Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Steroids and the Baseball Hall of Fame voting

This is a very thoughtful piece by CNNSI's Jeff Pearlman that deals with some of the ethical issues in voting for players into Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame when such players are suspected of steroid usage. As the article points out, when does the American presumption of "innocent until proven guilty begin" to logically falter? He suggests that it becomes a farce when the evidence has been systemically eradicated such that it will be forever impossible to prove guilt because of a cover-up.


I think there is some merit to that logic. I would be hesitant to apply that frame of thought to evidence that might lead to someone being sent to prison or being executed. I think if evidence is destroyed in a serious, capital case, then presumed innocence as a doctrine must rule the day. However, that is not an immutable rule, but that is neither here nor there.


What is at issue here is eligibility and electablity to the Baseball Hall of Fame. On one level, I am very much in agreement with Pearlman's ethical logic in that destroyed and covered up evidence does not render blanket immunity to those whom the evidence would have implicated. But, again, by the same token, one has to apply basic human common sense. While certain players have never been convicted of steroid use, it flies in the face of common sense that a human being that is aging but suddenly finds superhuman size and strength never before attained in one's prior youthful days, particularly if it is in a relatively short period of time.


Look at Barry Bonds for instance. It doesn't take a Ph.D. in Human nutrition and physiology to see that someone who is past his prime suddenly becomes Hulk-like virtually overnight might be on something. Likewise, once the player retires and they suddenly revert back to "normal" shape and size, only a fool would not at least be suspicious. All that having been said, the case of Barry Bonds is pretty well documented in books like Game of Shadows, that Bonds bought and received steroids. Though never convicted by Major League Baseball, its pretty obvious the man was juiced.


The article I cite above involves Jeff Bagwell, which is an interesting wrinkle because Bagwell has never been tied or implicated to any alleged steroid usage. Even in rather lengthy Congressional report and all the exposes about steroids in Baseball, nothing has ever even been alleged other than on certain conspiracy websites and internet rumblings. Bagwell did play for Houston, and quite a few Houston players have been definitively tied to steroid use, so there might be guilt by association. But if there was any evidence, we'll never know.


That's why I advocate the Ethical two-tier standard for Hall of Fame candidates. My standard considers two questions: What have you done in Baseball? What have you done for Baseball?


The first question is the standard fielding, batting, pitching stats, that can sometimes be arbitrary. (For example Does a pitcher need 250 wins? 300 wins? 3000 strikeouts?) I personally think Bagwell is a bit lacking in there. 449 HR, career batting average under .300, only 1 Gold Glove, with post season stats that are horrendous (.226 batting, 2 HR over 9 post season series with 106 post season at bats).


The second question I think overcomes the steroids issue. Has the player, even if implicated with steroids, given back to the community? Do they visit sick kids in the hospital or donate time or money to charity on a regular basis? Have they made the most of their fame and fortune to make the world a better place? Or, were they a self-centered jock that was a perennial clubhouse cancer that no one could stand to be around?


To me, if they can clearly prove they made the most of the fame and money that baseball has given them by giving back to the community, that overcomes potential steroid implications and borderline baseball game stats. I think, even if they used steroids, helping Baseball enshrine ideas of not using steroids to youngsters I think would atone for any past sins.


I have no idea what Bagwell did for charity. He might or might not have. But, I think the in his case, the question is worth asking. It might tip my opinion of his Hall credentials in favor of enshrinement.

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