Drug Policy

Should Steroid Use Exclude Players From the Baseball Hall of Fame?

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Writing in The New York Times, Zev Chafets, author of a forthcoming book on the Baseball Hall of Fame, argues that players should not be barred from it based on their use of performance-enhancing substances:

Since the dawn of baseball, players have used whatever substances they believed would help them perform better, heal faster or relax during a long and stressful season….

For decades, baseball beat writers—the Hall of Fame's designated electoral college—shielded the players from scrutiny. When the Internet (and exposés by two former ballplayers, Jim Bouton and Jose Canseco) allowed fans to see what was really happening, the baseball writers were revealed as dupes or stooges. In a rage, they formed a posse to drive the drug users out of the game.

But today's superstars have lawyers and a union. They know how to use the news media. And they have plenty of money. The only way to punish them is to deny them a place in Cooperstown. The punishment has already been visited on Mark McGwire, and many more are on deck.

Chafets argues that the Hall of Fame should recognize the pervasiveness of performance enhancement, "replac[ing] mythology and spin with realism and honesty." He also suggests that rules barring the use of certain arbitrarily selected enhancement techniques should be scrapped. "If everyone has access to the same drugs and training methods, and the fans are told what these are," he writes, "then the field is level and fans will be able to interpret what they are seeing on the diamond and in the box scores."

I tend to agree. So do Matt Welch, Nick Gillespie, and Radley Balko (all of whom have much stronger credentials as sports fans than I do). More Reason coverage of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball and other sports here.

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  1. While the use enhances the ability of the person, the work still needs to be done. If the league has an issue with the use then have two leagues or just let everyone use them. Hell the natural hormone levels of people fluctuate from person to person should the people with lower levels of GH and testosterone be allowed to increase it artificially or should the people with higher natural levels be penalized.

  2. As a person who never enjoyed the roid ball of the late 90s, I disagree about making them legal. I don’t find homeruns and strikeouts to be the end all and be all of the game.

    Regardless, it is a stupid debate because roids are not going to be legalized anytime soon. The more interesting debate is what to do about the players from the roid era.

    I think you have to let them all in or none of them in. Since they didn’t test, you have no idea who used and who did not. People can scream all day about how they “know” that someone like Greg Maddox or Ken Griffey Junior are clean. And maybe they are. But, we have no way of knowing and at this point it wouldn’t suprise me to find out any good player from the 90s used roids. One of the downsides of not testing is that it provides no way for the clean players to clear their names. But since the players were the ones who through their union refused testing, they have no one but themselves to blame.

    Ultimately, I think they will get in for two reasons. First, even if the writers tell known roiders like Sosa and Mcquire no, those guys will still get a chance to be voted in by the veteran’s committee. Now twenty or thirty years from now that committee will be composed of players who played in the roid era. Those guys will know how prevelent roids were back them. In fact I would imagine more than a few of them will have used roids themselves and gotten away with it. At that point, I bet the vets vote in all of the roid users.

    The second reason I think they will get in is because it is just a metter of time before it is revealed that someone already in the HOF was a roid user. When that happens, what do the writers say to Bonds and McQuire? Whoops? Once that happens, the gates will open and they will vote them all in.

  3. BTW, we can let the roid users in the HOF when they let Roger Maris into the HOF. Basball totally fucked that guy. First, the asterist his record and then they refuse to put him in the HOF. Then baseball lets people take roids and cheapen his record. Fucking disgraceful.

  4. Lets see….hall of fame for a ball sport…private institution.

    Yeah, who cares. Let them decide who and under what terms to induct (or not) who ever they darn well please.

    Besides – its a STUPID ball game. Get off you backsides America and try participating in a sport instead of swilling crap beer and watching it.

  5. The HoF is free to do what it wants, of course. I would suggest that the those who vote use this criterion regarding drug use: Were the use(s) of the relevant substances, at the time they were taken, against the rules of organized baseball? If not, let them slide.

    Baseball could always have an “open” division, in the spirit of the All Drug Olympics.*

    Kevin

    *transcript here

  6. : “Were the use(s) of the relevant substances, at the time they were taken, against the rules of organized baseball? If not, let them slide.”

