There is no magic eraser.
Though we’d love to blot out certain actions and periods from our past, history is written in indelible ink. Pretending that something never happened, or ignoring its existence, doesn’t lead to progress.
Changed behavior and better decisions lead to progress.
Baseball today isn’t the same sport I covered fulltime from 1991-2000. Neither slugging statistics nor sluggers’ bodies are as big. It took an act of Congress and a rare concession from the players union, but the industry has moved beyond the Steroid Era.
However, our recollections remain. Not to mention the records.
Barry Bonds’ 73 homers. Roger Clemens’ last four Cy Young awards. The 136 round-trippers between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in the Great Home Run Race of 1998.
Some fans sneer at the mention of those names – Bonds, Clemens, McGwire and Sosa – the era’s Four Horsemen. They’re the players who ruined baseball while simultaneously making it more popular, the cheaters who disgraced the game while making everyone involved richer.
But their feats will never go away and we’ll never forget, no matter how hard baseball wishes. We can’t look back on the sport and don a blindfold from the late ‘80s to the late 2000s. That period is as much a part of baseball as the Deadball Era and Segregation Era.
If Bonds and Clemens don’t belong in the Hall of Fame (maybe McGwire, too), we’re fooling ourselves in attempting to punish them.
“Treat them all the same,” former manager Tony La Russa told ESPN last week, prior to his induction Sunday. “If you were a Hall of Famer during that period as far as your pitching and playing, I would create some kind of asterisk, where everybody understands that, ‘Look, we have some questions, but you were still the dominant pitchers and players of your time.’
“We have to acknowledge that that period for about 10 or 12 years, somewhere around the early ’90s to the early 2000s, was a black spot, a negative mark in our history.”
Asterisk, separate wing, scarlet letter, whatever. I agree wholeheartedly that they should be in. But La Russa and I are in the distinct minority.
Vote totals for Bonds, Clemens and McGwire have declined in balloting by the Baseball Writers of America Association. And on Saturday, the Hall’s board changed the rules, reducing a player’s eligibility from 15 years to 10 before he’s removed from the writers’ ballot.
The trend suggests they will never get in.
Bonds, who won seven MVP awards and holds baseball’s career record for home runs, fell from 36.2 percent of the vote to 34.7, far short of the 75 percent needed for election. Clemens, who won seven Cy Young awards, dropped from 37.6 percent to 35.4. McGwire peaked at 25.6 percent in 2008 percent and is down to 11.
So writers will keep them out and the Veterans Committee is sure to follow suit.
Voters don’t want to honor Steroid Era stars with plaques in Cooperstown and the ability to write “HOF” alongside their autographs. But I see enshrinement more as acknowledging the obvious: They were among the greatest players during a period when many used performance-enhancing drugs.
It’s that simple. I don’t care if they admit using them or deny it ‘till their dying day.
Otherwise, the problem is choosing who to accept and who to suspect.
Jeff Bagwell has clear credentials for the Hall, was never linked to PEDs and wasn’t named in the Mitchell report. But he was a muscular-looking slugger in the ‘90s, which is evidence enough. In four years on the ballot, he has a high of 59.6 percent.
He is suspected of chemical enhancement and there’s no defense for that charge.
Steroids get all the attention and create all the scorn because their effect was so startling physically and statistically. But it’s mind-boggling why so many fans and HOF voters look the other way when it comes to another PED that enjoyed epidemic use in baseball for more than half a century.
Some observers tie decreased offense the last few years to the amphetamines ban as much as anything else. You’re naïve if you don’t think speed had a major effect on statistics. Players certainly didn’t take the drug (illegal without a prescription) to diminish their performance, which landed scores of them in the Hall.
Doctored balls, whites only, corked bats, phantom tags, stolen signs, bottles of greenies and syringes of steroids. They’re all part of baseball’s past and/or present. And few figures were bigger – or greater – during their particular era than Bonds and Clemens.
Even before they turned to PEDs.
They should be acknowledged for their accomplishments, just like others in Cooperstown.
Historians can write the back story. But the entire story must be told.