As the Roger Clemens perjury trial reaches its ultimate conclusion, baseball is witnessing the end of an era. Roger Clemens is one of a litany of players who dominated baseball with never before seen power, aggression, and strength as performance-enhancing drugs permeated throughout America’s past time. Baseball reached new highs as records were broken, fastballs reached unprecedented speeds, and homeruns flew into upper-decks with regularity. Now, baseball is at a crossroads; many players of the Steroid Era crafted Hall of Fame worthy stat lines as Major League Baseball saw records shattered and on-field play reached an all time high. However, many argue that the statistics accumulated in the Steroid Era were reached with the assistance of something outside of the player’s natural abilities. As players of the Steroid Era are ultimately judged in the upcoming years, a question is begged—do the players of the Steroid Era deserve baseball’s highest honor?
The Major League Baseball Hall of Fame was once a place of grandeur. For decades, the game’s best arrived and were rightfully immortalized into baseball lore. Heroes to many such as Honus Wagner, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, and others set a standard for others to achieve to attain eternal glory. To many, the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame was the greatest achievement in sport—America’s past time forever remembered few who truly were the game’s best. Yet, as the storied Steroid Era reaches its ultimate conclusion, the Hall questions—are players tainted by performance enhancing drugs worthy of entered the hallowed grounds of baseball immortality?
Today, many of the game’s greatest players are followed by the lingering affects performance-enhancing drugs have had on the game. One of baseball’s young pillars, Ryan Braun, was once one of the young faces Major League Baseball used to spearhead its campaign into a more youthful audience, alongside players such as Evan Longoria, Matt Kemp, and Tim Lincecum. However, Braun tested positive for record levels of synthetic testosterone found in his urine during the 2011 MLB playoffs. Although exonerated, many within the baseball community, legitimately or illegitimately, believe Braun escaped the bounds of justice while utilizing a loophole within the law to escape the 50 game ban sentenced upon him by MLB. Furthermore, a player like Albert Pujols (never implicated as a steroid user, no failed tests) are putting up record numbers in a time where breaking records has become the norm. In recent years, Albert Pujols has been the games most formidable hitter (Career .326/.417/.610 hitter with a WAR of 87.8 over 11 full seasons in the Majors), yet Pujols, like many greats in the game today, are placed in the position where they are forced to prove their cleanliness of drug use due to the enduring effects of the Steroid Era. Great players of this generation are guilty until proven innocent as baseball’s reaction to the performance enhancing drugs continues to destroy the reputation of the game today.
Yet, it was the Steroid Era that saved baseball. Baseball, experiencing economic hardships never before seen in the game, experienced a 232-day work stoppage in the midst of the 1994 season that cancelled the pinnacle of the sport—the World Series—for the first time in the history of the League. Never before had a professional sport in the United States seen a cancellation of postseason play due to the player-ownership relations, and the MLB rightfully lost many of its fans. Fans were robbed of what fans love most—their teams—and the MLB had failed them with their inability to put any product on the field. Enter the Steroid Era. At the time, many teams in the majors were struggling to fill stadiums to the pre-strike capacity. Fan distrust and disgust of the game were at an all time high, while even baseball purists struggled to find reasons to visit the park. The fans were left with sour tastes in their mouths baseball could not fill. And then Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa started hitting homeruns.
1998 was a magical year for baseball. Still struggling from the repercussions of the strike, baseball was looking for a face to drive the sport back into relevance. In his second year with the St. Louis Cardinals, McGwire was hitting homeruns at record pace, and it soon became apparent that McGwire and Sosa both had legitimate chances of breaking Roger Maris’ hallowed single season 61-homerun season. To break Maris’ record would be an accomplishment many thought would force baseball back into relevance. Realizing this, baseball capitalized on the media hype built around the race, and soon McGwire and Sosa were the face of baseball—interdivisional rivals slugging it out for the homerun title: McGwire, the all-American superstar pitted against Sammy Sosa, the player who had the ability to take one of America’s most beloved teams to their first World Series title in over a century. On September 8, 1998 the history of baseball was forever changed. Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris’ single-season homerun record by blasting a ball 430 feet into the Busch Stadium crowd, arousing celebrations around baseball, as the record was broken. Finally, baseball was the talk of towns across the nation again. Baseball championed these two players as heroes, as they would with many drug-using players that followed in their footsteps, and fans everywhere were gifted with a level of play that had yet to be seen in the league. Soon, fans saw Rafael Palmeiro blaze a Hall of Fame career, Barry Bonds break homerun records, Roger Clemens strike out thousands of batters, and bright young players like Alex Rodriguez sign the largest contract in the history of professional sports. The game had reached heights it had never seen before—baseball was relevant again, and it championed the players that had helped it achieve its newfound greatness: the McGwires, Sosas, Palmeiros, Bondses, and Rodriguezes.
