Hall of Shame

January 17th, 2013 by Andrea Bennett

The debate over steroid use has impacted Hall of Fame voting. Fair or foul?

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The Responsibility Project

For the first time since 1996, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America – the group of journalists responsible for choosing new inductees to the Hall of Fame – did not vote in a single player. Since the voting process began in 1936, this is only the eighth time that not even one player was named on at least three-quarters of the 569 ballots, the amount required for induction to the Hall.

Partly at issue is the fact that this year’s vote marked the debut of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens on the ballot. Bonds and Clemens, who both retired in 2007 and therefore have been out of Major League Baseball for the required five years to be considered for the Hall of Fame, have been central players in the ongoing debate over the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). There is evidence that both players used PEDs during their careers, and both were tried for perjury for denying that they knowingly used the drugs. Although Clemens was acquitted of all charges and Bonds was convicted only of obstruction of justice, the Baseball Writers’ collective vote this year can be seen as a statement on their views on players that are suspected of having used PEDs.

Perhaps the most interesting debate to emerge from the writers’ decision is whether or not they did the right thing by denying Bonds and Clemens entry to the Hall of Fame, or if they should have voted the players in despite the suspicion of PED use swirling around them.

In an interview with PBS, Washington Post writer Barry Syrluga suggested that the voters faced a dilemma in that despite Bonds and Clemens having denied using PEDs, there is enough evidence to hold them in question. Syrluga said, “I think the results would show that the majority of writers are not comfortable electing people who they believe have cheated the game…by using performance-enhancing drugs.” After all, the BBWAA’s character clause stipulates, “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”

However, according to a piece in The Economist, these guidelines are “nebulous” and the argument for keeping players that acted immorally out of the Hall of Fame does not stand up under scrutiny. The article points out Cap Anson, who headed the movement to prevent racial integration in baseball, and Ty Cobb, who sharpened the spikes on his cleats in hopes of injuring opposing players. The piece also points out that many suggest that PED users only produced Hall of Fame-caliber statistics because they cheated, not because of their talents. However, Gaylord Perry spent an entire season throwing an officially banned pitch, but was still elected to the Hall in 1991.

The Economist article argues that by not including record-setting players like Bonds and Clemens, the writers are “whitewashing history.” But just because some previous Hall of Famers committed immoral acts, does that mean that all future rule-breakers should be considered for entry? Weigh in here.