Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Their Own Hall of Shame

Many people have written a lot more about the Hall of Fame voting than I will write today. But for the most part, the expansiveness of the literature has merely muddled the dialogue. The goal of this short post is to simplify and clarify this discussion.

The first step towards such a clarification is to realize that there are really two different discussions. The question of whether certain individuals deserve to be in the Hall differs from whether certain individuals should be in the Hall. This proposition, at first glance, seems counterintuitive. But it will become clearer as we explore this further.

Do Bonds and others deserve to be in the Hall?

Bonds, Clemens, Sosa and the other known cheaters do not deserve to be in the Hall.

Getting to this point first involves a decision on whether they actually cheated. Many philosophers have argued that their behavior did not constitute cheating for a couple of reasons. First, they argue that the high level of steroid usage during their playing days diminished any unfair advantage. The lack of enforcement in the era and the high usage supports this argument. After all, advantages disappear whenever a substance is widely available. Second, some argue that there is no clear link between steroid usage and performance. Some statistical support exists for this argument, but physics and medical studies greatly contradict this argument. In short, I dismiss this argument.

As I write more thoroughly in a forthcoming law review article, this positivistic stance is unsatisfying. There must be a moral component to the approach towards cheating in baseball, and this moral component should be reflected in Hall of Fame voting. Yes, usage was rampant. Yes, the rules were not enforced. But this still involved a moral choice. Players knew that their behavior was wrong, and yet they chose to behave in such a manner anyways. And they were rewarded handsomely for this immoral choice.

Since this is a blog on life in the minors, imagine that you are a Triple-A baseball player. We'll say you are an outfielder. You have similar skills to another outfielder in the organization. You choose not to use steroids; your teammate chooses to use steroids. Your teammate suddenly hits more homeruns, steals more bases, and covers more ground in the outfield. The team promotes your teammate while you continue to languish in the minors. Your teammate makes millions of dollars, maybe makes two All-Star teams, and enjoys pension benefits for his lifetime. You go home after a couple more years in the minors and struggle to find a job to feed your family.

This was the basic moral decision that thousands of ballplayers made. The players who chose to take steroids made an immoral choice. They benefited greatly from that immoral choice over the course of their careers, and they continue to benefit from that choice.

These cheaters should not be recognized any further for their tainted greatness. They should not win any more awards. The greatest of them should not be in the Hall of Fame.

Should Bonds and the others be in the Hall?

This is a separate and more difficult question to answer. While the cheaters do not deserve to be in the Hall, it is almost impossible to separate the cheaters from the non-cheaters. Where is the line drawn? On positive tests alone? On connections to performance enhancing drugs? All of these standards have their problems.

The era was so tainted with suspicion that it is difficult to label any player. Almost any standard will result in a plethora of false positives and false negatives. Thus, it's difficult to find any workable standard.

It might be best to look at history. Again, as I discuss thoroughly in my forthcoming law review article, organized baseball has a rich history of cheating. Previous pitchers who openly doctored baseballs have been admitted into the Hall. For instance, Gaylord Perry wrote an autobiography called "Me and the Spitter," and yet writers inducted him into the Hall. He achieved his greatness through known cheating. Even though his cheating involved an external manipulation in the form of ball doctoring instead of an internal manipulation in the form of body morphication, his achievements were similarly tainted. And yet he, and other traditional cheaters, have been admitted.

History thus supports the admission of these players into the Hall, even though they don't truly deserve such admission. Moreover, the lack of a workable standard supports such an admission.


At the end of the day, baseball writers must make a moral choice. Those that tell them to "get off their high horse" are simply wrong. Cheating is a moral issue. The players made a moral choice when they decided to use performance enhancers. The baseball writers must assess the effects of this moral choice when making their decisions.

Are the baseball writers then judging the players? Yes, in a way they are. Would many of the baseball writers have made the same choice as the cheating players had they been players? Undeniably so. But that does not make their current decision hypocritical, as it is a hypothetical discussion. One must instead deal with realities. The baseball writers are the ones to make the choice, and it must be a moral one.

Again, Bonds and the others do not deserve to be in the Hall. Even though this would be a retroactive reaction, deterrence supports such a retroactive reaction. At a basic level, it differs only slightly from stripping Tour de France titles from a certain cyclist.

For this reason, I would be more than fine with these players not being in the Hall. But because of the history of admitting other cheaters, and because of the lack of a workable standard, these players should probably still be admitted.

