On Friday, I’ve been making First Pitch a discussion thread about baseball memories. At this point, that’s the only thing we have about baseball, and it doesn’t seem like that will be changing anytime soon.
This week, I want to take a different direction and discuss the memory of The Hall of Fame.
Does anyone remember when this was a revered cathedral of baseball greats receiving the highest recognition of their mark on the game?
Do you remember the last time you took the Hall of Fame seriously?
Do you still? If so, how do you do it?
In my lifetime, two of the greatest players and biggest household names in MLB have been blocked from the Hall of Fame.
I remember exactly where I was when Barry Bonds hit his record-setting home run. I remember getting caught up in the moment of being mad that he cheated with steroids to increase his total through steroids adding an extra ten feet to balls hit… no wait, that’s not it, it’s really that they make a player so much stronger… no wait, this time it’s really because it keeps them refreshed.
At this point, I don’t care that Bonds used steroids. Players have been using illegal substances to get an edge for years. Pitchers doctoring the ball. Players doing illegal drugs like cocaine during games to impact their mind. Injecting illegal boosters into their body to maximize their physical potential. Using sticky stuff again. And have you ever thought about how the MLBPA had marijuana removed from testing a long time before the league removed the same testing for minor league players?
Alan Saunders wrote a good article on this topic at Pittsburgh Baseball Now, talking about how Bonds and Clemens were left out for different reasons than the morality clause.
Saunders breaks down the hypocrisy of the morality clause being used when so many players already in the Hall of Fame don’t pass the same test. He also notes that Bonds set one of baseball’s coveted records, which is a no-no. From the article:
If Sosa, McGwire and Bonds never passed Hank Aaron, no one would have ever cared about steroids in baseball. It’s just a reaction to a broken idolatry. The number that had meaning to people no longer has that meaning and the reason is not because the new player was better, but because he was given an opportunity his predecessor was not.
This reminds me of the controversy behind Roger Maris setting the single-season home run record, only to get an asterisk. That asterisk came because MLB deemed he had an unfair advantage over Babe Ruth, due to playing in a longer season.
The thing is, Maris hit those home runs. During an MLB season. Making him the single-season champion.
MLB changed the rules to expand the season, and didn’t think about the implications of what more games would do to counting stats like home runs.
They didn’t exactly change the rules with Bonds. Steroids were illegal, though they were rampant inside the game. Baseball didn’t exactly shy away from their impacts during the home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa — as that was bringing interest back to the game at the time and making people forget about the strike and lost World Series a few years earlier.
MLB didn’t crack down on steroids and ban them from the game until 2005, and that only happened after congressional attention on the subject. I’m old enough to remember an All-Star Game commercial in the early-2000s where every MLB player was drawn to look like a professional wrestler with unreal muscles for every power hitter. This was at a time when everyone knew that MLB hitters were using steroids. MLB didn’t care.
They didn’t change a rule. They did change how much they cared about cracking down on an illegal drug. MLB went from looking the other way to allow steroids to grow the game, up until the moment when they threw players like Bonds and Clemens under the bus — in a very similar fashion to what they did with pitchers in 2021 over the sudden ban of sticky stuff.
In this scenario, MLB isn’t adding an asterisk to Bonds and company. They’re just washing their hands clean of the matter, and letting the Baseball Writer’s Association of America hold the keys to this decision-mobile. The BBWAA got it wrong.
Here’s why Barry Bonds should be in: He’s iconic.
He holds the record for most home runs in the game. I remember where I was when he hit his record breaking home run. I remember the inevitability of the situation. I can’t remember a single thing Larry Walker did, on the other hand, other than just put up monster numbers in Colorado. One of these two players was voted into the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA.
The BBWAA can’t take away a simple fact: Barry Bonds is the home run king. He did hit all of those home runs. MLB never tried to stop him. They didn’t shut it down. They didn’t erase his numbers from the record books. They didn’t even ban him from the game like they did with Pete Rose.
If MLB didn’t care, why does the BBWAA care? If MLB marketed the hell out of McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds, and let them set records to massive TV broadcasts and paid attendance, then why would the BBWAA step in and downplay those achievements? That just allows MLB to profit off of the players, while giving players the full blame and punishment for something MLB allowed to happen.
The system is set up this way. MLB banned Pete Rose, but didn’t restrict him from the Hall of Fame. It was the Hall of Fame that banned Rose. It’s been the BBWAA that has been the gatekeeper for known steroid users. I’m not sure if MLB has ever actually restricted anyone from the Hall of Fame. Why would they, when there are organizations like the BBWAA and the Hall of Fame itself that will step up and be the protectors of the integrity of the game?
As a result, the Hall of Fame to me is a joke. It’s supposed to be a museum where you can go to learn everything about the game. A large portion of the game’s history is being ignored right now, because it puts a bad light on baseball.
The irony is that this works out for Bonds and Clemens. All anyone can do right now is talk about how deserving their performances were. The people against them feel they should be punished for breaking the rules.
You know what I think would be a good punishment?
What if they put the faces of the cheating players on individual plaques, and wrote up the defining summary of their careers on those plaques with the disclaimer that they were known steroid users, and then put those plaques in a museum for every baseball fan to see?
Honestly, that’s much worse than keeping those players out of the Hall of Fame, inviting so many conversations about the greatness of their careers.
THIS WEEK ON PIRATES PROSPECTS
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This Week on First Pitch
TUESDAY: This Week on Pirates Prospects
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THURSDAY: Tony Stark’s Real Superpower is ADHD
FRIDAY: The Hall of Fame
SATURDAY: Alice in Chains