Should Steroid Use Preclude Hall of Fame Status?

Ballpark Sunsets at Comerica Park (iPhone photo by Mike Mulholland)

The historical National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York displays baseball-related artifacts and exhibits. [1] To be inducted into the Hall of Fame is a prestigious honor only given to the best of the best. This museum highlights and honors those who have surpassed the average player and coach. The National Baseball Hall of Fame’s motto is “Preserving History, Honoring Excellence, Connecting Generations”. [2] Players are inducted into the Hall of Fame through election by either the Baseball Writers’ Association of America or the Veterans Committee. [3] Following five years after retirement, any player with 10 years of major league experience who passes a screening committee is eligible to be elected by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. [4] A final ballot includes 25-40 candidates, and each committee member may select up to a maximum of 10 candidates. Any player who was named on 75% or more of the ballots is elected. [5]

Rule 5 for the introduction into the Baseball Hall of Fame states, “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, and contributions to the team or teams on which the player played.” [6] Does using steroids violate this rule? The problem with admitting steroid users into the Hall of Fame is these players have violated the rules of the game. Further, these players are breaking the law.  Congress has a list of illegal substances that include steroids that one must obtain with a prescription to use. This makes these substances illegal without a prescription. Initially, the policy accepted by Major League Baseball in 2005 was as follows:

“A first positive test resulted in a suspension of ten games, a second positive test resulted in a suspension of 30 games, the third positive test resulted in a suspension of 60 games, the fourth positive test resulted in a suspension of one full year, and a fifth positive test resulted in a penalty at the commissioner’s discretion” [7]

Players would be tested every year with the possibility of multiple retests. Prior to this, no player was suspended in 2004, the name would be hidden, and the first offense would result in treatment. [8] Later in 2005, the MLB owners and players approved of harsher penalties for positive tests. [9] The initial positive test would result in a 50-game suspension and a second test would result in a 100-game suspension. If the player received a third positive test, he would be banned for life from playing Major League Baseball. [10] Nine years later, in 2014, harsher penalties were implemented for steroid use in the MLB. [11] The initial positive test – 50 game suspensions increased to an 80-game suspension, the second positive test 100-game suspension increased to an 162 game suspension, and lastly the third positive test resulted in the player not being allowed to participate in post-season games. [12]

Steroid use has continued to be an issue for Major League Baseball. This year, for the first time since 2013, no players received enough votes to be inducted. [13] Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, some of baseball’s greatest names, did not receive enough votes after being accused of using performance-enhancing drugs during their careers. [14] Using performance-enhancing drugs ruins the integrity of baseball, which is the key component of being in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The athletic ability of these players is not in question. f it was based on athletic ability alone, it would be a no-brainer to admit them. However, when you violate the integrity of the game, you lose the opportunity to receive the highest accolade baseball has to offer. Further, possession of anabolic steroids can result in a misdemeanor offense since it is a controlled substance. The possible sentence for this crime is up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. [15] The integrity of baseball aside, there is no denying that these athletes were participating in illegal activity. 

If illegal activity stopped Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens from getting into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, why do we have an athlete in the Hall of Fame that has committed crimes and violated the integrity of baseball? Tyrus Raymond Cobb was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1936. [16] Tyrus Cobb had established himself as one of baseball’s biggest stars and one of the greatest players in the game. During his introduction, Tyrus Cobb received more votes than any other player including Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Christy Matthewson and Honus Wagner. [17] However, violent confrontations were a recurring theme in Cobb’s life, along with racial intolerance. [18] During spring training in Georgia, an African American groundskeeper Bungy greeted Tyrus Cobb with a pat on the shoulder and Cobb slapped him and chased him from the clubhouse. [19] When the groundskeeper’s wife tried to intervene, Cobb turned around and choked her. [20] Further, after Cobb stepped on freshly poured asphalt, a worker reprimanded him, and Cobb assaulted the laborer and knocked him onto the ground. [21] Tyrus Cobb was found guilty of battery, but a judge suspended his sentence. [22] Also, Cobb attacked a fan who taunted him. Tyrus Cobb climbed 12 rows of seats to get to the fan and slammed the fan to the ground and beat him senseless until park police had to pull him off. [23] The American League president suspended Cobb for 10 days after witnessing the event. [24] This double standard that is occurring is unusually confusing when determining who to induct into the Hall of Fame. On one hand, we have a criminal who has violated the integrity of the game by having multiple violent confrontations and several incidents of racial intolerance and on the other hand we have players not being allowed into the Hall of Fame because of accusations of potential performance enhancing drug use. Do we remove the people and make it a zero-tolerance policy? Or do we put an asterisk in place for the “steroid” generation of baseball players?


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