For all the sturm und drang surrounding this year’s voting, the Hall of Fame has always had its share of ridiculous members. Two players — Johnny Evers and Joe Tinker–were inducted for no other reason than the fact that their names were included in a popular ditty. (Hell, even Murray Chass has been honored by the Hall.)
Still, this year’s voting will be especially interesting. Mark McGwire, who was a lock for a first balloter as recently as two years ago, now looks like he won’t make it in. (I’d bet he gets even less votes than Jim Rice.) This, of course, is because pretty much the entire world assumes McGwire’s transformation from Dave Kingman to Babe Ruth was chemically enhanced.
I certainly understand that school of thought. I also understand other sides to the issue. Put aside the fact that steroids are illegal — reason enough to consider steroids differently from other performance enhancing medical options, but stick with me for the sake of argument. How are steroids different from, say, Lasik eye surgery? Or Tommy John surgery? Don’t you think there are plenty of guys from any previous era that could have had their careers prolonged by a decade or more if they’d had these options available to them? And wouldn’t at least some of these guys have made it into the Hall?
What’s more, if McGwire — who has never tested positive — doesn’t get your hypothetical vote, how do you evaluate other players of what’s already known as the steroid era? Does this affect how you think about guys like Roger Clemens, who’ve been the subject of persistent rumors? Or, for that matter, Barry Bonds?
I’ve thought about this for a while, and have settled on a doctrine articulated to me by the Kansas City Star‘s Joe Posnanski (for my money, perhaps the best baseball columnist in the country). If I had a vote — and there’s absolutely no danger of that ever happening — I’d vote for guys like Clemens, and even Bonds, because they seem like Hall of Fame-caliber players regardless of whether or not they used steroids. (If it were ever established definitively that a player used, said player would not get my vote, because ‘roid use in the absence of medical necessity, unlike Lasik and Tommy John surgery, is illegal.) And I wouldn’t vote for guys like McGwire, who is the very model of a player who would never have even sniffed the Hall were it not for a remarkable mid-career surge that seems, on top of all of the other anecdotal evidence, to be the result of a healthy regimen of PEDs.
It’s an imprecise formula, to be sure. But I’m not sure if I can think of another one that makes any more sense.