The Hall of Fame usually avoids controversy like the Bubonic plague, but the ongoing steroids mess has prompted a formal response from the institution’s president. In an e-mail to the Chicago Tribune, Jeff Idelson announced that the Hall has no plans to change its election rules as a way of specifically addressing the issue of steroids. “Election rules are straightforward and include instructing voters to look beyond the statistics and examine a player’s character, integrity and sportsmanship … their overall contribution to the game. To what percentage each quality is weighed is up to each individual voter.” In other words, steroids count in this discussion, but it’s up to each individual writer to decide how much they count. From where I’m standing, especially given the Hall’s longstanding philosophy of including off-the-field behavior as part of its election criteria, that seems like a reasonable and rational approach.
I might, however, be tempted to take Idelson’s pronouncement and push it a step further. The Hall should make it clear to the voters that there must be some evidence of steroid use on the part of a candidate. For example, there needs to be a failed steroids test, formal charges brought against a player, a listing in the Mitchell Report, or some other clear-cut reason (like blatantly stonewalling Congress) for a candidate to be considered a user of performance enhancing drugs. I’m not talking about the level of evidence needed to convict in a court of law, but clearly, rumor and innuendo are not enough.
Some writers, like Joe Posnanski, have been clamoring for the Hall to drop the “character and integrity” clause, especially in response to the steroids issue. Posnanski’s suggestion is designed to clear a Hall of Fame path for people like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Alex Rodriguez, while reducing the repeated chatter and debate about steroids. Unfortunately, steroids create a complexity of issues that cannot be resolved with one fell swoop. More directly, Posnanski’s suggestion falls short on two counts. First, it’s likely that many of the writers, especially veteran scribes, would disregard the new edict and continue to consider off-the-field considerations like “character,” while continuing to exclude suspected steroid users like Mark McGwire. So at least in the short term, the effect of such a rules change would be nominal. Second, let’s consider a larger issue. Even if some of us do not consider steroid use a moral offense, what about more serious crimes, such as spousal abuse, physical assault, and even murder? To use an extreme example, do we really want someone like O.J. Simpson slithering around the Baseball Hall of Fame during Induction Weekend? I don’t. I want character to count for something.
To this argument, I know that some will counter by saying that the Hall already includes men of questionable “character,” like notorious racist Ty Cobb and confessed spitballer Gaylord Perry. My response? Well, perhaps the writers made a mistake by electing them to the Hall of Fame in the first place. Perhaps there should be a mechanism to remove them (though such a mechanism would be highly problematic and would create a public relations nightmare). But in the meantime, until someone comes up with a better idea than Posnanski’s suggestion, the Hall should continue to include a “character and integrity” clause, emphasizing to the writers that such qualities must be factors in considering a player’s worthiness of induction. They don’t have to be overriding factors, but they should be part of the equation. That seems reasonable to me because the Hall, after all, is about more than just numbers and statistics. Or at least it should be.
The revelation that Alex Rodriguez failed a steroids test in 2003 has created a story of blockbuster proportions. That should come as no surprise since A-Rod is one of the two greatest players in today’s game (along with Albert Pujols) and is almost certainly the most famous.
Yet, Rodriguez’ failed steroids test is not the biggest scandal that came out of the weekend report by Sports Illustrated–not by a long shot. As much as I frown upon steroid use by ballplayers, whether they by superstars or journeymen, the far bigger scandal involves the allegation that Players’ Association executive Gene Orza may have tipped a player (or players) about upcoming drug tests, which are supposed to be random and unannounced. If this allegation is true, if Orza really did this as a way to help a player avoid testing positive for steroids, Orza should be fired by the players union and never be allowed to hold a position connected to Major League Baseball again. If Orza really did this, I’d be tempted to suggest he should face criminal charges. I’m no lawyer–and I’m probably off base here–but I have to wonder if Orza’s supposed actions in undermining the drug agreement could be interpreted as some kind of obstruction of justice.
A-Rod was wrong to have used steroids in 2003, or for however long he did. But at least he did so prior to MLB adopting a punitive drug testing plan, and he can take some solace in knowing that dozens, if not hundreds, of other players have committed the same infraction. (Just over 100 players failed steroids tests in 2003. I wonder when we’ll hear the names of the other perpetrators.) But Orza’s alleged involvement here is far more egregious. As a trusted executive with the Players’ Association, he not only allegedly betrayed a sacred trust of his office, but also intentionally violated an agreement that his own employers had agreed to adopt in cooperation with the owners and Commissioner Bud Selig. That kind of activity is not only unethical; it is reprehensible and immoral.
Let’s hope the Players’ Association investigates this thoroughly. If Donald Fehr and company find out that the allegations are true, Orza has to go–no excuses and no questions asked.
Bobby Bonds–Topps Company–1973 (No. 145)
A number of players have been compared to Willie Mays over the past 40 years–Eric Davis, the late Glenn Burke, and Cesar Cedeno are just three that come to mind–but only one has ever played on the same team with the “Say Hey Kid” while having to deal with the burden of unfair comparisons. In the late 1960s and the early 1970s, Bobby Bonds not only played next to Mays in the San Francisco Giants’ outfield but also displayed such an immediate combination of athleticism, pure power, and baseball instincts that some fans were convinced they were watching the new Mays and the old Mays at the same time. (I love the 1973 Topps card of Bonds, which is pictured here, partly because it shows the athletic outfielder trying to elude a rundown and in part because the card features a cameo of personal favorite Willie Stargell, who was playing first base for the Pittsburgh Pirates at the time.)
And yet, by 1975, both the “old” Mays and the “new” Mays had left the Bay Area; Mays was traded to the Mets and then retired after a dismal 1973 World Series, while Bonds joined the other New York team in a straight-up swap for the talented but athletically inferior Bobby Murcer. Bonds slugged .512 in his lone season with the Yankees (while playing in the pitcher’s haven of Shea Stadium), but he could never make people forget the more popular Murcer and soon became an Angel, in exchange for the uncelebrated package of Mickey Rivers and Ed Figueroa. From there, Bonds hurt his hand and bounced from club to club, raising questions with his fast lifestyle. On the field, his critics said he struck out too much, didn’t run out routine ground balls, and couldn’t hit the cut-off man. Ever a threat to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases, he remained productive but enigmatic, never quite living up to the foreshadowing of superstardom and always giving teams reasons to move him on to another destination.
Bonds died during the summer of 2003, the victim of lung cancer that very possibly had been brought upon by years of cigarette smoking. When I learned about Bonds’ death five years ago, a thought came to me: we’re starting to hear about an increasing number of players from that era (the late sixties and seventies) who have been hit with lung cancer, the likely result of a culture that too readily accepted cigarettes, in part because they didn’t have the volume of medical information that we have today. Mark Belanger, a persistent smoker, died from lung cancer. John Milner, also a heavy smoker, died from the same kind of cancer. And in the fall of 2003, Dave McNally (one of Belanger’s teammates in Baltimore) succumbed to lung cancer.
These tragic developments should serve as a reminder to us that each era in baseball has had its vices, specifically its problems with drugs. As much consternation as the use of steroids has created in the new millennium, the cigarette smoking of the 1960s and seventies has begun to inflict its own toll. There is another similarity between the use of steroids in the current day and the heavy smoking of years past. We don’t yet know the full long-term effects of steroids today, just as many of the players of the sixties didn’t understand the havoc that cigarettes would cause to their bodies in their later years.