The 2015 Baseball Hall of Fame class, while undoubtedly impressive and deserving, will likely be remembered as yet another example of the unwillingness of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America to uniformly address the steroid era.
As it stands, the baseball writers are trying to have it both ways: they are acknowledging the existence of the steroid era by leaving obviously deserving candidates out of the Hall, while at the same time slowly giving them more votes as each year passes. To the Hall of Fame voters it may feel like progress, but to me it reeks of denial. This moral grandstanding under the auspices of being linked to steroids raises the concern that over time the buck will be passed to a younger generation of voters who will bear the responsibility of deciding on the Hall-worthiness of the great players from the steroid era.
The question of whether performance enhancing drug (PED) users should be allowed to gain admittance to the Hall of Fame is one that I’ve thought a lot about. Admittedly, it’s a mess. The ramifications extend far and wide, but I believe the answer is to admit those players whose on-field accomplishments merit it and leave history to be the final judge and jury. Ultimately, I believe the greatest injustice would be to leave worthy players—some of whom are objectively among the greatest ever—out of the Hall of Fame, when there very well may be guys already enshrined who have used performance enhancing drugs. Who knows how many PED users are already in the Hall of Fame? And in the future, who knows how many PED users, who managed to stay under the radar, will join them in Cooperstown? The true shame would be knowing that players who got away with using PEDs were voted in, while others connected to PEDs—either by proof, or worse yet, suspicion—continue to be left out and villainized.
Until a rule is established to explicitly ban proven steroid users, voters should respect the main purpose of the Hall of Fame: to create a comprehensive, all-encompassing look at the history of baseball. Any truthful telling of that history would recognize Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens as two of the best to ever play. Inside the Hall of Fame, the steroid era can be addressed however is deemed fit—with qualifiers, categories, or explainers—but ignoring it altogether is just taking the easy way out.
In any sport, or anything in life that has a long history, there are going to be positives and negatives—there are going to be high water marks and dark stains. I’m not a defender of PED use and I’m not celebrating the steroid era as a golden age. But it happened and it wasn’t just a handful of players. It was part of Major League Baseball. From a historical perspective, both the good and the bad of the sport should be acknowledged. The rich tapestry of ups and downs, heroes and villains, scandals and rebirths gives baseball a depth unlike any other sport we have in this country. Because of this, writers should leave Hall of Fame voting to on-the-field accomplishments and let their words shape the stories and reputations we pass down to the next generation.
As I mentioned, I agree with the four players who were elected this year, but if I had a ballot, here are the other guys who would have gotten my vote:
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens
It’s not going to be comfortable but sometimes things have to be done. These two guys dominated the game in ways we’ve never seen before.
Mussina pitched for 17 years in the AL East inside of notoriously hitter-friendly ballparks during the steroid era—and still came away with a solid Hall of Fame case.
Schilling was also very good for the duration of his career, and he was clearly one of the best pitchers in all of baseball for a period of time. Like Smoltz, what pushes Schilling’s credentials over the top for me are his incredible post-season numbers—including a career 11-2 postseason record.
Raines should have gotten into the Hall of Fame a while ago. He might be the second-best leadoff hitter of all time and and he holds the most stolen bases of anyone not yet inducted into the Hall. I struggle to see what’s keeping him out.
Trammell’s career compares very favorably to many other Hall of Fame shortstops, and combined with his sterling defensive reputation, he’s a no-brainer for me.
Piazza’s offensive dominance at the catcher position is nearly unparalleled, which makes him more than deserving.
That’s my ballot, but here are a few other eligible players who I could be convinced to vote for: Jeff Bagwell, Edgar Martinez, Kenny Lofton, Larry Walker, Mark McGwire, and Fred McGriff.
If you can make a good case for why any of these guys should get in, send a tweet my way @BMcCarthy32 with your explanation.