The Hall of Fame Debate: Steroids and hGH in Baseball
What will happen when players like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, and Sammy Sosa become eligible for the Hall of Fame? The Baseball Writers Association of America, who elect the members of the Hall, are questioning the achievements of Steroid Era players and their place in history. In the case of Barry Bonds, not only does it appear that he used steroids and other drugs to inflate his statistics, but years of lying about it to Major League Baseball, the fans, and the U.S. government have taken the damage to a new level. Most writers agree that Bonds would have made the Hall of Fame had he never done steroids; his statistics prior to the 2000 season merit an invitation.
But the fact is he manipulated the natural fabric of the game of baseball. His physical transformation and subsequent hitting feats compromised the integrity of who won and lost baseball games. This is the ultimate sin in baseball, just ask Pete Rose or Joe Jackson. The treatment that Bonds was given by pitchers from 2001-2004 was unprecedented. Being intentionally walked with no one on base and slugging .863, with very little protection, has a profound impact on wins and losses. What’s even more troubling is that Bonds has altered the record books, now holding some of baseball’s most beloved records.
What Barry Bonds did had a greater effect on the perception of baseball, the standings, and the records, than anyone and in a class only with Babe Ruth. There is so much evidence now about how helpful and powerful steroid use can be if done properly. Barry Bonds was privy to the best technology and knowledge about steroids, through his trainer Greg Anderson and subsequently BALCO. He transformed himself, in his late thirties, and became arguably the greatest baseball player ever (statistically).
One could argue that steroid use was so wide-spread during Bonds’ use that his use had only a minimal affect on it’s own. But that’s like saying that Joe Jackson shouldn’t be banned because they didn’t catch everyone involved in the conspiracy to throw the world series. Jackson’s and Rose’s penalties were permanent partly because they were stars, and had such a large influence on the perception of the game as well as the wins and losses. One could soundly argue that Bonds’ influence was even larger.
There is precedent set for players who deserve to be in the Hall of Fame but are barred for their behavior, again see Rose and Jackson. Major league baseball cites the integrity of the game when dealing with such matters. If MLB does not act, it will be due to the guilt associated with their complacencey during the era, not to mention the legal ramifications it would incite. If they don’t act unilaterally once all this is resolved, it will be up to the BBWAA to do what’s right. We can’t erase what happened in the last 15 years, but I trust the writers will demonstrate due diligence and make the right decision whichever way that is.