Batting Zero: MLB Writers Pitch a Shutout

by: Anthony Roberts And John Romano

Of the 37 baseball players eligible to be voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, none drew enough votes from members of the Baseball Writers Association of America for a ticket. This marks only the eighth time in history that no player received the 75% support needed to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, and the first time drugs were to blame. Several of the voters even commented that this year’s voting reflected the association’s view of baseball’s "steroid era." One even went so far as to say that “the fact that nobody got inducted is kind of like the sports writers were making a point out of Barry Bonds.” And that’s really stupid.

The Hall of Fame is supposed to be for the best players to have ever played the game. Yet, this year, not only did Barry Bonds – the guy who hit more home runs than any other player in the history of baseball - not get in, but neither did Roger Clemens, one of the most dominant pitchers in major league history. Clemens is an 11-time All-Star and two-time World Series champion who won seven Cy Young Awards during his career (the most of any pitcher in baseball history) racking up 354 wins and 4,672 strikeouts (the third-most of all time). St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire who broke the sport's single-season home run record in 1998, Chicago Cubs' Sammy Sosa, McGwire's major rival in that season-long chase, and four-time All-Star Rafael Palmeiro were also denied entry to Cooperstown. Clearly, these guys are the best baseball has to offer – certainly living up to the criteria for induction – yet their historic accomplishments were ignored in favor of their famous asterisks for the alleged use of performance enhancing dugs, despite the fact that these players were exonerated in legal proceedings.

The National Football League has avoided running a popularity contest in their Hall of Fame induction process and instead bases it on performance. Shocking, right? This means O.J. Simpson and a slew of other amazing football players have been admitted, despite their - sometimes immoral, and even criminal - flaws off the field. At the risk of treading over much-trampled ground, if this were really a matter of who was morally superior, it's unlikely that many of the current Cooperstown Pantheon would be present - Ty Cobb, for the most obvious example, was an awful human being: a racist, bigot, sexist, and virtually every other -ist you can think of... an icon of what is arguably worst in the human species. Yet he is in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Would anyone argue that there is something more ethical, somehow more moral, in a player who is a racist, than one who uses steroids?

J. Clark Baird, a lawyer who specializes in steroid defence, opines:

J.Clark Baird, Steroid Defense Lawyer"Another tragic consequence of the witch hunt against steroids is the ostracism from the HOF of some of the greatest players to ever play baseball. Apparently the baseball writers have magically determined which players have used steroids, all without a single positive drug test. The outcome seems to suggest that it was better to be a marginal player on steroids because you won't suffer any consequences or tarnishing of reputation.
The reality is that a significant number of major leaguers used PEDs while playing against each other. Without identifying every single player who used these substances, this decision seems arbitrary and capricious.

"Finally, the writers stance on steroids is hypocritical in the historical contest of the game. Amphetamines were used for decades by major leaguers to enhance performance. Statistically, it is a certainty that some of the members of the HOF used amphetamines. Yet there has been no investigation into bennies. Players who used Greenies [a pharmaceutical amphetamine] have not been smeared in the press.

If today's actions are left unchallenged, then the demonization of steroids will continue and will further spawn irrational and ionequitable policies in sports."

On the other side of the street is lawyer Brian Cuban, host of Cuban's Legal Briefs on EyeOpenerTV and The Cuban Revolution on "Nightcap News" on KDAF/CW33 in Dallas, who argues that the Hall of Fame should have a less static perspective:
  • "I do no believe anyone who is caught using steroids should be eligible for the Hall Of Fame. It may seem hypocritical as compared to past players who have allowed in, but baseball is not a static sport. As views change over the years, so should eligibility requirements."

So where does that leave us? Perhaps a sliding view of the sport is in order, to evolve with the times? Certainly baseball has seen its share of changes; even the pitcher's mound was once a flat surface. Perhaps the ethics of contemporary times ought to be piled up, like so many grains of sand, so the players themselves are elevated unto a status that embodies not only a great ballplayer but a great person?

Clemens has denied using performance-enhancing drugs, and in 2012, a federal jury acquitted him of lying to Congress during an investigation of steroid use. Bonds, who topped Hank Aaron's home run mark in 2007, has denied using performance-enhancing drugs. He was sentenced to two years of probation and 30 days of house arrest for obstruction of justice in another federal probe into whether or not he committed perjury while testifying before a grand jury. Bonds, it has statistically been proven, would have ranked 30th in baseball, had he retired the year before he began working with BALCO. Based on that fact alone, he should be granted entry into the HOF.

However, we can't fail to mention the fact that: ALL of these players are currently represented in the Hall of Fame  by virtue of their statistics. Barry Bonds holds the record for most homeruns. Period. These players are allowed to keep all of their wins, all of their championships, and all of their records, a staggering list by any reckoning, and are still (arbitrarily) not allowed this final recognition. If their records stand, then they ought to be allowed entrance into The Hall; all or none, say us.

How long are we going to penalize players, especially when the actual steroid dealers and manufacturers involved with BALCO, or similar scandals (Kirt Radomski, et al) were each sentenced to less than a year of jail time (or none at all)? Why are the athletes held to a standard that could destroy the worth of an entire career, while the cast and crew behind them are allowed to walk away with minimal damage? It's literally impossible to imagine another situation where drug dealers walk away with fewer repercussions than the drug users!