    Yes they were against the rules. The problem was there was no testing so the rule didn’t mean much. But baseball rules have always prohibited steroids.

    1. Children look up to these people while they are sitting on the sidelin doing drugs.so what are they saying,”when you grow up and you want to be like me the only way to get there is by doin drugs”? that is EXACTLY what they are saying.for all the officials who are not doing anything to stop this what are they saying?”go ahead the worst that can happen is you dont make it to the major league”WRONG the worst that can happen is 1: you end up on the streets because you have wasted all your money on drugs.2:you end up in the hospital becuase you have over dosed and while your siting there hanging onto your LIFE you think”where am i goint to get my next fix?” steroids RUIN lives!!!

  7. Every player inducted into the hall of fame should have a photo of their testicles next to their picture at the time of their greatest feat. Then the public can judge the steroid use.

  8. Let ’em in.

    Plus, I want the use of steroid and performance enhancing drugs to not only be legal, but encouraged in professional sports. Make them more entertaining.

  9. This week’s Adventures in Misanthropy has been brought to you by … No Name Guy.

  10. That’s a tough stance to take. Basically, you are telling everyone you have to kill yourself with steroids in order to compete.

  11. Wait, was someone saying there should be a law about who can get into the HOF?

    I didn’t realize I wasn’t permitted to opine as to what a private* organization should do. Especially a private organization that I pay money to.

    * this may not be a truthful description, given public financing of stadia and antitrust exemptions…

  12. I have two very simple reasons for wanting baseball to keep the steroids ban. First, I don’t like the idea that kids who excel at baseball at the little league/high school levels will one day be forced to decide between their future health or their baseball career (particularly since I don’t find the ‘roided-up game to be any more entertaining than the (relatively) clean one). Second, as a stat geek I don’t like the artificial inflation of statistics in the ’90s as it makes it more difficult to compare eras (yes, I realize that modern equipment, ballparks, workout routines, etc. all impact stats as well, but it’s easier to account for those when normalizing stats for given eras). Of course, both of those are personal opinions.

    What bothers me is when people turn it into a political issue one way or the other. I hate when Congressmen turn it into a “we have to legislate for the sake of the children” issue. I also get annoyed when libertarians turn it into some sort of anti-regulation or pro-drug issue. As far as I’m concerned, there are only two angles here. The first is that between the owners and the union. While I think it’s unfair to clean players to have ‘roids in the game, it’s ultimately up to the players to stand up and say that. If they remain the cowards that they have been thus far, then they’ve made their own bed even if I think they’re stupid for it. The second angle is between the owners and the fans. Baseball is a business and its decisions have to come down to what the fans will buy. My reasons for wanting a clean game boil down to what I prefer as a consumer and it’s up to baseball to decide what its fans want. But it’s not like the War on Drugs where the government is passing down the rules. Games have rules pretty much by definition and if the owners feel a rule is in the best interest of the game, then it’s their call and the consumers will ultimately decide if it was a good or a bad one.

  13. The second reason I think they will get in is because it is just a metter of time before it is revealed that someone already in the HOF was a roid user. When that happens, what do the writers say to Bonds and McQuire? Whoops? Once that happens, the gates will open and they will vote them all in.

    There are already known cheaters in the Hall. Niekro with his sandpaper, Walter Johnson with the rasp attached to the inside of his wedding ring. I’m not sure if any individual members have been proven to have used amphetamines and other older drugs, but I would be very surprised if the HoF is free of PED users even now.

    You know who’s gotten really screwed by the HoF’s pretentions of moral innocence? Pete Rose. It’s hard to take seriously those who argue that off-field morals must be a primary factor in the decision when you’ve got complete scumbags like Cap Anson and Ty Cobb in there already.

  14. “Games have rules pretty much by definition and if the owners feel a rule is in the best interest of the game, then it’s their call and the consumers will ultimately decide if it was a good or a bad one.”

    Since no one seems to be starting an outlaw all roid league, my guess is there isn’t much of a demand for one outside doctrinaire libertarians who aren’t generally sports fans anyway.