Maybe we'll give them a separate wing in the Hall, where they may forever congregate in a Hall of Shame. 


obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

Good to see you write again.

I disagree. All many talk about is body bulk with steroids, and there are 250 pound behemoths that hit lollipops while a lanky 180 pound stick with good wrist action can become the career leader in homeruns, as Aaron did.

Aaron says that cheaters do not belong in the Hall, but I know Mays was specifically fingered, so is Aaron saying that Mays should be removed from the HOF too, since he's a cheater? Bonds was universally agreed to be a Hall of Famer before he reportedly started using, that should be enough for writers to put him in.

What makes it even more sad is that the writers have had over 20 years to get down to business and actually DO THEIR JOB as journalists. They let the steroids era grow and fester, as the rumors were rampant in the 90's and especially when McGwire was caught with the Creatine in 1998. Nothing was done then. Why?

Meanwhile, they carry pitchforks and tar and feathers, while not checking out what are really the facts and what are just suppositions and misconceptions. Eric Walker, of A's and Sinister Firstbaseman fame, keeps up a website to sell his baseball analytics service and, first, he discovered that the offensive era looks like it was caused by a juiced ball (, and second, because people claimed he was wrong and started claiming steroids did certain things, he researched the heck out of it and concluded that steroids did very
little to benefit baseball players ( and gave a lot of evidence (and links to studies) that the ball was juiced during that period.

He did the investigative journalism that was necessary to show that steroids didn't do much of anything, instead of copying the "journalists" who just spread the same misconceptions that another "journalists" claimed was true. If any of you feel that cheaters should not be included, then read through his steroid's website, look at all the associated subsites that cite even more things in detail and see what he has to say
( ).

obsessivegiantscompulsive said...


Walker makes a very strong case that the general public, including reporters, got it all wrong. Yes, the players might have cheated (definition slippery since it was not against the rules of the game to take amphetamine and steroids), definitely took something illegal, but it apparently didn't help players out that much in performing better, from the research cited and quoted.

In other words, whatever PEDs players might have used were not much better than a placebo. They cheated with today's version of snake oil. They are no different from the Asians today who eat rhino horns, thinking that would give their bodies some sort of boost. So, are we now preventing players from making the Hall of Fame for being stupid? Because, while they may have cheated, they didn't get any benefit from it.

Journalists could have done this type of investigative journalism work long ago, not some OCD baseball analyst, if they were really interested in the truth and not in a witch hunt.

Here is how I view this: the writers felt greatly embarrassed by the steroids era because they did nothing while it was going on, and thus many of them feel the
need to punish the players who used or allegedly used PEDs.

When, really, they should be embarrassed twice over now, first for not only missing the steroids rise, but really, overlooking it, it is not like it is a shock, as noted, McGwire was suspected of using long ago, yet no reporter ever thought of investigating him closely, and second for spreading false "truths" about steroids, and then taking their anger out on star players like Bonds and Clemens, and really, since nobody got in this year, all players, as there were players who appeared clean and who should get in, like Biggio.

Had they done their job, maybe players like Bonds would not have felt forced to use, it would have just been a cultural blip of the 90's. They should be ashamed.

Anonymous said...

Like Obsessive I'm thrilled to see you writing again. I think the right answer for Bonds is what is going to happen -- eventual admission to the HOF but on a diminished vote and delayed time frame. The key for me is that he had HOF credentials before the scandal. Also, unless the HOF is going to remove cheaters once uncovered, it will someday face the problem of a bunch of people in from this era who were not "caught" like Bonds and Clemens before it was "too late." And should you distinguish between the regular users and the ones who did a little to get back sooner from injury? From what I've read, there's a spectrum of use that makes it a grayer situation ethically than your article suggests. Of course, I never dealt with the impact on my life the way you did.

Anonymous said...

GAYLORD PERRY- Just one example of a HOF member who admitted to cheating after he was enshrined in the Hall. Never hear the sanctimonious baseball writing cretins mention this.

You can't compare eras, as much as some would like to think so. There's the dead ball era, the raising and lowering of the pitcher's mound, just to name a couple. Just because someone tells me that HOF players from the 20's could hit Verlander, Randy Johnson, Clemens or Nolan Ryan... I have no way to prove the argument. Didn't Ty Cobb win the HR championship, one year, by hitting (like) 9 Home Runs?

I'm happy that players are recognized by the Hall because they excelled in their era of play.

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