How Should We Handle the Steroid Era in the Hall of Fame?

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Updated: December 18, 2016

There has been much debate, judgement, hand-wringing, finger-wagging, and choice words over this subject. How do steroid era players fit in the Hall? How should we handle some of the greatest hitters the game has ever seen historically? Are these PED users cheaters, worthy of scorn and contempt?

Do they deserve to be wiped from the record books all together, hopefully forgotten as the years go by? Is suspicion alone enough for us to write them off completely? The current voters have already made their stance clear; if you’re a big, muscular guy who played during the steroid era, you’re going to have a tough time getting in.

Case in point – Jeff Bagwell. By all accounts, one of the five best all around first baseman in the history of the game, continuously snubbed because of the era he played in, even though he never once has been linked to any type of PED use. So how do we look at this era? How do we sift through each player and decide who is worthy and who is not, who is a clean player deserving of enshrinement and who is a dirty cheater who deserves to be forgotten? The short answer?

We don’t. We judge all players based on their own merit, in the context of the time they played in. Each of these players put up historic numbers, and are deserving of Hall consideration. Here’s how the greatest players of this era should be judged:

1.) Judge them on their own merits – There are many reasons why a player would use performance enhancing drugs; to recover from an injury quickly, to boost strength training, or to improve focus. As far as on-field talent, however, no PED is going to raise your skill level to the point these players were at. These players had more natural talent and skill than anyone else. Any way you slice it, Barry Bonds is one of the greatest hitters of all time. Roger Clemens is one of the greatest pitchers of all time. Rafael Palmeiro, Manny Ramirez, and Ivan Rodriguez were great all-around hitters.

Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa are two of the most prodigious sluggers the game has ever seen. No amount of muscle mass or strength is going to give you the batting eye, bat control, and pitch recognition like Bonds had, or allow you to spin a curveball the way Clemens could. The fact is, these players did benefit somewhat from PED use, but they amassed these numbers regardless of steroid use, against other players allegedly using PED’s. Which gets us to the next point…

2.) Judge them in the context of the era – If all accusations and suspicions are true, then most of the players playing during this time were using PED’s. Considering that the advantage these players allegedly had may not have been an advantage at all, then it would make these numbers even more impressive. Also considering that PED’s were not illegal or even banned, and that everyone, including coaches, owners, and the commissioner were aware of what was going on, and it seems unfair to judge them in an era where these things were allowed, encouraged, and used en masse.

Every era had something similar that could be held against them; Babe Ruth did not play against the best players due to segregation, Hank Aaron played in an era where amphetamine use was rampant, Sandy Koufax played in an era of suppressed offense and a raised mound. None of those players are judged harshly due to advantages, perceived or not. These players put up these numbers in an era where a lot of people were juicing, and still put up better numbers than anyone in their day, and deserve to be judged thusly.

3.) The bottom line – None of these guys have done themselves any favor in the way they’ve handled these situations, lying and denying and overall just not being very likable. That fact has hurt them just as much as the alleged PED use, and makes it much easier to write them off as cheaters.

It does a great disservice to the game, both to the era a lot of us grew up in and historically, however, to do that. Some of the best hitters the game has ever seen played during this time, and regardless of whether you think they cheated or did something immoral, they did not break any clear-cut rules, like Pete Rose did, and deserve to have their greatness recognized.

A lot of us grew up watching baseball during this era and a lot of others returned to the game for the excitement, and no one, inside the game or outside the game, was complaining at the time. The truth is, voters have been extremely inconsistent here – how do you judge players like Bagwell, Frank Thomas, Carlos Delgado, and Mike Piazza differently on sliding scales? Especially Bagwell and Thomas, who put up similar numbers. How do you separate them and judge them differently?

There is no clear cut standard, and the best thing for the game, historically and otherwise, is to judge each player on their own merits without considering any alleged advantage, or unlikable personality. Judged solely on what they did on the field, there’s no doubt these players deserve enshrinement.

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