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Cooperstown, Where Do We Draw the Line?

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While there are many individuals out there with a wealth of knowledge on every baseball player and statistic, even for us average Joes, the recent Hall of Fame controversy provides a philosophical discussion. The debate regarding which players are selected to join the Hall of Fame has evolved from a simple opinion of their talent into a moral conversation. Now the question of whether to let in suspected steroid users is a judgement call that all of us have the right to weigh in on.

Though we all have our opinions on who should make the Hall of Fame, ultimately a group of veteran baseball writers get to make the decisions. Veteran members of the Baseball Writer’s Association of America are baseball writers who have given ten years of service to the Association, and they have received the privilege to cast a vote for up to ten players every year. There was a total of 442 ballots cast this year. Players are placed on the ballot in several ways, most commonly by waiting at least five years after their official retirement from playing in the MLB. From the time that players are placed on the ballot, there are three different ways which they are removed from the ballot. The first and most exciting way for a player to get off the ballot is for that player to have over 75% of the electors vote for them. If they get 75% or more of the votes, then they are accepted into the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. If a player does not reach the 75% mark, they can remain on the ballot for up to ten years. If they are unsuccessful after their tenth year,they are removed from the running. They are also removed if they receive less than 5% of votes from the electors in any given year; also lose the chance to enter the Hall of Fame.  

This year, the hall of fame will welcome its three newest members: Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Ivan Rodriguez. Ivan Rodriguez was even a first-ballot Hall of Famer. However, the most contentious discussions have not surrounded Raines, Bagwell or Rodriguez; controversy has arisen over the players who were not elected. Barry Bonds, a name even the most clueless fans know, shot up in vote percentage to almost 54%. Arguably one of the best hitters in baseball, with countless MVP awards under his belt, he seems like a shoe in for the Hall of Fame. However, his career and successes are mired by the steroid era and the dark cloud of performance enhancing drugs that cast a shadow on his accomplishments. The same goes for other players such as Roger Clemens, Manny Ramirez, and Sammy Sosa. Though none of these players received enough votes, recent increases in voting for Bonds and Clemens may be an indication that the day is coming where steroid use will no longer keep “The Greats” from the Hall of Fame.

There are two major factors that explain why Bonds and Clemens have received an uptick in votes. First, a new wave of writers with a different perspective on integrity became eligible to vote and flushed out an older generation of writers who actually worked in the steroid era. Second, Bud Selig, the former commissioner who presided over the steroid era and is often accused of allowing this behavior, was elected to the Hall of Fame. Others, such as Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicler, who have previously voted against all-stars with known PED use are now reconsidering.

Slusser said, “[It is] senseless to keep steroid users out when the enablers are in the Hall of Fame. I will now hold my nose and vote for players I believe cheated.”

The moral and philosophical debate regarding these recent Hall of Fame votes centers around three questions. First, should steroid users be allowed in the Hall of Fame? Second, if there are players in the Hall of Fame who most likely used, but never confessed or got caught, why do they have the right to be in when “The Greats,” such as Barry Bonds, have to be kept out? Lastly, what about those non-users who might take a hit in votes and not be able to get in.

Speaking about himself and Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds said, “The guys that are supposed to be there are supposed to be there. Period. I don’t even know how to say it. We are Hall of Famers. Why are we having these conversations about it? Why are we talking about a baseball era that has come and gone?” 

From Bonds’ viewpoint, no “perceptions” of PED use should be allowed to stand in the way of the selection of the obvious record breakers and Hall of Famers such as himself. It appears that baseball writers are on the verge of agreeing with his perspective.

Of course, there will always be writers that reject any players accused of steroid use on the principle of the stated guidelines for BBWAA voting which say that integrity should be a considered factor in the voting process. Time will only tell how integrity will be interpreted with relation to the Hall of Fame as this wave of suspected steroid users comes through the selection process.

 

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