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Hall of Fame Vote Places Integrity over “Accomplishment”

Ethics of Denying PED users a vote into the Hall

By now you’ve heard no one received the 75% vote of sportscasters needed to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. Craig Biggio was closest with 68.2 % approval followed closely by Jack Morris with 67.7%; Jeff Bagwell, 59.6%; and Mike Piazza with 57.8%.

Most observers believe these and other worthy players were denied entrance into the Hall because they played during the steroid era. There is absolutely no proof they used performance enhancing drugs (PED’s). Is it right to deny entrance to someone who established Hall-like records simply because they played during the steroid era?

Personally, I think Morris and Piazza should have been voted into the Hall. They were the best players of their era during the 1980s and 1990s, well before suspected steroid use. Morris was a five-time All Star; played on four World Series Championship teams winning the MVP award in 1991; and pitched the most innings and had the most wins of any pitcher of his time. Piazza was a 12-time All Star and had more home runs than any other catcher. He also had a .308 lifetime batting average, unheard of for a catcher.

Morris, Piazza, and the others clearly got caught up in the frenzy over suspected PED users such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Morris and Piazza were denied entrance to the Hall with astonishingly low percentage approval of  36.2% and 37.6%, respectively or about one-half the required votes needed.

Bonds, of course, holds the all-time baseball record for career home runs with 762 reached in 2006, surpassing Hank Aaron’s record of 733 that had stood since 1976. Bonds holds the single record of 73 home runs surpassing Mark McGwire’s record of 70 in 1998. Bonds was awarded a record seven MVPs and is a 14-time All Star.

McGwire’s record knocked Babe Ruth off the pedestal of most home runs (60) in a season with 61 during 1961. Babe Ruth had set the record in 1927. So, it took Maris 49 years to overtake Babe Ruth; McGwire took just 22 years to dethrone Aaron; and Bonds took only 8 years to surpass McGwire. The validity of these results do not pass the smell test.

As for Clemens he tallied 354 wins, a 3.12 earned run average, and 4,672 strikeouts, the third-most all time. Clemens was an 11-time All-Star and two-time World Series champion. Most impressive is his seven Cy Young Awards, the most of any pitcher in major league baseball (MLB) history.

How can we evaluate the ethics of the sportswriters vote to keep Bonds and Clemens out of the Hall? First, is it right to deny entrance to baseball’s most prestigious shrine given the record-setting careers of these two players? Neither one was convicted of using PEDs. However, if they did “juice up” then it would be unfair to elect them into the Hall because other players who played by the rules during the steroid era of baseball did not amass the same statistics but are compared to players like Bonds and Clemens.

One thing that concerns me most is holding players accountable after the fact when baseball had no rules at the time banning steroid use. It seems like the rules of the game are being changed by the sportswriters – the same sportswriters that voted for Bonds for MVP and Clemens for the Cy Young award on multiple occasions and watched while Bonds' head grew in size from his Pittsburgh Pirate days to SF Giants.  Bonds_300

One way to judge accomplishment is to look at their careers before the alleged period of steroid use. If we do that both Bonds and Clemens had Hall of Fame careers before the telltale date of juicing up. On that basis I think they should be elected to the Hall.

Another perspective is to ask: Did cheating make them fundamentally different than they would have been absent the steroid use?  Bonds averaged 35 home runs each year during his first 14 years in baseball and 52 during the next five years. Is it logical that a player would become a better home run hitter later in his career?

The story is much the same with Clemens who averaged 16 wins each year during the tail-end of his career with Toronto and the NY Yankees from 1997 through 2003. Prior to that in his last years with the Boston Red Sox he averaged 10 wins a year. One can conclude the juice started flowing in 1997.

For me the bottom line is Clemens and Bonds should not be let into the Hall because they cheated even if they did not violate MLB rules at the time. Part of ethical analysis is to consider how one’s actions affect others. There must be dozens of pitchers whose earned run averages are higher because Bonds (allegedly) juiced up; there must be dozens of hitters whose batting averages are lower than they would have been otherwise had Clemens (allegedly) not used PEDs. Other pitchers and hitters played by the rules but were not able to compete on a level playing field with the players who used steroids.

We should not reward players, no matter how impressive their statistics, as long as their records are tainted. The performance of Bonds and Clemens the last few years of their careers when compared to the early years is so overwhelmingly out of whack that, in my mind, they used steroids; cheated; failed to consider the impact of their actions on other players and MLB; and cheated fans out of honest performances on the field that raises ethical questions about the win-lost results for teams like the NY Yankees and SF Giants.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on January 11, 2013