The Baseball Writers’ Association of America unveiled the 2018 Baseball Hall of Fame class a little over a month ago, and four stellar players were inducted into baseball immortality by ballot voting, with two additional legends elected by the Modern Baseball Era Committee.
Suspected performance-enhancing drug (PED) users Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens only gained about three percent of the votes from 2017, placing them both at just above 55 percent of the ballots.
With this induction, the inevitable steroid debate rose again, reigniting the conversation among millions of sports fanatics. In a nutshell, the debate centers around whether or not players accused of or confirmed to have used PEDs should be allowed into the Hall of Fame.
As a baseball fan and a student of the game’s history, I have always considered the use of PEDs and steroids to be detrimental to baseball’s purity and a mark that taints its legacy and sportsmanship. No player who either used PEDs or who is under a great suspicion of doing so during the infamous “Steroid Era” should be voted into the Hall of Fame. For this analysis, I will primarily spotlight batting, as this is the chief telling factor of the era.
In a 15-season span between 1988 and 2002, the number of 40-homer players, a number considered to be the upper echelon of that statistic in a season, as well as the highest number of home runs hit by an individual player, skyrocketed. These seasons also approximately represent Barry Bonds’ peak years when considering batting. 1988 gave way to only one 42-homer individual, Jose Canseco, who later publicly admitted his use of steroids. MLB implemented a steroid ban in 1991, but few players acknowledged this warning until power hitting began to take flight later in the decade.
A six-season stretch, beginning in 1996 and ending in 2001, proves to be the era’s harbinger of controversy. An average of nearly 14 players surpassed 40 home runs per year in that span, with the highest total averaging over 60 home runs per season. The latter years of the decade brought the Sammy Sosa-Mark McGwire home run race of 1998, a contest that captivated the nation as the two National League sluggers traded out-of-the-park bombs throughout the season.
This cluster of seasons also brought about Barry Bonds’ 73-home-run campaign in 2001, a record that has never been surpassed. Bonds is the poster child for the steroid era, a solid hitter and fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He came under scrutiny for PED use as his career continued, and skyrocketed, in San Francisco. His meteoric rise in home runs led to speculation that the statistical boost was artificially influenced. The San Francisco Giant also surpassed Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record of 755 in 2007, cementing him as likely one of the most prominent and controversial figures in the sport.
Although Bonds was never confirmed to have enabled the use of these drugs, he was indicted for perjury in the BALCO case. This investigation into a laboratory that supplied PEDs to athletes produced few prominent names, but their supplication of steroids to players was enough for the baseball world to scrutinize Bonds.
I tend to side with the large portion of the baseball community that believes Bonds used steroids to aid his career. Stepping back and even simply comparing two photos supports that widely accepted theory, as two photos, 15 years apart, feature staggering differences even without statistics. A 1992 photo features a thin, agile player who appears to be able to play any fielding position. However, a 2007 picture displays an abnormally bulky hulk of a player who only looks fit to be a designated hitter. The statistics of Bonds’ career follow the same pattern, peaking in the years that he began to exhibit these signs.
A large amount of credit should be given to MLB for attempting to control this problem, as the organization unsuccessfully attempted to implement an all-encompassing program for violators of the drug policy. This policy went into effect in 2006 and provides three levels of penalties for positive steroid test results, with an 80-game ban assigned to those penalized for the first time. Second-time offenders receive a 162-game suspension (the entire season) and players who test positive for steroids a third time are hit with a lifetime ban.
Over 60 players on major-league rosters have been penalized through this program as of 2018, with only Mets pitcher Jenrry Mejía, who violated the policy three times in the span of about 10 months, receiving a lifetime ban. Other prominent players disciplined include Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Rafael Palmeiro, Ryan Braun and Miguel Tejada, but very few of those penalized became repeat offenders.
Regarding the Hall of Fame, membership of this elite class of legends should be based on natural ability alone. If there is substantial evidence or suspicion that indicates a player artificially enhanced his performance, their chances at an induction to Cooperstown should be waived.
Becoming a part of baseball immortality requires a devotion to the sport and a myriad of abilities. These athletes worked their way up through the ranks of the minor leagues to attain their position on a major league team. Given they record a stellar career and prove themselves to be one of the best at what they do through natural ability, they should be rewarded with a chance to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Adam Cheek, Contributing Writer
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