Guest Post: Hall of Blame

Here's an excellent essay by one of my friends about this year's Baseball Hall of Fame controversy in which no inductees were selected from the so-called "steroid era." You can also read my own essay on the topic from a while back by clicking here.
Hall of Blame
by Vincent Forgione

In 1996, a friend of mine, impressed by the power numbers of Mark McGwire, commented that McGwire was known to have taken a substance known as “andro," ostensibly to heal his lower back. According to my friend, “andro” was neither a banned substance, nor considered a steroid. However, he continued, it was also known to mask the presence of HGH – Human Growth Hormone.

In 1996, before we could “count to seventy,” before it made sense to intentionally walk a certain player with the bases loaded, before The Mitchell Report, I knew what Mark McGwire (and others) were doing. And if I did, a twenty-something non-athlete living in Weehawken, NJ, then so did MLB executives, managers, coaches, players, sportswriters, broadcasters, and yes, the fans.

As a Yankee fan in the Nineties, I lived in fear of a non-Yankee breaking Roger Maris’ mark of 61 homeruns, or joining the 60+ club, which only included Maris and Babe Ruth. And why would this be so prominent in my mind? Because, inevitably, every April a power hitter would go on a tear and his projected full season totals were splashed across the headlines.

“At this rate, Eric Davis is on a pace to hit sixty-five homeruns by October!” Remember him? And Ken Griffey Jr. and Cecil Fielder? The homerun title was the holy grail of baseball records, and the game was consumed by the prospect of witnessing its pursuit and ultimate capture. Ballparks shrunk and players grew. And we all knew what was going on. We say we suspected…but we knew.

We also knew that the day would come when these players would be eligible for the Hall of Fame. And it is now upon us, and the question is: do we reward these so-called “cheaters” with enshrinement into the hallowed halls of baseball’s past.

This is not the Black Sox scandal when a group of players decided to throw a World Series. Management and media did not look the other way at gambling scandals with a wink and a nod. In the steroid era, there was implicit approval throughout the game by those who ran it, those who played it, those who covered it, and those who watched it.

Consider this: if Reggie Jackson, the premiere homerun hitter of his time, woke up one morning to find Graig Nettles far surpassing him in homerun totals, and all he saw Nettles receive was cheers and more money, would it be unreasonable for Reggie to do something about it to protect his own legacy?
Craig Carton on WFAN in New York posed this question the morning after the voting results were released, “If you were given the choice of making fifty million dollars and not making the Hall of Fame, or of making ten million dollars and getting into the Hall of Fame, what would you choose?”

While I agree with his point, I don’t think this is the choice the players were presented. With no evidence of disapproval from baseball’s executive level, players ran the risk of making less money than those who used, and not making the Hall of Fame because they didn’t keep up. Who’s to say whether Clemens’ decline in the mid-Nineties was a result of diminishing skills or of having to face hitters of unnaturally increasing size and strength. Can we truly blame players for protecting their own stature in the game?

If we are going to subtract from the achievements of the suspected steroid users, then why are we not adding to the achievements of those we don’t suspect used – like Bernie Williams? Shouldn’t we consider where he would have been if he had competed on a level field? Why do we give the benefit of the doubt to managers and general managers who say they didn’t know players were injecting despite common sense that says they must have known, yet we don’t give the benefit of the doubt to a player like Clemens who contends he never used steroids? Should we consider Joe Torre complicit and shut him out of the Hall as a manager?

There is no way to unravel this mess. All players, both those who chose to use and those who did not, were presented with an unfair dilemma. They should not be judged based upon the baseball climate of 2013. The context was different in the Nineties. Sportswriters need to step down from the pulpit and stop pretending they are like innocent schoolkids finding out that Superman isn’t real. The Mitchell Report was not a surprise.

There is no way to measure if and to what extent the numbers are skewed. There are those we suspect used who didn’t, and those we do not suspect used who did. Banning players from the Hall of Fame will not erase the stain. It’s time to realize that everyone involved in the game at the time was culpable and Hall of Fame voters now have the responsibility to sift through the mess and evaluate a player based upon the whole picture. No blanket rules should apply. It is unfair to the players from that era and the fans who watched them to take the easy way out.
Some thought-provoking comments there.  What do you think?  Imagine if someone like my hero Don Mattingly, whose career ended because of a back injury, had decided to use performance enhancing drugs to extend his baseball playing time and help his recovery to last a few more years.  He might have been part of the Yankee dynasty that followed right after he left and he might be considered a Hall of Fame contender instead of just a great player of his time.  But since he didn't, since his statistics weren't artificially padded, and since he doesn't have any championship rings, he is left out of the great Hall of Fame. It makes you wonder.