Babe Ruth. Lou Gehirg. Ted Williams. Jackie Robinson. Willie Mays. Roberto Clemente. Hank Aaron. Cal Ripken Jr. Mariano Rivera. Derek Jeter. These men are some of baseball’s titans.
All of them have shattered records, displayed unheralded consistency, graced the field with honor, exhibited composure in the postseason, and won championships. And, all of them are Hall of Famers. What words, what descriptions, what feelings, come to my mind when you think of these giants of the game? What did their play reveal? What did their talent ensure? Why did they reach the pinnacle of the sport?
The Babe was legendary, maybe the most fabled baseball player of all time. Gehrig was a dignified ballplayer – humble, a good teammate, and a good man. Jeter was respectful of the game and played it the right way. Hammerin’ Hank was the epitome of integrity.
When Rivera came in to close out a game, you knew he would get the job done. Clemente was an esteemed humanitarian. Williams was courageous, leaving the Boston Red Sox to serve in World War II and the Korean War. Mays, although a generational outfielder, was a humble talent. Robinson’s character never broke in the face of racism. And Ripken, the Iron Man, is the all-time consecutive games leader.
These men are forever a part of baseball’s illustrious history. They are Hall of Famers, but most importantly, they were professionals.
Barry Bonds is the all-time home run king, with 756 home runs. A-Rod was one of the most feared hitters of his generation. Mark McGwire was the first to hit 70 home runs in a single season. Sammy Sosa had incredible power.
Although these players electrified the sport, they all share some harsh labels, and one destructive flaw: steroid use. It cannot be glossed over or diminished. Some have called these men cheaters and liars. Bonds was labeled a pariah, the poster boy for steroid abuse. A-Rod was sometimes referred to as A-Fraud after he was suspended 162 games during the 2014 season for using steroids.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame has a morality clause that considers a player’s “record, integrity, playing ability, character, sportsmanship, and team contributions” for induction. The Hall is a testament to the game’s greatest players and its most cherished characters, but should players who have used steroids, now that Bonds and Sosa are off of the ballot, be considered?
Evidence Suggests an Unfair Advantage
According to Benjamin Z. Leder of Massachusetts General Hospital, steroids add muscle mass even if the user does not actively train, but because the user is determined to see results quickly, he works out with more intensity. Baseball requires upper body strength to hit balls harder and hit more home runs. Because anabolic steroids “promote tissue growth, and in particular, muscle generation,” they are a key, artificial contributor to one of a baseball player’s most cherished attributes: strength.
Physicist Roger Tobin of Tufts University said steroids could help players hit 50 percent more home runs with just a 10 percent increase in muscle mass. There was an overwhelming surge of offense in the 1990s and the early 2000s, which was known as baseball’s Steroid Era.
There is offensive value when a player takes steroids. The ability to build muscle mass quickly and efficiently encourages increased production in games. Most of the attention around steroids in baseball surrounds home runs and the length of home runs, but researchers Mitchell Grossman and Timothy Kimsey analyzed offensive production.
They examined OPS, a metric which measures a player’s ability to get on base and their capacity to hit for power. OPS reveals an offensive player’s contribution to the team. Per their study, the researchers found that there was a significant increase in OPS from the non-steroid era to the steroid era of .104.
Character is a Necessary Trait
Advocates for the admittance of steroid users into the Hall suggest that because baseball is a game that requires excellent hand-eye coordination and fast reaction time, the added strength and power provided by steroids does not matter much. Baseball players are human heroes that are allowed to make mistakes, but these mistakes can have consequences in the eyes of the Hall.
Maybe the character clause is given too much credence. Maybe it is wrong for the baseball writers to give favor to character over the amazing on-field achievements of Bonds, Sosa, and McGwire. Bonds, a seven time most valuable player, the most all time, and the all-time home run leader. Sosa, one of five players to eclipse 500 home runs. McGwire, who reached 70 home runs in his famed 1998 season.
But, these dream-like accomplishments are tinged with a bit of fraud because of their steroid use, and yes, although their use was short-lived in comparison to the totality of their careers, it nonetheless charted them on a new path of incomparable success. Their transcendent talent and ability does not disqualify them from accountability.
If Bonds and McGwire were inducted with the class of 2022, would they acknowledge their mistakes in their enshrinement speech? And if they did not acknowledge them, would they be expected to? It is an awkward thing to think about.
McGwire, Bonds, and Sosa were incredible athletes, and assembled careers that few players will ever match. But, they have been attached to steroid use. The Hall prides itself on honoring the game, its integrity, its beauty, and its character. Simply put, these three chose to treat the game unfairly, and although they have hall of fame resumes, they did not display hall of fame integrity.
What does the Hall wish to honor? The history of baseball? The game’s greatest players? The story of baseball is long, mythical, and constantly evolving. McGwire, Bonds, Sosa, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, were transcendent players who grew the game, modernized it, and made it into what it is today. To the Hall, their importance to baseball, their natural talent, their records, does not outweigh their dishonesty, their corruption of a simple sport.
Protecting the Game’s Honor
By continuing to not consider steroid users for the Hall, the MLB can demonstrate that it cares about upholding the integrity of the game. That professional players who never cheated the game can be role models for young players, in that they will not turn to steroids, which can have debilitating effects on young bodies.
The lives of steroid users have not been destroyed. They are still well-off and their records are still acknowledged. Bonds still has over $200 million in career earnings and is recognized as baseball’s home run king. McGwire is recognized as the first player to hit 70 home runs in a single season. Sosa is still renowned for his dazzling 1998 season. The only thing they do not have is recognition by the Hall voters.
Only 1.2 percent of players find their way to Cooperstown. Every baseball player, from a superstar shortstop to a below-average bullpen pitcher, needs to be held accountable for how they treat the game and their opponent.
I have been a baseball fan since I was a little boy. I have come to appreciate players who played the game the right way, like my favorite player of all-time, Derek Jeter. I am someone who values respect and honesty, especially in sports.
There will always be ways to gain a competitive advantage in baseball. It is easy to cheat the game, and MLB recognizes that. Players are disciplined for taking steroids under the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, and that is a step in the right direction in signaling to the sporting world, and to the Hall, that steroid users upset fair play and make a mockery of the common good that baseball provides.