|Credit: National Baseball Hall of Fame
Nothing seems to get baseball fans, especially those who focus on the history of the game, more invigorated in disagreement than the annual Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) vote for recently retired players eligible for the greatest honor in the sport, induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. And over the past 10+ years, there has been no more polarizing an issue than how to handle players who were known to have used Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs, a.k.a. steroids) during the 1990s and early 2000s until testing began in earnest in 2002. The debate has probably reached its crescendo, as two of the most famous (or infamous depending on how you look at it) PED users enter their 10th and final year of eligibility on the BBWAA ballot.
|Iconic facade of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
The two players of debate are, of course, Barry Bonds, the all-time and single season home run king, and Roger Clemens, who won a record seven Cy Young awards and sits third on the All-Time Strikeout list (trailing only Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson). Both have been on the ballot for nine full years, the last three voting results sitting stagnantly at between 59% and 62% of the writers' votes well short of the 75% needed for induction and no meaningful indication of increasing.
In addition to the final stand for Bonds and Clemens, two interesting cases in their first year of eligibility are Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz. The former was once suspended for an entire year for PED violations, the latter never suspended but admitted to a positive test prior to enforcement with suspension. How will voters who omit Bonds and Clemens from their ballots treat A-Rod and Big Papi?
The NBHOF has provided no guidance in terms of how they expect voters to handle the PED complexity specifically, which shouldn't be a surprise. But this stance draws the ire of BBWAA voters who want to do the right thing but aren't sure what the right thing is. The complex nature of PEDs with relation to a vote for induction brings about polarizing opinions that will be explored below.
This Blog is not intended to pick a side or draw a conclusion. There's no perfect answer and arguments can and are being made on both sides. I seek to clarify people's thoughts and hope to get respect for opinions other than your own.
Before we delve into the logic behind voting for, or withholding a vote for, a player who either tested positive for PEDs or is beyond a reasonable doubt to have used PEDs, there are some clarifications about the Hall of Fame and its voting that should be introduced for context.
Clarification #1) Major League Baseball does not own/or operate the NBHOF.
Major League Baseball has no official authority over the National Baseball Hall of Fame, which is a non-profit (unlike MLB) governed by a Board of Directors (of which MLB has no oversight or input). It is worth noting that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred is on the Board but not in a Chair role. So, the NBHOF operates independent of MLB and has its own authority to decide on how it governs itself regardless of what MLB desires or wants. MLB certainly has influence and an overwhelmingly collaborative relationship, note that it is the NBHOF that does not allow individuals banned from baseball (including the deceased) to be inducted, not a decision that MLB imposed.
Clarification #2) The NBHOF (and its museum) ignores the PED issue altogether
A good chance to note the separation of the entities of the NBHOF and its museum. The NBHOF is the community of players inducted by various means (not the least of which is vote of the BBWAA) which are celebrated by plaques in the Hall of Fame Gallery of the museum. The museum proper is the co-located space spanning multiple floors celebrating the achievements of the sport, including countless items of memorabilia, various media (photos, jerseys, gloves, hats, videos, narratives, statues) that provide fans context to the history of the game dating back to the Mid 19th Century. It would be highly unlikely that at any time a reference to PEDs would be included on a plaque of an inducted member. However, the Museum contains a display case in its history showing the controversy, with numerous artifacts and items as a lesson to fans of what took place, who the characters were, and how it played out.
|NBHOF display telling the story of PEDs
|Barry Bonds Home Run #756 on Display with historic Clemens strikeout memorabilia in the background
Clarification #3) By not inducting PED users, the full story of baseball is not presented in the museum
The NBHOF museum shows all the great players, moments, records, regardless of whether plaques are included in the gallery. It would make no sense to only show things by those inducted. In fact, Pete Rose has a very prominent place in the museum with jerseys, videos, etc. showing his all-time hit record. The hit king is in the Hall of Fame. Museum. No, his plaque is not in the gallery because of other reasons. But he is not ignored.
|Pete Rose full display of hit record
|Barry Bonds HR record celebrated
Clarification #4) The BBWAA voting members are at fault for keeping PED players out
A majority of BBWAA voters are checking the box FOR Bonds and Clemens. There isn't some big conspiracy that the writers don't want them in. Most of them do. However, 75% is a difficult threshold under these circumstances. As will be discussed below, there are rational reasons to exclude known PED users (however you determine what defines "known"). A reaction from fans is recently "I hate the writers". No, you hate 40% of the writers, not most writers.
Clarification #5) The NBHOF provides no guidance whatsoever to BBWAA voters
I mentioned above that the NBHOF is silent on the PED issue, which is true. However, there are rules provided which, like any legalese, can be interpreted by the end user (but in this case, not challenged in court). This is what opens up differing opinions. Specifically, rule #5 which cites an integrity clause is overwhelmingly cited as contentious.
5. Voting: Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.
Bluntly, "Integrity, Sportsmanship, and Character" come into question on the issue and are left to the eye of the beholder.