I love baseball, but I am not a baseball stat-head. I can’t recount how many bases someone stole or how much shutout innings someone pitched. I don’t go in for all those fine-grained analyses over who should and should not get into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
With that caveat, I think it is silly that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were not voted into the Hall of Fame today. Yes they both cheated; they used substances that were prohibited by their sport. Their legacies are forever tarnished by this, and rightfully so. But both Bonds and Clemens were two of the greatest baseball players ever—PEDs or not. And given the alleged pervasiveness of PED usage in their era, one might argue that their dominance was even more impressive.
Moreover, there is little doubt that PED users and cheaters of other kinds are already in the Hall—having played in a time when knowledge of such things was harder to come by or just ignored. No one, as far as I know, has called for a purge of all cheaters and scoundrels already in the Hall of Fame (Let’s not!)
The voters who refused to vote for Bonds and Clemens seem to be trying to undo history or pretend like it didn’t happen. But it did happen. These men played the game. They dominated. How does one tell the history of baseball in the late 20th/early 21st century without talking about Bonds and Clemens? As ESPN baseball writer Jayson Stark puts it: “Do we really want a Hall of Fame that basically tries to pretend that none of those men ever played baseball? That none of that happened? Or that none of that should have happened?”
Another view of why the voters voted the way they did is that the voters were taking out their frustration and anger at the whole so-called Steroids Era by punishing these men. But this strikes me as largely misplaced. It is not the voters’ role to dole out justice for such rule-violations. That role belonged to the league, owners, and players. They all failed in that regard, but that does not license the baseball writers to take it up.
I am of the camp that thinks we ought to put the best, most dominant players of their respective eras in the Hall and where appropriate note the admitted, alleged, or suspected PED use on plaques/signs by the players’ bust. Anything else seems to be either hypocrisy or evasion.