Pitchers and catchers report today…for some teams. And that has always signaled in me a great feeling. It’s the beginning of a new season… not just in baseball but in life. Spring is the season of new beginnings, after all.
But this year, it feels different for some reason. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older. Maybe it’s because most of the players I grew up watching are now retired.
Lots of them are in the Hall Of Fame now. This year they will induct four more of my childhood, ok, young adult heroes. Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Randy Johnson and Craig Biggio. Four great players. But there were more on the list that should be in as well.
The ones that readily spring to my mind are: Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Raphael Palmeiro, Roger Clemens, Pete Rose and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson.
If you look at just the numbers, it’s fairly obvious that they should all be in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. Bonds is the all-time home run leader. Rose the all-time hits leader. Clemens has more Cy Young awards than anyone in history. As a reference, the three pitchers inducted this year have a combined nine Cy Youngs to the seven Clemens got by himself. “Shoeless” Joe is a lifetime .356 hitter. Palmeiro is one of only four players in the history of the game with 3000 hits and 500 home runs. The other three are in the hall. And if it weren’t for the heroic efforts of McGwire and Sosa in ’98, there might not even be baseball today.
So why aren’t they in the Hall Of Fame?
Five out of these seven because allegations of the use of performance enhancing drugs, which is an unusual thing to keep them out for since when they were playing, it wasn’t illegal. There was no rule governing PEDs at the time. There is now. Yes, technically Palmeiro did test positive for a “controlled substance.” But he was the only one of this group and I’ll get to that later.
Let’s ask a few questions though. First, many people believe that using performance enhancing drugs is unfair. Unfair? Isn’t it really more in line with the thinking of the American Way? Win at all costs? Look at the recent Gulf Wars. We have Abram tanks and Apache helicopters while the Iraqi have… horses and Improvised Explosive Devices. Why are their explosive devices improvised? Because they don’t have bomb factories like we do. So was that really fair?
It seems to me to be a matter of technology. We had far superior technology, thus we fairly handily won those wars. Now don’t get me wrong. I do have the upmost respect for all of our people in uniform and war is never really easy. Just bear with me, I’m trying to make a point.
In baseball, it seems that technology that wasn’t around back in the days of Babe Ruth shouldn’t make someone ineligible for the hall of fame… especially when it seems to be this one use of medical technology.
Were there any other technologies or advancements in the game that were taken advantage of? Of course there are. But they go under the guise of medical procedures. How about Lasik eye repair surgery? So, Dan Uggla isn’t going to make the hall. But there is a variation of the technique called Corneal Refractive Therapy (CRT) that wasn’t around back then either. So the beloved Tony Gwynn, and I don’t mean that sarcastically, I loved the guy too… but under this concept of if it wasn’t around for Ruth you can’t use it, he’s not in the hall.
How about something you hear about on an almost weekly basis in the majors these days: Tommy John surgery? It may seem like Tommy John has been around forever, but he wasn’t around for Ruth. Neither was his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction surgery, so anyone who’s had it shouldn’t be eligible. And that would include new member John Smoltz. I love Smoltzie too but…
How about during the late ’70s and ’80s when Arnold Schwarzenegger made body building a very popular thing to do and players started getting personal trainers and doing specific weight training exercises? That’s another type of advancement. I guess Reggie Jackson, Eddie Murray and George Brett gotta go too. I don’t know that they specifically did this but that’s what took Biggio so long to get voted in. People thought he might have been somewhere in the same zip code as a PED so guilt by association seems to do it.
Back another generation and you get amphetamines. Maybe this is more to the steroid-aholics liking. They were very popular in the 60s and 70s. Did Al Kaline take the so-called Greenies? For Golic’s sake I hope not. (Some of you will get that.) All kidding aside, did Hank Aaron? Pete Rose? How about Sandy Koufax or Tom Seaver? Willie Mays allegedly had liquid greenies, in ironically a red juice bottle, when he played for the Mets. Willie Stargell and Dave Parker were allegedly distributors of the stuff in the Pirates locker room. Baseball made them illegal in 2006 so, nope to those guys too.
Back another generation or two and you get a weird advancement: Baseball as a full-time job. When professional baseball started, only a few select players got paid enough to make baseball a full time gig. So most everyone had to work in the off season at a job. A desk job. A barber. A mechanic. Whatever they could get. So guys like Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Joe DiMaggio – they had that advantage that the early guys didn’t. So they’re out too. And it wasn’t just the Yankees. Stan Musial, Ted Williams and Roy Campenella too. All of them from that generation.
But actually, how about improvements from the original game? Shouldn’t that count? There was no pitcher’s mound originally. The ball was made of very loosely wound contraption that some say resembled more of a bean bag than a baseball. Baseball-Reference.com says the combined score averaged of 3.94 runs per game including a average of 0.13 home runs per game. That changed rather dramatically when the “new fangled” ball was introduced in 1910 when the league started scoring more – up to a bit more than 4.5 runs a game with an almost unheard of 0.21 home runs per game. The power numbers almost doubled! So anyone after 1910 can’t be eligible. Many apologies to Misters Ruth and Gehrig… as well as George Sisler and Rogers Hornsby.
