The steroids epidemic that had polluted the game of baseball for nearly two decades is rearing its ugly head once again. Due to Major League Baseball’s initial reluctance to expeditiously address an issue of grave importance regarding performance enhancing substances, baseball writers have unwillingly become a moral compass for the sport while also protecting the integrity of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Instead of evaluating the meritorious careers of the candidates on the ballot by thoroughly studying their statistical achievements and contributions, the Baseball Writers Association of America is now wrestling with the moral conundrum of sifting through a laundry list of confirmed, accused or rumored cheaters by using the subjective criteria of sportsmanship, integrity and character.
Of the 37 candidates on the 2013 ballot, four appear in the Mitchell Report for either possible or confirmed performance enhancing substance abuse while another four have been constantly dogged by suspicions and unproven allegations. The eight candidates in question have all accumulated prolific statistics and distinctions of honor that would have made enshrinement in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown a mere formality under normal circumstances. However, men and women who have spent their professional careers covering the game are now required to become bastions of integrity to determine whose accomplishments were either genuine or artificial. As the natural abilities versus pharmaceutical enhancements argument divide the voters, another dilemma has regrettably caused differences of opinion amongst the baseball writers as well.
Traditionally, baseball writers have been unfairly accused of using their Hall of Fame ballots as a means of inflicting retribution on ball players that were mercurial, cantankerous or even downright mean-spirited towards them. They have also faced criticism for using their ballots as a way of depriving worthy ball players from achieving baseball’s version of immortality in their first year of eligibility (Roberto Alomar). During this current period of ambiguity, it’s not fair to criticize a single baseball writer for either casting a ballot that includes cheaters or for not casting a ballot at all. The baseball writers themselves are struggling with the idea as to whether or not they are qualified to judge any of the candidates based on sportsmanship, integrity and character due to the open interpretation of the rules.
A custom that has grown in popularity throughout the years has been the baseball writers sharing their ballots with the general public in the days leading up to the formal announcement. Usually, readers could clearly see how the voting will eventually turn out. However, the unpredictability of this year’s ballot doesn’t provide anyone with clarity or assurance. With nearly 600 voters set to determine the fates of approximately three dozen candidates, the early impressions to date identify significant philosophical differences amongst the baseball writers. In particular, voters such as Murray Chass and T.J. Quinn have eloquently explained their unique positions regarding this year’s ballot and their reluctance to participate in future Hall of Fame elections.
As Commissioner Selig once said, “Baseball is a social institution with enormous social responsibilities.” In theory, the Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball is the guardian and protector of the sport’s integrity. Performance enhancing substances have not only soiled the sanctity of the game for an entire generation, but it has also greatly diminished the romanticism that has accompanied noteworthy baseball milestones. By not banishing ball players connected to performance enhancing substances to the permanently ineligible list or affixing an asterisk next to historical achievements that have clearly been compromised, Major League Baseball has given its seal of approval to a collection of fraudulent ball players. Even with the pronounced indiscretions permanently staining the fabric of America’s National Pastime, the deceitful ball players are still eligible to receive the greatest honor that can ever be bestowed upon a professional athlete. Major League Baseball and it entities has theoretically distanced themselves from the voting process and has unfairly left the Baseball Writers Association of America to determine whether or not these dishonest individuals should be punished for their egregious acts by denying them entrance into the Hall of Fame.
Unfortunately, we cannot close our eyes and pretend the “Steroids Era” never existed in baseball. It has left an indelible mark on the game and is forever a part of baseball’s storied history. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum to chronicle and educate its visitors on a generation that included ball players that had succumbed to the temptations of performance enhancing substances. However, this dark aspect in the game’s history should be relegated to the top two floors of the museum and the library.
As purists will bicker about the tainted record books and sullied artifacts, the hallowed plaque gallery must remain pristine in nature and in purpose. Any infiltration by a ball player that had used performance enhancing substances would immediately compromise the reverence that has emanated from the gallery since its doors had opened in 1939. The repercussions could be severe and quite costly. Besides a potential decline in attendance at the museum and a negative effect on tourism in Cooperstown, a boycott by several Hall of Famers during Induction Weekend could spell doom for a beloved summer tradition and an American institution.