In a recent interview with Victor Conte, the mastermind behind BALCO, VPX Sports author Josh Hodnik walked away with the following impression:
  • "The more I talked to Conte, the more I realized that the whole BALCO scandal was pretty complex, and the news that came from the media was just the tip of the iceberg. I always wondered who leaked information about the operation and its undetectable steroids. The long list of informants I was told about...told me that many people were responsible for the bust and prosecution...not all of these guys were directly associated with BALCO but they knew enough about the athletes and the drugs used, which helped them avoid prosecution..."

In 2010, Mark McGwire did admit to using steroids during his record-breaking season. Palmeiro was once slapped with a suspension after a positive drug test but denied using any banned substances. Sosa denied using steroids during a congressional hearing but did not respond to requests for an interview by staffers for former Sen. George Mitchell, who led a probe into steroid use in major league baseball in 2007 known as the Mitchell Report.

Speaking of the Mitchell report and the ethics which have just barred some of the best baseball players from the Hall of Fame, the 409-page document covering the history of illegal performance-enhancing drug use in baseball concluded that an “exhaustive investigation attempting to identify every player that has used illegal substances would not be beneficial.” Yet, the report names 89 MLB players who are alleged to have used steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs. None of those players listed were Boston Red Sox (despite the fact that Red Sox stars David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez were later found to have used performance enhancing drugs during the 2003 season) or Milwaukee Brewers. Mitchell was a director of the Boston Red Sox and the report was commissioned by baseball commissioner Bud Selig, whom once owned the Brewers. Such tomfoolery is tolerated, but God forbid a player do what it takes to win…

And sometimes even when you do what it takes to win, you're still accused of cheating. In the infamous Black Sox scandal, Shoeless Joe Jackson took money to throw the 1919 World Series - then hit .375 and made no errors! The only thing he was guilty of, was taking money to throw a game and not actually doing it. Yet he is banned forever from the Baseball Hall of Fame. Pete Rose gambled on sports (that he wasn't playing in), and he isn't allowed into the HOF - though he netted four write-in votes this year.

In 1999 the United States House of Representatives passed a resolution encouraging Major League Baseball to rescind Joe Jackson's elegibility to the Hall of Fame. Firstly, why is the government involved in baseball (at all!), and secondly, why would MLB take them seriously when it comes to penalizing players, yet ignore them when they adjudicate for leniency?

Which brings me to another interesting point and the punctuation to what I believe proves that the players now being barred from Cooperstown are among the sacrificial lambs that were slaughtered to fix baseball. In the wake of the 1994 – 1995 baseball strike, MLB was in bad shape both financially and in lost favor with the fans. Basically, baseball stadiums were empty and no one was paying attention to baseball on TV as evinced by ever declining ratings, which translated into untold millions in lost advertising. As the millennium approached, baseball was in big trouble.

When I interviewed Jose Canseco in 2005 after publishing his tell-all book Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big, he told me that baseball was doing so poorly during after the strike that the team owners relayed a message to the players that, in order to save baseball, the players would have to do “whatever it took” to get baseball out of the slump. When I asked if the team owners and managers understood that drugs would be included in that bag of tricks Canseco answered, “definitely.” This resulted in the famed “Homerun Race” that saw the emergence of the “Bash Brothers,” BALCO, and the greatest run up in baseball interest and revenue the sport had ever seen. In fact, during the peak of what turned into the “steroid era,” MLB posted its greatest single year revenue in history, bringing in over $1B. It is fair to say that the fans were paying to see balls fly over the fence and the guys who were whacking them out of the park did indeed save baseball. Now, look at what they get.

The really unfortunate aspect of all this lies in the false image it gives to drugs. If you listen to the media, specifically the writers who make up the Baseball Writers Association of America who vote in the inductees to Cooperstown, all you have to do is inject a bottle of testosterone, put on Barry Bonds’ uniform and you’ll hit more homeruns than any other player on the planet. If you ask them, drugs account for 100% of the reason Bonds was the best. What about the fact that he was one of the best players (in the history of the game) before he ever (allegedly) picked up a syringe?

The reality is that when the players were told to do “whatever it took” they did indeed do whatever it took. That means they upped their training, increased their focus, employed dieticians, coaches, gurus, specialists, trainers and masseuses. They improved their diets, timed their nutrients, varied their training and applied every single supplement, vitamin and mineral they could find to increase their performance. And, yeah, they used some juice. Babe Ruth's grandson was even quoted as saying that The Bambino himself would have juiced if he were playing today - because he would sure as hell not give anyone else an advantage over him!

But, if you made a pie chart and plotted everything they did to follow the order given to them, the juice they took would amount to a tiny sliver of the pie. Yet, that tiny sliver was enough to not only throw Bonds, Clemens, Palmeiro, Sosa and McGwire under the buss for saving baseball, but it also was enough to keep them from their rightful place in Cooperstown.

As far as I’m concerned, not only do these guys belong in the Hall of Fame, they also deserve a medal for dragging baseball out of the slump. With today’s war on drugs in baseball the game is back down to being as interesting as it was during the post strike slump and revenue is down. This proves that not only do steroids do a player good, they also do good for the sport.

You want to do the right thing? Bring steroids back to baseball; induct Bonds, Clemens, Palmeiro, Sosa and McGwire into the Hall of Fame; and, commit over 75% of the Baseball Writers Association of America to an insane asylum. That should fix everything.

Too many to list.