One time in 3rd grade I got caught chewing gum in class. Chewing gum was against the rules. So, I was mortified as to the possible outcome of my indictment — the teacher telling my parents.
My teacher approached me, leaned over, and whispered, “Just don’t put it under the desk.”
… I was elated. I didn’t get in trouble. All I had to do was throw it away in the trash can. It was the single biggest relief of my, now seemingly, pathetic childhood. I, along with the rest of my classmates, chewed gum in class that entire year.
Then came 4th grade, and the end of my gum-chewing days. In fact, on the first day of school, the teacher sent me to the principal’s office… for chewing gum?!?
What defines a “rule”?
Is a rule some lofty ideology transcribed in some rarely read book?
Is a rule dependent upon the application of that lofty, rarely read, ideology?
I would argue that, in realistic application, a rule is only as good as its enforcement. It seems to be human nature to push the limits if they benefit us in some way. Thus, we, as a society, often seek to find those limits in the currently “grey area” of all aspects of life. Including sports. And including baseball.
Why do the steroid era players deserve to be in the Hall of Fame?
Because they were the best of the best, in their era, operating under that era’s “rules.”
At the height of steroid era, players were hitting 50, 60, and even 70 home runs a season. And as a Nike commercial infamously pointed out, “Chicks dig the long ball.”
Power hitting was good for baseball. At least, it was good for the sale of baseball as a product to the general public. Fans wanted to see home runs, so baseball wanted to deliver them. When players began amassing abnormal amounts of muscle in a short amount of time, baseball didn’t investigate them. Conversely, the MLB turned a blind eye.
So, what did players begin to do? They juiced up. And, why wouldn’t they? Pitchers were facing stronger hitters, and hitters were facing harder throwing, quicker recovering, pitchers. Ball players had to do it to keep up with the rest of the league. They did it to stay competitive or to become more competitive. In the end, they did it to help their team win.
Along with winning comes accolades, records, and money, which made winning even more enjoyable. And, subsequently, made steroids more inevitable.
But, what if baseball had strict regulations, tough testing policies, and extreme punishments for those who were caught using performance enhancing drugs (“PEDs”)?
Then none of the great players would have used them. Every time Bonds, Clemens, etc. shot up, they did a balancing test in their head. Did the benefits outweigh the costs? Yes- they absolutely did. Baseball was eating up their dominating performances. They were being immortalized, getting huge contracts, and breaking records. And, what if they didn’t? Their thought process must have considered the guys who did take PEDs and those players’ chances of over taking their current status in baseball if they didn’t use PEDs.
So, if baseball had stricter regulations, tougher testing policies, and extreme punishments for those who were caught using PEDs, players would have weighed the benefits and costs and determined that it simply wasn’t worth it. Why risk using PEDs if, hypothetically, the consequences were to be suspended an entire year and have an entire career of work and accomplishments erased for a tail end chase at glory?
Players would have been discouraged from using PEDs so that they would not hurt their teams, themselves, or their legacies.
BUT there weren’t strict regulations, tough testing policies, and extreme punishments for those who were caught using PEDs.
I know. And that is why a majority of the blame for these great players using PEDs should be on the league. Players, who had excelled their whole lives in baseball and were natural die-hard competitors, were going to do everything in their power to be the best they could be, within the “rules” of the game.
If it had been one or two players caught using PEDs, then they wouldn’t deserve the hall of fame, but since it was hundreds of players, those using PEDs were not given an edge, but merely staying with the pack.
It was an even playing field, in which the great players were great.
We judge players relative to the generation they played in. No one voting on the basketball hall of fame is going to compare LeBron James to Bob Cousy. We compare players’ accomplishments relative to the players of their time period. It’s a simple fact that athletes have become bigger, faster, and stronger than sixty years ago, and if LeBron had played in the 50’s, he may have averaged 50 points and 30 rebounds a game… or more. But he doesn’t get to play against the players of the 50’s, and by the same token, Cousy doesn’t have to play against the players of today.
Applying the same logic, baseball’s hall of famers didn’t have to play in an era when everyone was using steroids — and getting away with it. If they had played “clean,” then they may not have even had the careers that they had in their own eras.
*And as a side note, I simply don’t buy the “innocent until proven guilty” arguments. The media attention was on the great players that had allegations against them stemming from different investigations, but they were far from the only ones. It’s logical to assume that some players were using them simply to take themselves from bad to mediocre to prolong their careers. It’s called the “steroid era” and not the “steroid incident” for a reason.
Today, no player was voted into the baseball hall of fame, and it’s a shame.
Eventually, I hope that changes. There are several guys who deserve to be in. And do not misunderstand me, I do not approve of the use of PEDs and in no way condone of their use in baseball. I simply believe they were great players who worked within the boundaries the MLB had established to become some of the greatest players of all time, and these players shouldn’t be punished for being products of their environments.
If anyone should be blamed for baseball’s black eye known as the “steroid era,” it’s the owners and the league. Their application, or lack thereof, a “rule” evolved over time, and these great players, and their denial into the hall of fame, are the casualties of this unfair evolution.
By: Tyler Raborn