PEDs Shouldn’t Matter When Evaluating Hall of Fame Candidates

There, I said it. Performance enhancing drugs, in my opinion, shouldn’t have an influence on how the writers select who they would like to enter the Hall of Fame. Accounting for what used PEDs when deliberating a ballot has so many “what ifs” and “maybes” that, in most cases at least, a writer can’t be 100% whether a player did or did not use PEDs. Also, what constitutes performance enhancing drugs? Is it just the substances on the banned substance list at the time of usage? Because if that’s the list you want to go off, McGwire’s Andro, the drug which infamously helped him hit 70 HR in 1998, wasn’t on the banned substances list when he took it. In the 1970s and 1980s when “greenies” (also known as amphetamines) were widely available in baseball and widely consumed by players, using amphetamines wasn’t against MLB rules. According to the LA Times, Willie Mays took amphetamines during his career, and Hank Aaron wrote in his book that he used greenies while he played. I’m not trying to equate amphetamines to anabolic steroids, but they are both performance enhancing drugs in one way or another, why don’t we treat them as such? If some players are taking amphetamines and some aren’t, don’t the ones who are have an unfair advantage over the ones that don’t?

The fact of the matter is that all players are going to want to get an upper hand whenever they can. The use of pine tar by pitchers on the mound is against MLB rules but that didn’t stop Yankees starter Michael Pineda from attempting to use the substance in 2014. After the Pineda incident, many pitchers (and hitters) weighed in about the use of pine tar, with many remarking that pine tar was (and still is) actively used by pitchers on the mound, those pitchers just don’t get caught. I’m fairly certain Pineda’s 10-game suspension didn’t scare off any pine tar users, and while I don’t have proof that pitchers still use pine tar to grip the ball, there’s no reason that another pitcher getting suspended would have stopped them from using it.

In 1994, slugger Albert Belle was found using a corked bat. It wasn’t a PED but he was trying to illegally get an upper hand.

There are still players trying to get an upper hand. There always have been. There always will be.

Again, I’m not saying corked bats, amphetamines and pine tar are equivalent to anabolic steroids, but they are all different forms of cheating. If the writers think that no cheater should make it to the Hall of Fame, then good luck ever voting for the Hall of Fame again. If a writer is insistent on never voting for a player who cheated in any form, they’re going to run into a lot of trouble, because how can you know who did and who didn’t? A negative test doesn’t prove someone’s innocence, but that doesn’t mean they did PEDs.

Drugs used by players to gain an unfair advantage will likely always be undetectable by the testing systems in place. And if they aren’t, someone will find a way to beat the system. My point isn’t that all ballplayers are terrible people, it’s just that there will always be cheaters in a competitive activity. There’s no way to prevent it. Human nature is to want to win, and if cheating can help players do that, as long as they don’t get caught, to them it often seems like a good plan. (Just to be clear here: not advocating for cheating in any way, shape or form).

This brings me to my main point: why are the writers the ones allowed to judge the fate of potential Hall of Famers who were caught taking steroids or some not even caught at all? Mike Piazza never failed a test but many believe that he used steroids just because he played in the steroid era. The same can be said for Jeff Bagwell, Ivan Rodriguez and Craig Biggio. Could they have taken steroids? Yes. Did they take steroids? We don’t know for sure, but players aren’t guilty of taking steroids because “everyone was doing it.” Jose Canseco claimed that 80% or more of players in the big leagues were juicing when he played. Many people, myself included, question Canseco’s credibility, and while he probably knows better than I do when it comes to steroid use in baseball, making outlandish claims sells books and gets publicity. Canseco’s claim probably isn’t entirely false, but I doubt the number was as high as 80%. With that said, just because players played in the steroid era doesn’t make them guilty of using steroids.

 

The previous paragraph probably caused less outrage than what I’m about to write: players who were caught using steroids or admitted to using should still get into the Hall. While crackpots like Canseco attribute their entire career to steroids, I don’t think Bonds, Sosa and McGwire used ‘roids their entire careers. It’s possible they did, but I doubt it. Regardless, McGwire and Sosa’s ridiculous home run race in 1998 saved baseball. Nobody wanted to watch the game and then out of nowhere, not one but two players are threatening the single-season home run record. As far as I’m concerned, McGwire and Sosa should have gotten in on their first ballot, but based on the trends of the voters, neither of these two will be able to get into the Hall thanks to the baseball writers. If McGwire and Sosa weren’t racing for the single-season homer record in ’98, baseball as we know it right now may not exist. And even though they did use anabolic steroids, the stuff they used wasn’t banned. It may sound ridiculous to say, but steroids didn’t ruin baseball, they helped. And whether you believe that or not is your choice, but the fact of the matter is that McGwire and Sosa (and Bonds and Mussina and Clemens, Schilling, and A-Rod, once he gets on the ballot) deserve to be in the Hall based on their career numbers, even when you contextualize their numbers in an era where offense, homers, and power were all inflated thanks to steroids.

(Image Credit: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images, Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images, Elsa/Getty Images)

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