In mid-January, baseball writers submitted their ballots to decide which eligible players would gain entrance into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Like those of the past few years, this vote did not come without controversy. Many of the game’s most dominate players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, along with several others, were once again denied baseball’s highest honor due to their association with performance enhancing drugs. As a result of the immense controversy surrounding PED’s, many voters and fans alike believe that usage should be a disqualifying factor for entrance to Cooperstown. Though these players did break the rules, disallowing them from the Hall of Fame is not only the wrong solution, but also unjustifiable.
Those who believe PED’s should prevent players from being let in to Cooperstown often site the inflated stats of many during what is known as the ‘steroid era.’ Despite common sentiments, there is no way to prove that drugs were responsible or, if they were, to what extent. There was a variety of other issues that can offer plausible, alternative explanations for the inflated numbers, such as league expansion, as well as changes to ballparks, and ball composition.
There seems to be a relationship between the arrival of expansion teams and the home run rate in Major League Baseball. Home run rates have increased nearly every year since expansion, and overall, there has been close to a 16% increase in home runs from each previous season, according to Baseball Prospectus.
Along with expansion, ballparks may play a part in explaining rising power numbers that are typically associated with performance enhancing drugs. Home run rates seemed to spike during the 1990’s, when many ballparks were being built and/or renovated. Different dimensions, altitudes, structural features and geographical locations could have played a role in the monster power numbers that we saw from players during this time period.
More than any of the other possibilities, ball composition could have had a major impact on power numbers during the supposed ‘steroid era.’ According to Baseball Prospectus, in 2000, the University of Massachusetts-Lowell Baseball Research Center conducted experiments on baseballs and found that variations in weight could result in balls being hit close to 50% farther. The Lansmont Corporation ran similar tests and found that modern balls could potentially travel close to 50 feet farther than those from decades ago. Scientists also discovered the presence of a rubber ring at the center of many balls, which they concluded could cause balls to travel significantly farther. These studies indicate there is evidence behind the notion that changes in the composition of baseballs could have been a major factor in the upswing of power in the time known as the ‘steroid era.’
The harsh stigma surrounding steroid usage in sports also does not match with the rules put in place to prevent the behavior. Though banned in 1991, players were not tested until the following decade, and even then, the suspensions consisted of only a handful of games. Given the lax attitude Major League Baseball seemed to have, it appears illogical to suddenly hold players accountable to such a degree. If PED use does not warrant a longer, or even permanent ban from the game, then why are players who would have only received 10 game suspensions suddenly being treated as though they broke an unforgivable rule? Given what the punishment (or lack there of) was, it is illogical and unfair to keep all time greats- many of whom never even tested positive for the drugs-from the Hall of Fame.
Bud Selig, the long-time commissioner of the league, who presided during the ‘steroid era,’ was recently admitted into the baseball Hall of Fame. This acceptance marks an unbelievable hypocrisy. Selig, while at the helm, did not act on the growing PED problem until Congress forced him to in 2005. Selig stood by and watched steroids and other drugs run rampant in the sport, presumably because he knew the big money that powerful sluggers and long home runs were bringing to the MLB. Inducting Selig and leaving out those accused and found to have used drugs is an unjustifiable travesty.
In recent years, the annual Hall of Fame voting has become an absolute jumble of conflicting ideas, arguments and ideologies. Every voter has their idea of how they will handle players associated with PEDs. Many voters also have a strong idea of players who they believe (or know) used drugs during their career. It has come to a point where many players are not getting in simply because the played during the ‘steroid era’ or because they fit the mold of a steroid user. An entire generation (and maybe even more) has been cast under a shadow of doubt. Any given voter may have misguided, ignorant or even baseless reasons for believing a particular player was juicing. There seems to be no coherent standard, and as a result, voting on who gets into Cooperstown has become an impossible process. Known steroid users whose stats warrant entrance into the Hall of Fame should be granted entrance, if only to stop the ludicrous guessing games and finger pointing.
Despite what some might like to believe, the monstrous statistics put up during the ‘steroid era’ actually happened. The unbelievable, record-breaking performances should not be ignored simply because of a broken rule that may or may not have actually been the cause of increasing power numbers. In fact, rule-breaking and drug use have had a profound impact on the game since its inception. Pitchers routinely doctored baseballs, yet we do not deny these known cheaters from the Hall, nor do we discount their likely inflated numbers. Before steroids, amphetamines ran rampant in the sport as described by Jim Bouton in his book Ball Four. We do not discount amazing careers such as those of Willie Mays simply because they have been accused of using the drugs.
Despite speculation, the effect of PED’s on Major League Baseball is largely unknown. The reputations of an entire generation of players remains clouded and many of the all time greats have been denied entrance to the Hall of Fame. This is one of sports’ greatest injustices and these players must be awarded baseball’s highest honor.