  15. I guess when I wrote this:

    Were the use(s) of the relevant substances, at the time they were taken, against the rules of organized baseball? If not, let them slide.

    I should have added …and could be proven to have been taken then….

    Much of the shadow that has fallen on various players consists of conjecture, not fact.

    Wasn’t much of McGwire’s juicing from a legal* supplement, Andro? [or so he claimed…]

    Kevin

    *by this I mean “legal by the rules of baseball.”

  16. “You know who’s gotten really screwed by the HoF’s pretentions of moral innocence? Pete Rose. It’s hard to take seriously those who argue that off-field morals must be a primary factor in the decision when you’ve got complete scumbags like Cap Anson and Ty Cobb in there already.”

    But Rose bet on his own team as a manager. That wasn’t off field. If they didn’t let him in for being a degenerate gambler and a tax cheat, I could see your point.

    It should be pointed out that it is not major league baseball that is keeping Rose out of the Hall of Fame. Major League Baseball does not run the HOF and does not determine eligibility for the HOF. All MLB did with Rose was take the prudent step of banning a guy who was impacting the integrity of their game. It is the HOF who has the rule that people on the MLB banned list cannot get into the HOF>

  17. Betting against your own team is where there would be a problem. He never did that.

  18. “Betting against your own team is where there would be a problem. He never did that.”

    No it is a huge problem. What he did was he would start his best pitchers and use up his bull pen in order to win the games he bet on at the expense of the ones he didn’t. It is not like he bet on every game equally. No, he only bet on certain games and sacrificed his teams chances in other games to win those games. The 87 Reds were the most talented team in the league that year. They should have been a 95 or 100 game winners. Instead, they won 87 games and finished second largely due to their manager being on the take. There is no defending Rose on this issue.

  19. Yes they were against the rules.

    Link?

  20. From a fan’s perspective, I prefer strategic small-ball to arcade-type power, so I would like to see the testing system remain in place.

    In terms of the HOF stuff though, I see no legitimate reason to keep these guys out. Not only have players been using PEDs for decades — admitted amphetamine users include hall of famer Mike Schmidt — but more importantly, baseball has a mechanism by which to ban players from HOF eligibility: the lifetime ban.

    The punishments for steroid use do not reach lifetime ban until a handful of violations have been committed. Until now, the only reason writers would flatly refuse consideration was because of a lifetime ban, as in the case of Pete Rose and Joe Jackson. Had Rose been found guilty of gambling without the lifetime ban being imposed (with some sort of fine or suspension in its place), I think it’s a certainty that he would be in the hall by now.

    If these guys are truly such a black mark on the game, they shouldn’t be allowed to play. If they are allowed to play, then there infractions are not serious enough to keep them out of the hall of fame. You can’t have the income generated by the power game and the anti-steroid moral absolutism at the same time.

  21. @Fluffy: Yeah, Faye Vincent issued a memo making clear the league’s anti-steroid policy back in 1991.

    http://gettingpaidtowatch.blogspot.com/2006/03/faye-vincent-banned-steroids-in-1991.html

  22. “Yes they were against the rules.

    Link?”

    http://blogs.chron.com/sportsjustice/archives/2006/03/on_books_bonds.html

    “Commissioner Fay Vincent sent the clubs a memo in 1991 reminding them that players were forbidden from taking any illegal substance. He specifically mention steroids in the memo and encouraged the clubs to take a get-tough policy on players thought to be using steroids.”

    Don’t fuck with me on sports fluffy.

  23. Betting against your own team is where there would be a problem. He never did that.

    Having players and managers associated with betting is dangerous to any sports league’s image. The step to losing just one game to win some money is awfully small. The rules were well known and Rose chose to ignore them.

    FWIW, I follow MLB a little, I much prefer fewer steroids. It is nice to be able to identify players by their uniform and physique again. In the late 90’s and early 00’s too many of them had identical body types. It took away some of MY enjoyment.

    HOF or not is just another fun, endless baseball argument. I do not think the users should get in because it may help keep steroids out of the game. I don’t like the designated hitter either. Many foolish fans who don’t care about strategy do.

