For many years I was tormented with the issue of whether the players who put up huge numbers during the steroid era of this beautiful game are worthy of entering into the Baseball Hall of Fame. It felt like this was an appropriate time to talk about it as the baseball writers are filling in their ballots for the 2015 Class.
During the summer of 1998, it was exciting to follow Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire approach and ultimately surpass Roger Maris’ record of 61 home runs in a season. By season’s end, Sosa ended up hitting 66 and McGwire 70. McGwire’s 69th and 70th home runs that season had a Montreal connection as they were hit off the Expos at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
In those days we were naïve about performance enhancing drugs so many of us followed it intently. It was an exciting time for baseball. Maris’ home run record had held for 37 years. This was a big deal. How long could this record last? Another generation? Well, not exactly. A mere three years later, in 2001, Barry Bonds hit 73 HRs in just 476 ABs and had an OPS of 1.379. These were video game numbers. Something was not right. Allegations of steroids were rampant and Bonds was steadfast in his denials.
In March of 2006, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams published “Game of Shadows“. The genie was out of the bottle. This was an end of the innocence of sorts for baseball fans as this seminal book blew the doors wide open and exposed the game of its darkest moment since the Black Sox scandal of 1919.
On May 28, 2006, Bonds hit home run number 715, passing Hank Aaron as the all-time Home Run King. I remember watching Aaron’s pre-recorded message congratulating Bonds. At that moment, I was touched by Aaron’s dignity and grace but at the same time I felt like I needed to take a shower. Bonds’ record was dirty, in my mind.
Years have passed and after all, baseball is a game of statistics and few of us can argue that many of the numbers from the steroid-era are impressive. The Hall of Fame is for players that have achieved results on the field and not about their piety. There are players in the Hall of Fame from the dead ball era, the racist era, the amphetamines era, and now the time has come for the steroid era. That said, I am happy that the game has taken huge steps with the extensive drug testing.
We should know the results early in 2015. In my heart of hearts, I really hope Tim Raines gets in. Raines was arguably the National League’s best lead-off hitter in the modern era. Time is running out as the wave of players from Barry Bonds’ era approaches eligibility. Bonds will likely be inducted in 2015 and this will signal the end of the baseball writers’ “time out” for PED-era players, guilty or alleged.
If we follow this line of reasoning, players like Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Manny Ramirez and others should get in eventually, with Clemens perhaps as early as 2015. Manny’s case may be more problematic. There was mostly a hate-hate relationship between Manny Ramirez and the media. The baseball writers who are privileged to cast a Hall of Fame ballot are an interesting lot. Individually, many are accomplished journalists with awards piled up to the sky. As a collectivity, by the results of some years’ Hall of Fame election results, they appear to be a cast of clowns, avoiding logic and playing favorites.
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