However, baseball has condemned and abandoned these players. Arguably the greatest player of all time, Barry Bonds, is ostracized and abhorred by the baseball community. Mark McGwire has no hope to be in the Hall of Fame as voters deemed his records and statistics as illegitimately collected. Sammy Sosa is living punch line, and the onlyremembrance of Rafael Palmeiro is his finger pointing denial of steroid use at a congressional hearing. Although their statistics are tainted, it is undeniable that some players of the Steroid Era accumulated Hall of Fame worthy careers. Currently, however, they have no hope of entering the Hall. Baseball is forever indebted to these players; these players sparked American interest in the game again after the MLB single-handedly destroyed the relations with the fans with their work stoppage. The players of the Steroid Era filled the seats of stadiums again across the nation, and now the MLB is kicking these players to the curb.
Upon further review, the Hall of Fame may not be as pure as fans seem to believe. Although baseball’s select few chosen to be remembered forever, the Hall of Fame is an imperfect entity. Many baseball purists feel that the Steroid Era players are not worthy of admittance into the Hall because they cheated the game; Steroid Era players had an unfair advantage over competition and the drugs allowed them to accumulate stats players of previous generations had no hope of accumulating. However, this is not a new concept to the game. For generations, baseball has allowed players who had an unfair advantage over competition into the Hall of Fame. Why are the players of the Steroid Era any different?
The Desegregation of baseball occurred in 1946 with Jackie Robinson signing a contract to play with the Brooklyn Dodgers. True integration of the sport occurred gradually over time, as players of all racial backgrounds were allowed to play on baseball’s highest level. For years, white players in the Major Leagues played only other white players, and even after desegregation of the game, Major Leaguers still played mostly white teams until baseball became fully racially integrated. Full racial integration has allowed the game to reach new heights, as the level of play increased as the best players, regardless of race, were allowed to play the game. Put simply, white players did not play at the highest level of competition because they did not play the best competition. When baseball was segregated, players of that time period had an unfair statistical advantage because they were not playing at the highest level possible. Should those players be taken out of the Hall of Fame because they had an unfair statistical advantage over future generations? Not playing against minorities allowed white players to accumulate statistics they would not have accumulated had racial integration of the game taken place. These players incontrovertibly had a statistical advantage over players of future generations, yet we regard them as indisputable Hall of Famers.
Furthermore, amphetamines ran rampant around the game for decades. One of the greatest players of all time, Willie Mays, has openly admitted to using amphetamines during his playing days as a way to recover and get through the rigors of a 162-game schedule that is only around 180-days. Amphetamines were openly used in clubhouses as teams provided “leaded” and “unleaded” coffee pots to their players throughout the course of the season. Amphetamines are currently banned in Major League baseball as a performance-enhancing drug because they act as a stimulant, allowing the body to recover from the effects of fatigue faster. Many players within the Hall of Fame utilized this performance-enhancing drug, yet the credibility of their eligibility for the Hall has never been questioned. Players currently are not allowed to use this stimulant, so, once again, players of past generations had an unfair advantage over current players. The amphetamines provided the players of the past statistics the MLB now considers tainted by the use of a performance-enhancing drug. Should players that used amphetamines also be removed from the Hall? Should their careers be marred with asterisks?
Baseball ruled that the spitball pitch was against the rules of the game in 1920. However, the Major Leagues ruled that players who employed the spitball at the team were inexplicably grandfathered in and allowed to throw the pitch. Gaylord Perry pitched the spitball into a Hall of Fame career, using the pitch to accumulate 314 wins, a career 3.11 ERA, 3,534 strikeouts, and two Cy Young Awards. Gaylord Perry’s career started in 1962 and ended in 1983, starting 42-years after the ban of the spitball and ending 63-years after the ban. Gaylord Perry was mysteriously in the Hall of Fame. In 1991. 71-years after the spitball ban. Perry even authored a book entitled Me and the Spitter, detailing his use of the pitch. How can baseball allow such a blatant cheater into the Hall of Fame?
The Hall of Fame is not what fans think. The Hall of Fame is full of cheaters and players that had an unfair competitive advantage over players of different eras, yet steroid users will, likely, never be voted into baseball’s hallowed grounds. Although steroid users did have a competitive advantage over clean players, players of other generations experienced a similar competitive advantage whether they utilized amphetamines, spitballs, or lesser competition to accrue their stats. Baseball owes steroid users. Baseball alienated its fans and stripped them of a World Series in 1994, sparking hate and loathing for America’s pastime. Baseball championed players of the Steroid Era when it made sense for them, utilizing steroid using players to captivate Americans to watch and pay attention to baseball after an ugly work stoppage. Now, baseball has turned on the players that brought the game back. Players of the Steroid Era deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame already contains cheaters, yet the worthiness of their statistics and admission have never been questioned or marked with an asterisk. Without some of the greatest players to ever play the game, what value does the Hall of Fame hold? It will no longer be the hallowed grounds of baseball; it will lack an entire generation of superstars that provided fans with some of the most entertaining baseball the game has ever seen. The time has come for baseball to endear the players that its brought fans back to the game, rather than dismiss them as cheating liars. Baseball loved steroids users when steroids users provided them a path back onto American television sets. Baseball needs to love steroid users again.