Another year of Baseball Hall of Fame inductees, and another swing and a miss for Barry Bonds (who, by my recollection, did not swing and miss this many times in the entire 2001 season.) I use Bonds as an avatar for an entire generation of accused, presumed and occasionally proved PED users — in part because both the US Government and Major League Baseball have chosen to use him as such an avatar, and in part because I simply like him more (and think he was significantly better) than jerks like Roger Clemens.
This apparent prohibition on “steroid guys” is tired, pointless and wildly hypocritical. Baseball writers taking a stand on drug use, of all things, should take a look in the mirror and shame the pale apparition that confronts them.
The voting instructions for the Hall read thusly: “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.” Given the inclusion of integrity, sportsmanship and character, one might understand barring “drug cheats,” I suppose — the only problem is that integrity, sportsmanship and character have never been weighed seriously in Hall of Fame voting, and drug use has been selectively ignored.
The hallowed Baseball Hall of Fame counts innumerable racists among its members, not to mention assorted domestic abusers and drug addicts. Nobody cried about sportsmanship when garbage human Ty “Spikes Up” Cobb was inducted; I didn’t hear cries for consideration of integrity when Roberto Alomar (who famously spat in the face of an umpire over a strikeout) was inducted; there’s no list of amphetamine-abusers barred from access.
Baseball writers can’t have it both ways — they can’t give a racism hall pass to players from the early 20th century “because it reflects the era, not the man,” and then fail to apply that same sign-of-the-times standard to an entire generation of PED users. In fact, if we’re going to be applying selective historical standards, I’d forgive Bonds for drug use far before I forgave Cap Anson for his vocal opposition to integration.
This year’s class is not unworthy: Chipper Jones was an icon for an entire era of Atlanta Braves baseball; Vlad Guerrero was an under-appreciated, quiet superstar; Jim Thome was an equally humble and understated hitter with monstrous power; Trevor Hoffman was a fantastic closer with impressive longevity. But the entire exercise is invalid as long as this arbitrary line is drawn. Bonds is an indelible part of baseball’s history, and his place in a museum celebrating the best of that history should be unquestioned. And if that means Roger Clemens slides in on his coattails, that’s something we’ll all have to live with.
Matt Kolsky is a sports media professional (or something like that) and lives with an aging Shih Tzu/Schnauser mix in Berkeley. You can hear him on the Bay Area sports radio station 95.7 the Game, usually on weekends. You can listen to his podcast, The Toy Department, on iTunes or wherever else fine podcasts are free. You can find him on Twitter @thekolsky to share your personal feelings about this article or any other topic, he will respond to most tweets that do not contain racial slurs.