Today’s the big day, where the Baseball Writers of America get their moment to grandstand and play morality police, as they've promised us they would for the past 10 years. Today their Hall of Fame votes are made public, and we’ll see them keep Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, the PED poster boys, out of the Hall of Fame. Sure, they’ll also continue to keep Rafael Palmeiro, Jeff Bagwell, and Mark McGwire out, as they have the past couple of years. And Mike Piazza is a coin flip at this point, but Bonds and Clemens are the biggest fish in this pond. Perhaps the greatest hitter and greatest pitcher of all-time, who both also happen to be all-time jerks.
The voters, and many fans, will hide behind a joke called the “character clause.” A clause which allows voters to take someone’s character into account when deciding if their career warrants enshrinement in a museum that was designed to celebrate the best in the history of the game. But these players, “allegedly” used some drugs that the powers that be deemed illegal. Even though a doctor could prescribe them to a patient, if they so choose. Both Bonds and Clemens had their day in court, and neither was convicted of perjury, nor where they caught by Major League Baseball using anything illegal (at a time when baseball actually had rules stating it was illegal).
The truth is, this isn't about keeping the sport clean. Baseball has a long history of players taking amphetamines or caffeine pills, for a competitive edge. Cheating has long been celebrated in baseball, and made some players endearing to fans. Gaylord Perry, a Hall of Famer, even wrote a book entitled “Me and the Spitter.” So the writers are actually telling us that they’ll accept cheating, just degrees of cheating. I wonder if their wives know that.
What bothers me most isn't even the idea of voting for guys who put up legitimate number. Although there’s actually no way of knowing who did and didn't if Ben Johnson was taking steroids in 1984, why is it safe to assume that no one in baseball was? No, what aggravates me the most is the public and media singling out baseball and, oddly enough, cycling. If a NFL player gets caught, sure they get suspended for four games. That’s a healthy punishment, as its 25% of the season, but that’s the end of it. There’s no backlash. No one is asking for their awards to be stripped or their numbers to be marked with a Scarlet asterisk. Oh sure, after Shawne Merriman was caught, the NFL ended up passing a rule that prevents a player who fails a test, from making the Pro-Bowl in THAT SEASON. Meanwhile, since the “Steroid Era” began in baseball we've seen the following:
· Five running backs have topped 2,000 yards in a single season, only two before.
· Five quarterbacks have thrown for more than 5,000 yards in a single season, and it only happened once before.
· 13 receivers have tallied more than 1,600 yards in a season, only two did it before.
· Nine defenders have recorded 18.5 or more sacks in a season, and only seven did so before the mid 90’s.
Then there’s the fact that no one seems to even consider that NBA players may also take these drugs, but most will agree that the game is played by bigger, stronger and faster players. In a league where there are far fewer roster spots and the average NBA player earns over $5 million a season, compared to $3.4 in baseball and $1.9 in the NFL.
But no one cares about the other sports, simply because the individual statistics aren’t as valued as they are in baseball. The average fan might know who holds the record for most rushing yards in a season or assists in a career, but they don’t know what those numbers are. Whereas, even casual fans know what 61 represents in baseball. Baseball fans know who the last player to hit .400 was, or how many no hitters Nolan Ryan threw, or how many hits Pete Rose racked up.
It all drives me nuts, but nothing more than the “character clause.” Babe Ruth was known to be a womanizer and heavy drinker. Ty Cobb was a world renowned racist. Countless baseball players cheated on their wives. Eddie Murray was charged by the SEC with insider trading. “Character clause,” are you kidding me? If we’re going to consider character, then shut the door to the Hall of Fame and open up a Character Hall of Fame. I can promise you this much, if you selected from the general population, the Character Hall of Fame would have less members than Skull and Bones.
Lastly, those writers who want to ignore the accomplishments of the players they believe cheated, I wonder if they discount the income they received in covering those same accomplishments. Mike Lupica wrote a best-selling book, celebrating the home run chase between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire. I haven’t yet received an offer to refund my $20, since his book was aided by steroids. Now he gets to double dip, and earn a nice check while he vilifies the same players that he made money celebrating. All under the umbrella of a “character clause,” this has to be a joke, right?