[Click here for a link to the entire RP Debate on Roger Clemens]
Clemens was one of the 5 best pitchers of all time, AND he’s been vindicated through an extensive and painful court process. Whether or not the sportswriters agree with the jury’s verdict last week, that’s how our democracy works.
The tougher call– moral and practical — concerns whether others who have admitted, or have been suspected of, steroid use should be prohibited from entering the Hall of Fame.
I don’t believe that steroid use — and obviously then, suspicion thereof — PRIOR TO Major League Baseball’s crackdown on performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) should be a barrier to entry. This is a critical distinction. Players such as Manny Ramirez are an easy case — he continued to use PEDs long after Baseball announced stiffer penalties — despite his contribution to the Red Sox resurrection in 2004, he’s done. (Ryan Braun is a much tougher call, and not just because he’s my favorite Jewish player. I agreed with the decision to reverse his suspension based on technicality — again, that is how our system of due process works — but I’m hopeful that in the years to come, the issue will be clairified.)
Why do I make the distinction between PED use prior to Baseball crackdown and afterwards? I admit that it is a tight moral call. But to me, the parties who deserve the moral approbation for rampant steroid use are not the players themselves, but instead Major League Baseball and the Players’ Association who knew about the problem for years (perhaps decades) and took no meaningful steps until public shame became too unbearable. And their motives were strictly greed-related — the steroid fueled homerun chase of 1998 between Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa helped erase bad memories of recent strikes and made everyone too much money to ignore.
Not everybody took steroids, and I would love to be able to reward those that didn’t, but that’s not possible. But wth so many players taking, individual ballplayers had a very, very difficult choice to make. To be honest and clean could mean losing your job. And with Baseball winking its eye at the problem, it would be easy to rationalize PED use without too much moral agony.
The challenge is the unfairness to Hall of Famers prior to and after the Steroid Age. It would be unfair to clean players to have their statistics compared to the trafe.
Here’s my modest proposal. As Hall of Fame admission is a purely subjective decision, voters should simply make the following calculation: If a suspected or admitted PED using player had NOT used steroids, would he have qualified for the Hall of Fame? Under this standard, Clemens, Barry Bonds, and Alex Rodriguez are no-brain entries. McGuire and Sosa wouldn’t qualify. And there would be tough decisions on the folks in the middle.
Am I completely satisfied in my proposal? Of course not. I can’t stand the idea that we would reward this kind of cheating. But banishing folks for doing something that apparently nearly everyone else was doing is holding them to too high a moral standard.