  24. I much prefer fewer steroids. It is nice to be able to identify players by their uniform and physique again. In the late 90’s and early 00’s too many of them had identical body types. It took away some of MY enjoyment.

    Yeah I totally agree. The emphasis on power and strength totally distorts the game and all but eliminates previously critical strategic considerations. Its like the NFL Blitz! version of baseball. Same with the DH, and metal bats in college ball.

    And yeah, if you look at classic game footage, there was an incredibly obvious change in player physique around the mid nineties. I was watching a game from the early 2000’s the other day, and the pitcher’s legs looked like tree trunks. Compare that to footage from the 1980’s — when, of course, amphetamines and coke were more likely in players’ systems than primobolan or the clear. Those guys were twigs compared to 10 years or so later.

  25. I agree with your general point, but the DH increases the strategic maneuvering rather than the other way around. There’s a lot more experimentation with batting orders in the AL than the NL because in the NL it’s obvious that you have the pitcher 9th and the worst hitters immediately preceding him (since you don’t want him breaking up a rally).

    And sac bunts, double switches, and pinch hitters for the pitcher do not count as strategic maneuvers, as everyone in the ball park knows what’s coming when they happen.

  26. Rhayader,

    You don’t even have to look at footage. In the 78 years of the liveball era (1920-1997) exactly two guys hit 60 or more homeruns in a season. And no one did it twice. Further, when Maris broke Ruth’s record, he did it in a longer season in an expansion year and by one homerun. Despite all the best athletes playing baseball and integrating black athletes and latin American athletes, no one in seventy years could go over 61 homeruns in a single once in a lifetime season. Then in 1998, two guys hit 66 and 70 homeruns in the same year. Can’t happen, won’t happen, shouldn’t happen but did. Then Sosa goes on to do it two more times and Bonds goes on to hit 72 homeruns. Mcquire and Bonds exceeded the existing record by nearly 20%. It is like someone running a seven second hundred. Anyone in 1998 who didn’t know those clowns were on roids was a fool.

  27. I have to say that I agree with John pretty whole-heartedly.

    The only disagreement with him I have is about Charlie Hustle.

    Regardless of what Pete Rose did as a Manager, he deserves to be in the hall of fame for what he did as a player.

    He isn’t being voted on because in 1991 the HoF decided to formally exclude individuals on the permanently ineligible list from being inducted into the Hall of Fame by way of the Baseball Writers Association of America vote. Rose is the only living member of the ineligible list.

    Rose could have been voted in by the Vetarans committee once his BWAA eligibility expired ended (he could have been on the Veterans ballot in 2007, but for some reason he wasn’t), but in 2008 they too decided to keep anyone on the ineligible list off of the ballot.

    Rose has applied for reinstatement but the refuse to act on the application. Even after he finally came clean and admitted in 2004 that he bet on baseball and his team, Selig still refuses to consider reinstating Pete Rose (and I remember correctly, his refusal to admit to gambling was a big reason for the lifetime ban) — so at this point I don’t understand why baseball doesn’t reinstate Charlie Hustle. It’s not like they are taking that hard a line against him. In 1999, they invited him to be honored as part of the All Century team (something that benefits MLB as a whole) but they wont allow him to do anything that benefits local teams (like the 25th anniverary of the Big Red Machine, or the opening of the Great American Ball Park)

    Sure you can argue that what he did as a manager was loathesome, but as a player he was a ferocious competitor who deserves to be in the hall of fame. And sports gives so many athletes 2nd chances, why is Rose being held to a different standard.

    No it is a huge problem. What he did was he would start his best pitchers and use up his bull pen in order to win the games he bet on at the expense of the ones he didn’t. It is not like he bet on every game equally

    To be fair, Rose did admit to betting on his team to win every night — *if* true than the burn his bullpen theory doesn’t seem so realistic.

    Regardless though, Pete Rose, the player deserves to be in the Hall.

  28. Barry Bonds was going to go into the Hall of Fame anyway; he had three MVPs in the early 90s and was the best player in the majors for many years before anyone thinks he was taken anything.

