The steroid issue will haunt baseball for another generation or two. It may retreat and fester from February to November, but it will always break out in full force every December and January when Hall of Fame voting occurs.
The steroid apologists will then crawl out of the woodwork to argue for the likes of Bonds and Clemens—and eventually Ryan Braun, assuming he plays another six or eight years at a high level. Braun’s Cooperstown case would then come up around 2025, and if he should manage to stay on the ballot for 15 years, it would linger until 2040. If so, I’ll be a 100-year-old man or dead.
So I want to counter the arguments now. There are two that I hear on MLB Network Radio, expressed by callers and even a host or two. First, they point out that Cooperstown already honors many cheaters in its hallowed halls. Gaylord Perry, for example, admitted that he used the spitball. Ty Cobb used to cut inside the bases in the era of a single base umpire. Moreover, Cobb, Tris Speaker and Cap Anson were avowed racists—Cobb a violent one.
I won’t dwell on the latter point except to say that the presence of scoundrels already in the Hall of Fame does not persuade me that more should be ushered in. As for spitballs and base-cutting, I consider these peccadilloes; they don’t bother me. Compared to the felony of steroid usage, they’re misdemeanors—part of baseball lore, like corked bats.
More important, they are misdemeanors committed on the field in front of thousands of fans, coaches, managers, and umpires, who can quickly mete out punishment. Recall Joe Niekro and his nail file. He was ejected from the game and given a 10-day suspension, a light penalty befitting the nature of his “crime.” Steroid users, on the other hand, did their deeds behind closed doors, away from the field of play, and their crimes did far greater damage to baseball.
The second argument of the steroid apologists goes like this: Barry Bonds (or Roger Clemens) put up Hall of Fame stats before he took steroids. Therefore he should be voted in. This is absurd. Ted Kaczynski was a child prodigy who enrolled at Harvard at 16 and got a PhD at the University of Michigan before becoming a professor at Berkeley. It seems he was an exemplary young man before he became the Unabomber, but I wouldn’t advocate his parole.
As I said in a previous post, Bonds and Clemens did much more than cheat. They defiled the game and its record book. They disrespected its history. They cheapened the hard won feats of Warren Spahn, Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, and Henry Aaron. To argue for Bonds and Clemens is to argue for corruption as a virtue.
Finally, Bonds, by cheating, shoved into the shadows a contemporary of his, a player even better—Ken Griffey Jr. Check their first 11 years in the big leagues. Bonds hit 40-plus homers three times, Griffey seven times; Bonds drove in 100-plus runs seven times, Griffey eight; Bonds hit .300-plus five times, Griffey seven; Bonds got seven gold gloves, Griffey 10. Then age and injuries brought a natural decline. Griffey played on in stoic pain, Bonds in fraudulent glory.
If there’s any consolation, it will come next year when Ken Griffey Jr. stands before a huge crowd at Cooperstown to make his acceptance speech, Bonds and Clemens conspicuous in their absence.