at least ten (10) years, shall be eligible to vote. They must have been active as baseball writers and members of the Association for a period beginning at least ten (10) years prior to the date of election in which they are voting” (BBWWA). Fans can release their breaths in relief because the people voting players into the Hall of Fame are well versed regarding the game and will ensure that no undeserving player will be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Players’ eligibility is governed by stringent requirements as well.
In order to be eligible for the Hall of Fame, a player must have played for ten full years (BBWWA) and, according to rule five, the vote must be based on a “player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played” (BBWWA) . Based on rule five, players mentioned in the Mitchell Report should not be allowed into the Hall of Fame because they violated the sportsmanship and character clauses. They cheated by using performance enhancing drugs and do not deserve a commendation for their cheating.
Accusations of cheating are not limited to the use of performance enhancing drugs. Some players such as Hall of Fame pitchers Whitey Ford, Don Sutton, and Gaylord Perry, have been accused of putting mud on balls before throwing them, scuffing balls with dirt or even wedding rings, and throwing spit balls (Greer). First, all of these accusations are unconfirmed, and they do not have a federal document backing them up. Second, even if there is some truth to these accusations, these acts by themselves would not bring a pitcher’s statistics to the level of Hall of Fame admission. Only an excellent pitcher can be voted into the Hall of Fame.
The writers have consistently kept the most well known cheaters in baseball from the Hall of Fame, for example, the players involved in the Black Sox scandal in 1919 when the Chicago White Sox supposedly threw the World Series. They have also kept out players who violated the integrity and character aspects of rule 5, such as Pete Rose. Despite the fact that Rose is baseball’s all-time leader in hits, he should never be inducted because he gambled on games as a manager. In response to an internet article, a poster stated, “Shoeless Joe and the rest of the Black Sox died guilty and paid the price, and so should Pete” (Gfg7180). Pete Rose was one of baseball’s most fantastic players and if he has not been admitted to the Hall of Fame, neither should players mentioned in the Mitchell Report. Shoeless Joe Jackson was said to have thrown the World Series despite the fact he put up the best numbers of all of the players in the series. However, because he was accused of throwing the game, he was banned from baseball and lost any chance of being elected to the Hall of Fame. It is important for the Baseball Writers’ Association to maintain a consistent admission policy. Because the players listed in the Mitchell Report broke rule five in multiple, major ways, it should be easy to do so.
Many players have fought incredibly hard to prove their innocence, but if anyone needs more proof that the players used steroids, just consult their statistics. After 1997 at the age of 35, Roger Clemens arguably put up the best numbers of his career, keeping a Hall of Fame quality ERA, and producing incredible numbers in his 1997, 1998, 2001, and 2004 seasons when he won four of his seven Cy Young awards (Canseco 258-259). Any player who puts up statistics like that after his 35th birthday (an age at which most pitchers have already retired) has to be an incredible player, especially if he is a pitcher. Pitchers experience great wear and tear on their arms and often need to have surgery to rehabilitate and maintain velocity.
Another sign of steroid use is how a player’s appearance changes from the beginning of his career to later in his career. Barry Bonds is a perfect example. Despite the fact he was mentioned in the Mitchell Report numerous times, he claims to have never purposely taken steroids. An examination of his physical change over time seems to contradict Bonds’ claim. At the beginning of his career, Bonds was a wiry player, no where near as big as he was by the end of his career. A humorous claim has been made stating Bonds’ head grew in size due to his steroid use, but that is just a rumor that Bonds has attempted to dispel numerous times.
By not allowing steroid users into the Hall of Fame, Major League Baseball would send a message that the “steroid era” is at an end. Even Hank Aaron, baseball’s former homerun record holder said, “‘The game has come through things before. It needs to come through this. If there are a hundred and some names on the list, let’s just get them out and get this over with so we can get on with the game’” (Schultz). By constantly debating whether the players mentioned in the Mitchell Report should be admitted into the Hall of Fame, the issue of steroids will cloud baseball’s reputation. If said players were inducted into the Hall of Fame, it would send the message that Major League Baseball and the writers associated with it condoned steroid use, and that would affect all levels of baseball, especially the youth.
Young players could easily be persuaded to use steroids. Because they are young, they will think they are invincible and be unable to appreciate the consequences of their actions. What are potential risks of steroids when weighed against a chance to make huge amounts of money, gain fame and attention, and then be enshrined in baseball’s Elysian Fields? Failure to take a stand against the use of performance enhancing drugs would create a ripple effect throughout every level of baseball, from Little League through the Major Leagues.
Baseball authorities will continue to argue about which of these players should be let into the Hall of Fame because we have not reached the point at which all players mentioned in the Mitchell Report are eligible for the Hall of Fame ballot. The most we can do is to let the events unfold while we voice our opinions. The Hall of Fame is better off keeping these players out because letting them in would violate rule five of the voting procedure. Exclusion would emphasize the Hall of Fame’s consistency in rejecting major cheaters, and it would help Major League Baseball put its past behind it.
Ironically, I ended up bombing that algebra exam. Is there a correlation between the release of the Mitchell Report and my grade? Hard to say. Luckily, my love for baseball has returned over the years while others’ passion for the game has been forever stripped from them. In The Sandlot, Babe Ruth leaves Benny with the words, “Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.” Players mentioned in the Mitchell Report can be heroes to some, but because they cheated, they do not deserve to become legends by being enshrined in the baseball Hall of Fame.
"BBWAA Election Rules." National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, n.d. Web. 20 Feb 2011. <http://baseballhall.org/hall-famers/rules-election/bbwaa>.
Canseco, Jose. Vidicated Big names, Big Liars, And The Battle To Save Baseball. New York, NY: Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2998. 258-259. Print.
"Cy Young Award Winners." MLB.com. MLB, n.d. Web. 22 Feb 2011. <http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/awards/mlb_awards_content.jsp?content=cy_history>.
Demarco, Tony. "Accused Steroid Users Aren't Worthy of Hall." NBC Sports. NBC Sports, 17 Dec 2007. Web. 24 Feb 2011. <nbcsports.msnbc.com/id/22300191/>.
Gfg7180. "I do not care…." [Weblog comment.] 13 Sept 2010. Pete Rose Just Cried His Way Into Baseball Hall of Fame. Terence Moore. Fanhouse. 13 Sept 2010. (http://mlb.fanhouse.com/2010/09/13/pete-rose-just-cried-his-way-into-baseball-hall-of-fame/.) 21 Feb 2011.
Greer, Janelle. "baseball hall of fame voters should think twice before excluding steroid users from Cooperstown." Lehigh Valley Sports. N.p., 07 Jan. 2011. Web. 26 Jan 2011. <http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/sports/index.ssf/2011/01/baseball_hall_of_fame_voters_s.html>.
"Mitchell Report." The New York Times. 14 Dec. 2007.
Web. 24 Feb. 2011.
Schultz, Jeff. "Aaron wants past steroid users exposed, banned from Hall." Jeff-Schultz-Blog. Atlanta Journal Constitution, 26 July 2009. Web. 26 Jan 2011. <http://blogs.ajc.com/jeff-schultz-blog/2009/07/26/aaron-wants-past-steroid-users-exposed-banned-from-hall/>.