    McGwire hit 49 home runs as a rookie and was always a threat to hit 60 if he could stay healthy for a season.

    I think what you have to do is judge how much drugs enhanced their performance. Bonds and Clemens were going into the Hall without steroids, as were Alex Rodriguez and possibly McGwire, and should go in. More marginal candidates such as Canseco should not. I’d say take 20% off their career records for the steroids. Do they still look like a Hall of Famer? If so, vote them in.

  29. So JW, how is not really caring one way or the other about if a private instituation for the glorification of a childrens game hating humankind?

    In the end, what ever is decided on the matter, the world will go on. Its not like anything actually important hinges on this decision. Farmers will continue to feed the world, doctors will continue to cure disease and engineers & construction workers will continue to improve sanitation and bring clean water to millions around the world regardless if roid popping ball game players get into some hall of fame or not.

    Back to caring about things that actually mean something…..

    Oh – and perhaps I’m a LITTLE biased against the ball sports – after all, they bilked the taxpayers of the greater Seattle area and Washington out of a billion dollars for their 2 damn stadiums.

  30. “In 1999, they invited him to be honored as part of the All Century team (something that benefits MLB as a whole) but they wont allow him to do anything that benefits local teams (like the 25th anniverary of the Big Red Machine, or the opening of the Great American Ball Park)”

    I thought that was complete crap to. What made me really angry was Frank Robinson not making the All Century Team. They should have bumped Rose and put Robinson in.

    At this point Rose is a pretty pathetic figure. It is not like anyone would hire him for anything if he were reinstated. They should just reinstate him and put the issue to bed.

  31. There’s a lot more experimentation with batting orders in the AL than the NL because in the NL it’s obvious that you have the pitcher 9th and the worst hitters immediately preceding him (since you don’t want him breaking up a rally).

    I beg to differ…

  32. At this point Rose is a pretty pathetic figure. It is not like anyone would hire him for anything if he were reinstated. They should just reinstate him and put the issue to bed.

    I disagree with this. He is still very popular with the fans, regardless of his indiscretions.

    The Cincinnati Reds also would love to have him out there promoting the club and baseball…when he did hang around minor league club houses (around the time his son was playing ) there was lots of support and love for him. Card shows and other appearances have huge turnout for Rose. If they life the ban, I see could envision a pretty big role for him.

    I think Pete Rose is a tragic, not a pathetic, figure. And regardless of how one feel about what he did, he is the epitome of how the game SHOULD BE played.

  33. Why is it assumed to be retribution on the part of the baseball writers that Mark McGwire is not in the Hall of Fame? Steroids or not, he was his generation’s Dave Kingman!

  34. “Why is it assumed to be retribution on the part of the baseball writers that Mark McGwire is not in the Hall of Fame? Steroids or not, he was his generation’s Dave Kingman!”

    I agree. He didn’t run or play defense or hit for average or do anything beyond hit homeruns. When you discount his homerun totals for his steroid use, you end up with a career .268 hitter who had a few 50+ homerun years but didn’t play long enough or stay healthy long enough to hit 500. That sounds an aweful lot like Dave Kingman to me.

    I would vote for the HOF based upon stats discounted by steroid use. Guys like Bonds and Clemmons who would have easily been in the HOF without steroids get in but guys like Mcguire and Sosa don’t.

  35. McGwire had excellent command of the strike zone, which Kingman never did. The two major components of offense are slugging and getting on base, and he did both.

    Hitting .300 isn’t that much if your on-base percentage is .310.

  36. You don’t even have to look at footage. In the 78 years of the liveball era (1920-1997) exactly two guys hit 60 or more homeruns in a season. And no one did it twice. Further, when Maris broke Ruth’s record, he did it in a longer season in an expansion year and by one homerun. Despite all the best athletes playing baseball and integrating black athletes and latin American athletes, no one in seventy years could go over 61 homeruns in a single once in a lifetime season. Then in 1998, two guys hit 66 and 70 homeruns in the same year.

