Are Any Steroid-Era Players Worthy Of The Hall Of Fame?
When Roger Clemens received acquittals on all counts of perjury and obstruction of justice in his steroid trial/witch hunt last week, many shocked observers began to discuss the possibility that Clemens might eventually qualify for induction into the Hall of Fame. Prior to that clearance, Clemens faced the same unofficial ban levied against other steroid-era players like Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire. Now, it appears that a possibility exists that some (or all) of these players might find themselves enshrined with other notable cheaters of the past.
Do any of these players deserve consideration in light of Clemens’ acquittal? And by what standard should they be judged?
One of the most difficult problems with judging the HOF-worthiness of any steroid-era player is the fact that, in most cases, we don’t know when they started using the performance-enhancing drug. If one believes the Barry Bonds myth that he only started using steroids after the 1998 home run chase, then that means his previous accomplishments (three MVP awards, several seasons of 30-50 home runs, eight All Star appearances) are “clean” and worthy of consideration.
Mark McGwire admitted to steroid use, but he never detailed WHEN he started using them. This makes a difference given McGwire’s extraordinary size even as a rookie, when he hit an astonishing 49 home runs in 1987. Was he taking them from the beginning, or did he eventually take them to maintain his initial power? How much of McGwire’s career can be considered “clean?”
This question is important because I believe that Clemens deserves a Hall of Fame nomination based on a large portion of his career statistics that are probably “clean.” Clemens was crafting a first-ballot Hall of Fame career prior to his alleged use of steroids. He was probably the most dominant pitcher of his era, compiling a record of 163-86 with an ERA of 2.94 before his age 30 season. He was headed to the Hall without steroids. Like McGwire, the only remaining question is WHEN did he start taking the drugs?
I really have no problem inducting certain steroid-era players into the Hall of Fame. It was an important moment in the sport, one that future generations of baseball fans should remember and discuss. However, I’d like to see some standard set up for the consideration of these players.
Here are my personal guidelines for Hall of Fame consideration:
1. Are the players’ overall statistics worthy of the Hall? This is obvious, and a benchmark that I believe Bonds, McGwire, and Clemens pass easily. One could make an argument that Rafael Palmeiro’s career is Hall-worthy, but I think his statistics too-easily reflect steroid use rather than actual talent. The same goes for Sammy Sosa, who would’ve been an insignificant and forgotten player without the drugs.
2. Can we establish when the player started using steroids? With Palmeiro, it’s fairly easy (around 1995). Same with Bonds (probably early nineties). We can guess that Sosa probably started around 1993. As I said, I suspect that McGwire was using steroids from the beginning. Clemens is a much more difficult case, but I would guess that he used them only in the latter part of his career (let’s say after 1996). None of these players have described their steroid usage, so this would be an educated guess on the part of the baseball writers.
3. Has the player admitted to steroid use? This is, to me, the gold standard. How can one not be moved by McGwire’s embarrassed and humiliated admission of steroid use prior to the 2010 season? Jason Giambi not only admitted to using steroids, but then continued to play and put up some impressive “clean” numbers afterwards. These men owned up to their mistakes, a noble and very human action that proudly represents the sport.
4. Has the player continued to support or advance the game? Players like Bonds, Sosa, Palmeiro, and Clemens disappeared following their retirement/ouster from the game. It is clear by their actions that they do not care about the game more than their own egos. On the other hand, McGwire has shown a love of the sport by returning to coach the St. Louis Cardinals. Same with Giambi, who braved condemnation from fans in order to keep playing.
Several Hall of Famers have come out publicly in the wake of Clemens’ acquittal to denounce his candidacy, including Goose Gossage. It’s clear (and the cream) that enshrined members of the Hall do not want their own legacies tarnished by the induction of steroid-tainted players. It’s understandable. I wouldn’t want to do things the right way and stand on the same pedestal with someone who didn’t.
While there still seems to be quite a bit of resentment toward the players accused of taking steroids, we need to remember that these players are not banned like Shoeless Joe Jackson or Pete Rose. Much of the cheating happened at a time when there was no official ban on the substance in the game.
The outcry against some of these players seems particularly ludicrous considering that Hall of Famers like Mike Schmidt and Willie Stargell admitted to using amphetamines during their career. Willie Mays used a powerful liquid amphetamine called “the red juice” when he played – should he be removed from the Hall as well?
Despite the remaining controversy around their accomplishments, the steroid-era players still provided the game with some of its most iconic moments. Their deeds – as well as their very-human failings – deserve to be preserved in the Hall in some form. Barring them from the Hall seems hypocritical considering all of the spitballers, sign-stealers, pine tar users, and amphetamine junkies currently enshrined there.
If done carefully and respectfully, the Hall of Fame can honor these fallen heroes and still maintain its integrity, too.