This year, baseball’s steroid era reached its greatest reckoning to date when two of the most dominant but tainted players of all time appeared on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot for the first time: Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.
Bonds and Clemens are in a different class than the rest of the poster boys of the steroid era, such as Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro. Both players are first-ballot Hall of Famers, even discounting all the years tainted by steroids. Bonds and Clemens are also in the discussion for the greatest position player and greatest pitcher of all time.
Despite this, if I had a vote for the Hall of Fame, my ballot would be cast the same for Bonds and Clemens as it were for the rest of the steroid tainted players of the ’90s. To promote a clean future for baseball it is important that we keep them out. Keep them all out.
Steroid use in baseball tarnishes the game’s integrity, but it is difficult to police thoroughly. The drug users will always be a step ahead of the drug chasers, because it is impossible to create a test for a drug that doesn’t exist yet. However, this does not mean drug testing is a futile enterprise. Just as the preamble of the Constitution states the goal to “create a more perfect Union,” not a perfect Union, making sports entirely clean is impossible but making sports more clean is not. Drug testing is not the only way to clean up sports; another way is to remove as much incentive to cheat as possible.
Many have argued that neither Bonds nor Clemens ever tested positive even though they finished their careers during the era of steroid testing. If the case of Lance Armstrong proves nothing else, it proves that it’s possible to be caught cheating without a positive test.
The other option is voting the players in because steroids are a part of the history of baseball, and the Hall of Fame is a history museum. While much of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., is a museum that exhibits the good and bad of baseball history, the actual hall displaying the plaques is a shrine to the greatest players in the history of the game. There is a place to tell the story of steroids in the Hall of Fame, but plaques honoring cheaters is not that place.
Keeping Bonds and Clemens out of the Hall of Fame will send a strong message beyond just baseball. If you cheat and are exposed, no matter how good you were before you cheated, your accomplishments will not be granted the legitimacy that enshrinement in the Hall of Fame provides.