The “Steroid” Ballot
On 9 January, 2013, the Baseball Writers Association of America, or BBWAA, releases the results of the 2013 Hall of Fame voting. I’m going to assume since you’re reading my blog, you’ve got a decent grasp of what that really means. Overall there’s a long drawn out process overshadowing the whole thing, so just in case here are some basics too get you up to speed:
- In order to vote for the Hall of Fame, you need to be a BBWAA member for at least 10 years.
- This year’s ballot features players from 1993 and later, but also not after 2007.
- This year’s ballot features 37 players.
- If a player receives <5% of the vote, they are not featured on the ballot the next year, players receiving 75% or more of the vote are inducted into the Hall.
- Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro are on this year’s ballot, which is gaining notoriety for being “the steroid ballot”.
Long story short, this is going to be a tough ballot, probably one of the most scrutinized in history, no matter which direction it goes. Why? Because as baseball fans, we still haven’t figured out how to memorialize the “steroid era”. Do we celebrate it? Do we shun the players? Do we forget it? Do we chalk it up to “not cheating is not trying”? The debate on how to handle steroid users and the Hall of Fame is as hotly contested in baseball circles as the Fiscal Cliff is in Washington, DC (Wait, never mind. Those guys don’t do anything.)
Before we go any further, I’d like to say that this is MY blog. This is how I feel. This is how I would vote, and how I think the game should be conducted. If you disagree with me, don’t just tell me, tell me WHY. Articulate your thoughts and arguments. Keep in mind this is written from a fan’s perspective. It is important to understand that I do buy into some former player’s analysis that nearly “everyone” was juicing. I believe it, and it’s part of who I am as a baseball fan and plays out in my decision making process. Yes, I do make some assumptions, but in life you have to make some assumptions to get anywhere.
But I digress. I recently read an article by Tom Haudricourt, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s baseball writer, BBWAA member, and Hall of Fame voter. He explains in his article that when he saw the names of four of baseball’s most scrutinized, suspected performance enhancers,
“Remembering the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ foundation upon which our nation’s legal system is based, [he voted for] all four names.”
Which names were they? Bonds, Clemens, Sosa and Piazza. This specific quote incensed me. Here’s where I begin the rant.
The Baseball Hall of Fame is our place, as baseball fanatics, to exalt what we are most proud of, the players who displayed excellence on, off the field and everywhere in between. But, let’s get real here. These guys play a game for a living. They, in reality, are just performers, purporting our chosen outlet of relaxation and consumption.
What do I mean by that? Baseball is ours. Fans might not be making the billions of dollars that MLB incorporated does, but that doesn’t make MLB, Inc. the owners. Without us, professional baseball is nothing. There is no need for people to play baseball professionally; there is no need for vast spring training complexes or sprawling big league stadiums. Baseball is the fans. The Hall of Fame is the fan’s. The writers don’t work for newspapers, they work for us. The players don’t play for owners, they play for us. Long story short, baseball is for the fans, and the fans should be the driving factor behind all pertinent decisions. I’m not exactly advocating an all-fan vote for the Hall of Fame, which would probably be a miserable failure. But, what I am suggesting is that the Hall of Fame, while deciding the criteria may be tough and voting not easy, doesn’t belong to the BBWAA or baseball… It belongs to the fans, and the fan’s sentiment of the period should be reflected in commemorating the era’s greatest.
The baseball Hall of Fame is not a jail, its voters not judge nor jury, and its final tallies not the proverbial gallows. To espouse an “innocent until proven guilty” mantra when debating the admissibility of performance enhancers is erroneous. I say again, they play a game. I love baseball very much, more than most things, but, it’s a game. To say that someone is entitled to immortalization in the Hall of Fame is outlandish. Baseball players are indeed entitled to many things, their paychecks, freedom of speech, and the constitution in general. Under close examination and research, it was found that enshrinement in the Hall of Fame is not, I repeat, not, included as a guaranteed inalienable right.
I feel that the Hall of Fame is a place for the fans to display the players, games and memorabilia we cherish most. The Hall of Fame is our chance, as baseball fans in 2013, to say to future generations, decades from now “these were our best. These are the men and women we are most proud of. This is who we were, as baseball fans. Model yourselves after these people. This was greatness.”
Some day when we’re all stale and shriveled up, walking with a cane taking our grandchildren on a proverbial walk down baseball memory lane, do you want to look at a generation of cheaters, motivated largely by money disregarding safety, risking their lives and say “those were our heroes”? Would you be proud if every team was made up of 25 Barry Bonds? If each game was the San Francisco Bonds versus the Chicago Sosas, would you be happy to watch that as a true baseball fan?
Detractors like to counter this argument with questioning current members of the hall of fame. Baseball players have been cheating for as long as there has been baseball, they say. While this is true, it is the nature of the beast! In baseball’s infancy, the game lacked identity. Anything went. Spitballs, emery balls, beanballs, hard slides, doctored baseballs; the list goes on and on. In baseball’s early years, we were still figuring out what exactly it was. Towards the beginning, it really was just about the love of the game, playing hard and winning. They weren’t set for life for simply playing baseball. They cheated because it was part of playing your hardest. Today, players are motivated to cheat largely for the money. Then, baseball was played in back lots, muddy fields by hard working men playing because they loved the sport. It was part of the culture. To sum this up, I like to think of “baseball” as a person. When someone is a child, you don’t prosecute them for breaking a law. They don’t know any better. Children don’t know. However, when someone is an adult and break a law, they’re often prosecuted to the fullest extent the law provides. They knew better. Back when baseball players cheated left and right, doctoring the ball, fixing the game, etc., they didn’t know any better. Baseball was an identity-less entity. Today when baseball player cheat, they know better. We know what baseball is, and what we want it to be. As members of 21st century America, the dangers of steroids and the petulance of greed and poor moral character are supposed to be things we know to avoid with fervor.
While excluding players from the Hall in baseball’s early years would doom them to anonymity, today things are different. Keeping players like Bonds, McGwire, Sosa and company out of the Hall of Fame will not sentence their memory to death. We live in a digital age, video footage, pictures and media will live forever. They will not be forgotten. Let their memory live on, in the exact way we see them today; great enough to be remembered, but excluded because of suspicion and dirty deeds.
I know who I am as a baseball fan. I know who I am as an American. I know how I want the game I love to be remembered. It deserves better.
Keep the Hall clean.