    The problem is that the primary cause was almost certainly_not steroids. Home Runs hadn’t just increased for Sosa and McGwire, they increased for everybody. Furthermore, they didn’t increase for everybody slowly over time (as you would expect from steroids) but jumped up by huge margins from 1993 to 1994.

    They helped those guys, most likely, but there changes that helped hitters a ton that had nothing to do with drugs. It was a combination of the two, not just the one.

  37. McGwire had excellent command of the strike zone, which Kingman never did. The two major components of offense are slugging and getting on base, and he did both.

    Yeah, Kingman barely sniffs McGwire’s andro-soaked jock. McGwire had four years where he contributed a WARP of 7 or higher (including a high of 9.8 in 1998) and over his 16-season career (not including a handful of plate appearances when he was 22) he averaged 4.8 wins above replacement. By comparison, Kingman’s highest single-season WARP just happens to be 4.8. That being said, if you compare him to, say, Ryne Sandberg, Ryno averaged a 5.0 over his career and twice put up WARPs over 11 all while playing a more difficult defensive position. Baseball Reference lists his most similar players as:

    1. Jose Canseco (801)
    2. Jim Thome (798)
    3. Jason Giambi (790)
    4. Carlos Delgado (788)
    5. Harmon Killebrew (783) *
    6. Willie McCovey (766) *
    7. Norm Cash (736)
    8. Juan Gonzalez (734)
    9. Dave Kingman (728)
    10. Gil Hodges (723)

    Only the two with asterisks are HOFers, so he’s a borderline call. When you factor in the inconsistencies in his career and the whole andro scandal, it’s not hard to see how he doesn’t make the cut.

  38. Just to clarify, those are McGwire’s most similar players, not Sandberg’s. And all of the WARP numbers are adjusted for season.

  39. The best players of recent times will retire as multimillionaires. The HOF is just icing on the cake for them. Genuine baseball fans have a sense of the game’s history and tend to judge the players according to the era in which they played.

  40. Tony LaRussa,

    Great example of the exception proving the rule. The fact that his name is on the tip of everyone’s tongue when you mention the unwritten rule that the pitcher has to bat 9th only shows how ingrained that rule is.

    CMS,

    3 of the players on that list (Thome, Giambi, Delgado) aren’t even eligible for the Hall yet…

  41. What’s the difference between taking steroids and throwing a spitball or scuffing? Plenty of guys who did both in the HOF. Heck, the spitball rule grandfathered in older pitchers, who could still use a spitball while their opponents couldn’t.

  42. I see performance enhancing drug use as a work safety debate that the baseball player’s union can work out with management.

  43. The baseball hall of fame is a private organization, which is entitled to apply whatever criteria they like to those considered for induction. Hell, they could give a lifetime achievement award to Paul Krugman for all I care.

    -jcr

  44. At this point Rose is a pretty pathetic figure.

    I’d rather meet Pete Rose and get an autograph from him than visit the hall of fame.

    -jcr

  45. No one is saying the HoF should be coerced one way or the other, Mr Randolph. A private organization that purports to be the arbiter of which baseball players are the greatest is a perfectly legitimate target for criticism from baseball fans.

    Though frankly, due to exactly these types of concerns, I look more to the sabermetricians’ lists than to the HoF for determining baseball greatness.

  46. Fuck baseball. Stealing money from taxpayers for their million dollar salaries (no other way they could build those stadiums and pay the good-for-nothings) is in no way honorable. And no, if I had the chance I would not take it, as some people put dignity before dollars.

  47. Simple solution: Change the name of the thing to HALL OF INFAMY.

    Then it can let in everybody —

    — Sosa
    — Bonds
    — A-Roid

    and what the heck

    — Mike Tyson
    — Pete Rose
    — the entire roster of The Black Sox
    — the Gambino family (of Brooklyn – you know)
    — the Japanese generals who planned Dec 7, 1941 (“day of infamy”)
    — and of course, what party like this would be complete without — Dick Cheney!!!

    Let’s put as much scum in the damn thing as we can. Gamblers, steroid users, hunters who shoot people in the face, boxers who bite ears off . . . sneak attackers.

    Heck, let’s turn the Hall into the doggone Jerry Springer show!!!

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