Today Joe Morgan went on record imploring the Hall of Fame not enshrine steroid users. Yet again, the smoldering debate whether “cheaters” like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens belong in the Hall of Fame is rekindled. I expect the discussion will, once again, soon expand to include Pete Rose and his exclusion. The debates center on whether the Hall of Fame the moral authority to deny their induction. I think that is the wrong question. I support excluding Bonds, Clemens, and Rose, but for rather different reasons than Joe Morgan.
Cap Anson, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, and Bud Selig are all enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Cap Anson was the player manager of the Chicago White Stockings (forerunner to the Cubs) and the biggest star of the 1870’s. He was also an unapologetic racist. His public refusal to play against blacks led the owners of the National League to a gentleman’s agreement, in 1887, to never sign any black players. Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the first commissioner of baseball took no steps to integrate baseball and is thought to have actively ensured baseball remained segregated until his death in 1944. Bud Selig not only presided as commissioner over the steriod era, but also owned the Milwaukee Brewers during the 1980s. He colluded with his fellow owners to circumvent free agency from 1985-87. If the Hall of Fame was willing to overlook these crimes, why should Bonds, Clemens, and Rose be excluded? The selection committees of the Hall of Fame seem selectively judgmental.
For this reason, I do not support the Hall’s moral authority to keep Bonds, Clemens, and Rose out of the hall. I do not approve of pretending history did not happened. Barry Bonds was the best player of the steroid era. He was the best before he juiced and remained the best after. Nor do I think keeping steroid users out will prevent others from juicing in the future. There is too much money at stake. Athletes will use any means necessary to make the major leagues, and the riches it provides. Clean players will suffer, as they are passed by cheaters. Only rigorous drug testing, full cooperation from the players union acting to protect the health of its members, and a culture that encourages clean players and managers to out cheaters without retribution or shame will keep drugs out of baseball. (Also, one day science will invent a performance enhancing drug that has no adverse health effects, and all sports will finally be forced to decide whether drug use is wrong for health reasons or moral reasons.) Meanwhile, gambling ceased being a concern to baseball the moment ownership finally starting sharing the wealth with players. The 1919 “Black Sox” players were offered 2-4 times their annual salaries to throw the World Series. Small wonder they accepted. Today, in the era of $25,000,000 salaries, the notion that any gambler could entice a professional player to throw a game is absurd.
Yet in spite of these reasons, I continue to support keeping Bonds, Clemens, and Rose out. Why? Because the discussions started by their exclusion provide valuable education to fans everywhere. Articles about the controversy lead to fans learning more about baseball history, including topics like baseball’s history of race relations and labor disputes. (For those who would like to learn more on these topics, I highly recommend the Ken Burn’s documentary “Baseball.”) Discussions about steroid use lead to new ideas and suggestions for keeping baseball clean. Also, these articles educate America about the health dangers of steroid use far better than any PSA ever could. Excluding a few players from an arbitrary “best players” list is a small price to keep these discussions ongoing.