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Monday February 9, 2009 1:56 pm

Steroids and the Hall of Fame




Posted by Eno Sarris Categories: Editorials

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Apparently, Alex Rodriguez did some steroids back when his sport had a “Don’t Ask - Don’t Tell” policy about performance enhancing drugs. In retrospect, it’s hardly surprising that the world’s most competitive baseball players did something that was not being tested for in an effort to get ahead. Imagine how angry you would be if you were one of the best players in the game watching all the rest of the guys pad their stats and their wallets at your expense.

But this is more than being a steroid user apologist. What they did was illegal and wrong, in the end. How do we evaluate them against each other when it’s time to decide on the Hall of Fame? The numbers are almost certainly not clean on either side of the ball, so what sort of standard should we use in our deliberations of their possible drug effects on numbers around the leagues?

It’s not as simple as just taking 10% off the top. It would be nice to say that, in an effort to compare players of their own era, we’d come up with new benchmarks. Instead of 500 homers, we may have to put automatic entrance at 600 homers. We’d call it the Mark McGwire rule for good measure. But then what do we do about Rafael Palmeiro? He had multiple MVPs, 3000 hits, and 569 home runs… and one failed test after the program was in place. So our rubric needs some work, eh?

Read More | Sports Illustrated

If we include PED-positive testing history at all, then we’re just straight up eliminating Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and Alex Rodriguez from going into the Hall of Fame. While we know they did something illegal, plenty of people in the Hall indulged in illegal activities. If we keep this trio out of Cooperstown, we’re treating them like Pete Rose: obvious Hall of Fame talent kept out because their actions violated the sanctity of the game and attacked its integrity. Betting on baseball does fit this description: gambling can’t make inroads into management of a professional sport.

However, do steroids fit this description? The parallels between steroids and betting would be more apt if baseball leadership was actually taking bets from Rose before they kicked him out of baseball. And this is what makes these decisions so hand-wringing for those aligned with the commissioner’s office.

Baseball leadership was complicit in the steroid era. While fans and writers all have some guilt - neither did a good job of calling baseball out - leadership was even more guilty. Their contract is to protect the game, and they let the game wallow in self-indulgence because it made sense to do so. Baseball was relevant! Sammy Sosa! Barry Bonds! Mark McGwire! Home Runs! Steroids? No! I don’t see any steroids!

So we have to set some sort of line that allows the very best in to the Hall of Fame despite some steroid suspicions and allegations. Perhaps we can set the line at 2003 - anyone that did steroids and got caught after 2003, when the testing policy was in put in place, is disqualified from the Hall of Fame under our informal policy. They have solid evidence against them procured from a stringent testing program put in place by baseball leadership.

This new cutoff year for allegations, along with some higher benchmarks for players that put up their numbers in the 90s, seems to be a fair and equitable way to sort the players. This policy would allow Clemens, Bonds and Rodriguez the same place in the Hall that they would enjoy in a world without steroids. This policy will hopefully not keep too many deserving players out. And this policy would allow us to keep more applicants with links to steroids, like McGwire and Palmeiro, out of the Hall.

Now that we have our own Hall of Fame steroids policy, the only problem is that the chemists for the ball players are a step ahead of the chemists for the government. Have you heard of Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators? SARMS are the new HGH and are notoriously difficult to test for, and many stars are enjoying their newest designer drugs without impunity.

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