December 5, 2012

Direct Kick: Should HOF welcome PED users?

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — “Those worthy of Hall of Fame election should be selected from the ranks of ability, character and their general contribution to baseball in all respects.”

Those words are the criteria that baseball writers are supposed to follow when electing new members to the Baseball Hall of Fame. You’ll hear a lot about “character” when 2013’s class is announced because this year the likes of Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemons are on that list for the first time, along with Mark McGwire, who returns for the seventh time. Those players all have had their names linked with performance-enhancing drugs, and none are expected to be inducted this time around.

That means the all-time leading home run hitter, a 7-time Cy Young award winner with 300 plus wins, and two hitters with over 500 home runs, all previous credentials to almost automatic induction, will be left out in the cold for their alleged use of PEDs.

In previous columns I have written about my feelings on the use of steroids in sports. Yes, they do give the user an edge in certain areas, and they are more useful in some sports than others. But this is just about baseball.

Let’s take a look if all four meet the criteria for inclusion into the Hall of Fame.

Ability:  Bonds smacked 762 home runs. Clemons was 354-184 with 4,672 strikeouts, 7 Cy Young awards and is a member of the All Century Team, as is McGwire, who finished with 583 homers. Sosa went yard 609 times during his career. So you would have to say yes on ability.

General contribution to baseball: Bonds had a hall of fame career long before his body morphed into something cartoonish. He was regarded by experts as one of the best players in the game. Steroids didn’t help his hitting, only his power. That and the fact that many of the newer ballparks that were built in the 1990s and 2000s had shorter fences, making it easier to hit home runs. While he wasn’t the most personable player off the field, there was no doubt that fans paid to see him, as they did Clemons, who won wherever he pitched. And Sosa and McGwire? Their home run battle of 1998 literally saved the game of baseball as it brought the fans back into the parks after the strike of 1994 when fans started to loss interest in the game. So yes, all four contributed to the sport.

Now the tough one.

Character: Since all four have been linked to steroid use, many people would say no on character. But only McGwire has admitted to using PEDs; there’s just speculation on the part of the other three. Granted, there’s probably no doubt they did use, but there’s been no concrete evidence.

More than any other sport, baseball holds character in the highest regard. But a look at the Hall of Fame leaves me scratching my head.

Ty Cobb. One of the greatest players in baseball history without a doubt. But when it comes to character, well, that’s another story.

He got into a fight with a black groundskeeper over the condition of the Detroit Tigers’ spring training field in 1907, then choked the man’s wife when she tried to intervene.  He fought an umpire after a game to settle an on-field difference. He slapped a black elevator operator for being “uppity,” then when a black night watchman intervened, Cobb pulled a knife and stabbed him. He also went into the stands and attacked a handicapped man who had been heckling him.

Cap Anson. He refused to have the Chicago White Sox take the field when a black player for the opposing team took his position at second base prior to the game starting.

Rogers Hornsby. He was an outspoken segregationist.

Enos Slaughter. In 1947 a sportswriter alleged that he tried to convince his team, the St. Louis Cardinals, to go on strike to protest Jackie Robinson being allowed to play, something he disputed.

So there goes the issue of character. I would say being racist and violent are worse than using steroids. After all, steroids only harm the user.

Did you know that the first baseball player to use PEDs, and admit to it, was Pud Galvin in 1889? Yes, 1889. He used a substance called Brown-Sequard Elixir, a testosterone supplement derived from the testicles of lives animals such as dogs and guinea pigs. And he is in the Hall of Fame. Babe Ruth once injected himself with an extract made from sheep testicles, but all it did was make him sick. Writer Zev Chafets alleges that Mickey Mantle’s home run chase of Roger Maris in 1961 was hampered by a botched injection of a chemical cocktail which included steroids and amphetamines. Pitcher Tom House, who played in the majors from 1971-1978, has admitted to using “steroids they wouldn’t give to horses.” Even Mike Schmidt, a hall of famer, admitted to using amphetamines “a couple of times.”

So who is to say that other players, including hall of famers, haven’t used, at one time or another, a PED of some kind? It was in 1953 that the first anabolic steroid, 19-nortestosterone, was synthesized. It had three to five times the muscle building effects of natural testosterone. And you can bet that there had to be some players who tried this long before the BALCO scandal or any other of the most recent events.

I’m not saying that using PEDs is the right thing to do. I think it’s wrong to chemically enhance your performance. What I am saying is baseball needs to get off its high horse when it comes to “character.” Paul Horning was thrown out of football for gambling, but was later reinstated and is in their hall of fame.  Lawrence Taylor was suspended several times for drug use, was arrested for various drug and sex charges and is in the NFL Hall of Fame.

What I am saying is inclusion into a hall of fame should be based on what the player did on the field, not off.

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