This means that the baseball Hall of Fame would have such household names as Ty Cobb, Cy Young… Buck Ewing, Cap Anson, and Wee Willie Keeler. Fans know the names. My mom doesn’t. My neighbors don’t. And what’s the point of a Hall of Fame if it doesn’t include things that are historical. All of history. Not just the “good” bits.
Steroids are just another advancement in professional sports and we need to recognize that.
This brings me to my second point. It’s a museum, not a shrine. Were the people in the hall perfect? Absolutely not! Ty Cobb was a bigot and generally believed to be a horrible person. Great player, mind you. But a horrible person. And just because you have the numbers and credentials and are an all-around swell guy, doesn’t mean you’ll get in. Look at Dale Murphy. What kept him out? That one year in Colorado?
So everything needs to be included for historical reference purposes. And that includes the people from the steroid era. McGwire and Sosa were so huge in that magical season of 1998 that television networks would interrupt Presidential speeches to show their at-bats live. And their numbers over their careers back up their need to be inducted on the stat side. How can you have a museum that claims that 1998 didn’t happen?
All-time leaders should be included as well. Frankly, if you are the all-time leader in a category when you retire, why are you waiting the five-year grace period? That means Bonds should be in. Period. Why was Rickey Henderson, the all-time leader in stolen bases, runs and walks when he retired, made to wait to be voted in? Was he somehow going to magically lose numbers? Why is Lee Smith not in? He was the all-time leader in saves when he retired. But that inexplicably isn’t enough for some people.
Where does that leave Pete Rose? The all-time hit king should be in as well. And while we’re going over this, let’s take a side trip for Charlie Hustle, why don’t we. Peter Edward Rose gambled on baseball… and I don’t care. He was a great player. But I can’t see him throwing a game for any reason. Keep in mind this was a guy who broke Ray Fosse’s arm in a meaningless all-star game back in 1970. Why? He wanted to win. That’s a great attitude to have for a player.
But there is that dark cloud associated with gambling due to the Black Sox scandal where in 1919 the Chicago White Sox let the Cincinnati Reds win the World Series. And this is the reason “Shoeless” Joe Jackson isn’t in the hall. It’s certainly not his numbers. He qualifies there. But there is something else that’s keeping him out: the so-called “lifetime ban” that was imposed as a punishment.
But that can’t be the reason that Mr. Jackson isn’t in the hall. Why? Simple, and please pardon my flippancy. Joe Jackson’s lifetime ban ended December 5th, 1951. That’s when he died. Lifetime over – lifetime ban over. So there really is no reason to keep him out now, is there? And what does that mean for Rose’s lifetime ban?
Should Rose even have a lifetime ban? In the first year of what should be Rose’s eligibility for the Hall, look who was inducted: Ferguson Jenkins and Gaylord Perry. Perry won over 300-games, which means he’s almost automatic to go in… but he was caught how many times cheating during the game itself? Did he ever meet a lotion or nail file he didn’t like? And Jenkins was arrested in Canada during the 1980 season with cocaine, hashish, and marijuana. Actual illegal drugs. Does gambling look that bad next to this?
But now we’re back to drugs. What were the illegal drugs that are preventing Palmiero from entering the hall? Vitamin B12. And where can you get it? The local drug pusher? Prescription? Not needed here. Wal-Mart. Not over the counter, even. Off the shelf. Palmiero was also the spokesman for a PED for a while – Viagra. That will allegedly help your bat, but I doubt it will help you hit the ball.
So off the shelf drugs can get you banned too then. That would include some other things that people aren’t thinking about. How about NyQuil? That’s an off the shelf performance enhancer, isn’t it? It helps you get over a cold. Ted Williams never had that. So anyone who ever used NyQuil… not allowed in the hall.
What about if you have a prescription? That doesn’t seem to matter much. Just ask Miguel Tejada. He was suspended a while back for using a prescription amphetamine. He’d been using it for five years to help cope with ADD. Not cure it – Cope with it. It was a condition Major League Baseball was fully aware of. But for some reason he had to fill out a form to make it nice and legal? He was a day late, and they suspended him.
What for? It doesn’t cure ADD. It suppresses the symptoms. This would be similar to having a player with a prosthetic foot having to fill out a form to make it legal… every season. The drug wasn’t going to cure Tejada. The fictional player isn’t going to have his foot grow back either. Make MLB aware of it and let it go.
Let’s recap, shall we? What have we learned? PEDs are just another progression. An advancement in technology, if you will. Should people be punished for their use? Why? Did they “ruin” the game somehow? No one complained when McGwire and Sosa were dominating the game in ’98. We watched in awe. It drew fans more than almost anything before.
So why not let PEDs be used? Health reasons? These are players in a game who make millions per season. So if they want to use them, go ahead. The league minimum salary is almost ONE-MILLION dollars. Invest correctly and you can retire on that – even in today’s economy. But medical issues arise. And there is the cost. That’s the choice they have to make. And look at the salaries, they can afford it.
We want to see the top athletes on the planet play our sports. The people at the peak of the human condition. And if that means using PEDs, so be it. It’s legal in other professions. Eventually we could see a complete reversal of the situation. If you want to see the peak human condition, go see an auto mechanic. Or a dentist. Or a school teacher. Because professional athletes aren’t allowed to be in the peak human condition.
And somehow, that just seems wrong, doesn’t it?