The Hall-of-Fame/steroids debate, which has raged on within the Baseball Writers Association since 2007 when Mark McGwire, the early poster boy for cheating, first came on the ballot, has now at least been given some clarity as to how the Hall-of-Famers themselves feel about the issue.
For all the voting writers who have complained that the Hall of Fame has failed to give them any direction on how to deal with steroid cheats – despite the very specific “integrity, sportsmanship and character” clause on the ballot – Joe Morgan on Tuesday provided a very specific and emphatic answer: Say no to Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens before it’s too late.
In his position as vice chairman of the Hall, Morgan, the Hall of Fame second baseman, two-time National League MVP and longtime ESPN Sunday Night TV baseball analyst, sent out a letter to the over 430 BBWAA members who will vote in this year’s election urging them to invoke that integrity clause by not sending cheaters to Cooperstown where they will not be welcome.
“The more we Hall-of-Famers talk about this – and we talk about it a lot – we realize we can no longer sit silent,” Morgan wrote. “Many of us have come to think that silence will be considered complicity….We hope the day never comes when known steroid users are voted into the Hall of Fame. They cheated. Steroid users don’t belong here.”
Joe Morgan goes after steroid users in letter to Hall voters
Unfortunately, Morgan’s letter comes at least one year too late, as the Baseball Writers last winter elected Pudge Rodriguez – an obvious steroids cheat if there ever was one who Jose Canseco said he personally injected several times when they were teammates in Texas – and there are always going to be strong suspicions about Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell despite no tangible evidence they were users. It is worth noting Rodriguez never denied Canseco’s allegations and showed up a shrunken 30 pounds trimmer in spring training the year MLB began testing.
Up until last year, the Baseball Writers had done a good job at upholding the “integrity clause” and keeping the known steroids cheats at a safe distance from Cooperstown. McGwire lasted 10 years on the ballot but his highest percentage was 23.7%. Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro both lasted only four years on the ballot, with highs of 12.6% in their second. Juan Gonzalez, despite two MVP awards, 434 career homers and 157 RBI in 1998, lasted just two years on the ballot, with a high of 5.2% his first year.
But then last year Rodriguez breezed in and Bonds and Clemens, for the first time, went over 50%, seemingly giving them a fighting a chance to achieve the necessary 75% before their eligibility is up in 2022. This – and the fact that Manny Ramirez, despite two steroids suspensions received 105 votes and 23.8% in his first year of eligibility – is what set the alarm bells off with the Hall-of-Famers.
Morgan in his letter made a point of saying he wasn’t speaking for every member of the Hall of Fame. “I don’t know how everyone feels,” he said, “but I do know how many of the Hall of Famers feel.” And having spoken to those many Hall-of-Famers myself about this issue, I know he’s not kidding when says, “it’s gotten to the point where Hall-of-Famers are saying if steroids users get in, they’ll no longer come to Cooperstown for Induction Ceremonies and other events.”
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In explaining why the Hall-of-Famers feel so strongly about steroids cheats and their effect on the game, Morgan cited Dan Naulty, the former Twins and Yankees reliever who told Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci in 2012: “I was a full blown cheater and I knew it. You didn’t need a written rule. I was violating the principles that were laid down within the rules.”
As Morgan said: “Taking steroids is a decision. It’s the deliberate act of using chemistry to change how hard you hit and throw by changing what your body is made of.”
Hopefully Morgan’s plea will serve as a wakeup call for enough voters to keep saying no to Bonds and Clemens, although I suspect it will go on deaf ears to those who continue to vocally support them. Their reasons “well they were Hall-of-Famers before they started taking steroids” and “before steroids, what about all the players who took amphetamines for 100 years?” are equally lame.
Joe Jackson was a Hall of Famer too, right up until the last year of his career, until he and his seven teammates conspired to fix the 1919 World Series. And amphetamines, though equally dangerous (which is why MLB has banned them) are not body altering performance enhancers. While amphetamines may have possibly provided extra energy to enable players to play when their bodies were worn down, they did not help Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs or Warren Spahn to win 82 games after the age of 40.
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I say bravo Joe Morgan for giving my BBWAA brethren the direction from the Hall they’ve been clamoring for. I only hope it resonates.
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