Monday, January 14, 2013

Time for Baseball to Fess Up to What It Is

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, January 14, 2013


By Bill Gouveia

The recent election (or lack of same) held for the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown has resulted in a renewal and intensification of the debate that has raged through the sporting world for the last few decades: How do you judge the Hall of Fame worthiness of players in what has become known as “The Steroid Age”?

Well, it seems pretty simple to me. You judge them the way baseball players have been judged since Abner Doubleday first threw a few sacks on the ground and created America’s national pastime. You judge them by how they performed on the field, and whether or not they did so within the confines of the rules.

It’s that simple. There should be no confusion about the standards by which major leaguers are judged. Baseball is – more than any other sport – a game of numbers. You score more runs, you win the game. You hit for the highest average, you win the title. You hit the most homers, you are the homerun champion.

But now there is much discussion about the worthiness of players who possess numbers that should easily reserve them a spot in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown. While their statistics are undeniable, we now view their accomplishments as suspect because they may have taken a substance which – at the time they took it – was not against baseball rules. And we can’t put them in the greatest of all Halls of Fame because (gasp) that would damage the integrity of the game of baseball.

Integrity of baseball? Should those words ever really be used in the same sentence without the words “lack of” preceding them? It’s too bad Major League Baseball and the Hall of Fame voters didn’t worry about the “integrity” of baseball when these players were on the field, earning their owners untold millions of dollars. Because when it counted – when MLB had a chance to really show they were concerned about the integrity of their game – they chose to turn a blind eye.

Is there anyone who really didn’t believe guys like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens weren’t taking some type of steroids or performance-enhancing substances during their playing days? I mean, just look at pictures of them early in their careers and then towards the end. Clemens bulked up like a weightlifter, and Bonds had a head that seemed to grow five sizes. Are you kidding me?

But they weren’t suspended by baseball, and they were barely even investigated until the situation could simply no longer be denied. Part of the reason is that early on, there were no specific rules against \what they were doing.

Look, I really don’t like Clemens or Bonds. I think they both pretty much represent what was wrong with professional sports for much of the last couple of decades. They are not role models for our children, and in many ways do not deserve our respect or support.

But this is the baseball Hall of Fame, not the good citizen Hall of Fame. It is a place where great players are honored for their achievements. It is supposed to be a reflection of baseball, not a glorified image of what writers or fans think baseball should have been.

And the undeniable fact is these men dominated their era. Roger Clemens was pitching to hitters who used steroids. Barry Bonds was hitting against pitchers who were using various enhancements. And they did their jobs better than any of their peers, whether those players were partaking of the same substances or not.

No matter what else they are or have ever been, these players are a product of baseball. They played within a system that glorified them when it needed them, and vilified them when they no longer served a purpose. Baseball simply can’t reap the benefits these individuals provided them, and then refuse to recognize their accomplishments.

Perhaps on their Hall of Fame plaques there should be a mention that they were suspected of using steroids. But Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens belong in Cooperstown. If they continue to be denied, then the Hall of Fame becomes nothing more than a carnival sideshow designed to promote a game that in fact no longer exists.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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