The baseball Hall of Fame just announced the newest additions to their hallowed halls. The new Famers are Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome, and Trevor Hoffman. All are great baseball players and all are deserving of this accolade. However, for the sixth consecutive year, neither Barry Bonds nor Roger Clemens were elected despite being the best position player and best pitcher, respectively, of their generation.
The standard denunciation of Bonds and Clemens, of course, is that they were cheaters. They used performance-enhancing drugs. The same sentiment is also keeping Manny Ramirez, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, and Gary Sheffield out of the Hall, despite all having what were once thought to be sure-fire Hall of Fame stats. It will also likely keep Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz out of the Hall in the future despite their gaudy stats.
Is cheating by using performance-enhancing drugs a good reason to keep a player out of the Hall of Fame? It might be IF there were no cheaters already in the Hall of Fame. Therein lies the problem. The baseball Hall of Fame is FULL of cheaters. Don’t believe me? Let’s check in with some of your favorite Hall of Famers.
Willie Mays is my favorite baseball player of all time. He is in the conversation for the greatest baseball player of all time. However, during the Pittsburgh baseball drug trials of the 1980s, John Milner testified under oath that Mays kept the liquid amphetamine known as the “red juice” in his locker when Milner and Mays were on the Mets and that the red juice was available to his teammates. Mays, of course, played with Hall of Famers Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, and Orlando Cepeda on the Giants before ending his career with the Mets.
Other testimony during those trials established that Hall of Famer Willie Stargell was a source of “greenies” in the Pirates locker room. It has long been believed that Ted Williams learned the value of amphetamines as a Navy pilot in World War II, where amphetamine use among pilots was common, and that Williams introduced amphetamine use to baseball. While that story has never been verified, it is well known that amphetamines were prevalent in baseball from the 1940s onward.
In his book, Ball Four, Jim Bouton wrote about rampant amphetamine use in the Yankees clubhouse of the 1960s, which included Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, and Yogi Berra. Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt admitted in his autobiography that he used amphetamines and that they were widely available in clubhouses. Schmidt stated that amphetamine use was far more common than steroids. In his autobiography, Hank Aaron admitted trying greenies, but tried to mitigate that admission by saying he didn’t like them so didn’t use them after trying them once.
During 1961’s home run race between Yankees Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, Mantle faded down the stretch. In Ze’ev Chafets’ book about the baseball Hall of Fame, he alleged that Mantle faded because of an abscess caused by a botched injection of steroids and amphetamines.
The list goes on. In an interview, Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench said that he “may have taken something” when playing many days in a row, but that amphetamines were legal when he played baseball before MLB banned them. Of course, while baseball did not officially ban amphetamines until much later, the United States banned non-prescription amphetamine use in 1965. And legal or illegal, amphetamines do enhance performance.
Other members of the Big Red Machine have said that Pete Rose—not in the Hall of Fame for gambling reasons—ran to first base when he drew a walk not because he was Charlie Hustle, but because of speed-induced jitters. Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn has spoken about how wide the use of amphetamines is in baseball. Goose Gossage, the Hall of Fame reliever, has admitted to using amphetamines during his career, yet he advocates keeping steroid users out of the Hall of Fame. Frank Thomas has also decried steroid use while admitting to using greenies during his Hall of Fame career.
Now before you argue that amphetamines are not steroids, let’s understand how they work. Baseball is a grueling 162-game season. Games are played nearly every day. Players will get fatigued during the season. It is natural that when the fatigue sets in, players don’t pitch, hit, or field as well. So the solution, for a very long time, was to take amphetamines to increase alertness and get over the fatigue. So amphetamines are, in every sense of the word, performance-enhancing drugs. Major League Baseball was well aware of this, but did nothing about it until the steroid scandals forced them to ban amphetamines in 2005. I’d be willing to bet that 90% or more of all Hall of Famers who played from the 1940s to the present have used amphetamines based on all the testimonials of its wide spread use.
Beyond amphetamines, what about steroid users? Ivan Rodriguez was recently elected to the Hall of Fame despite Jose Canseco writing about Pudge’s steroid use. Jose Canseco has been right about nearly everyone else that he has claimed that has used steroids. When Pudge was asked if he failed one of the anonymous steroid drug tests, he replied “only God knows.” Not exactly a denial. A number of Hall of Fame voters have refused to vote for recent selectees Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, and Craig Biggio because of suspected steroid use. Both Piazza and Bagwell admitted to using Andro, a steroid precursor before baseball banned it. Baseball writers have noted Piazza’s back acne and Bagwell’s sudden muscle growth, both signs of steroid use.
You can, for that matter, go all the way back to baseball’s pre-1900 era, when Hall of Fame pitcher, Pud Galvin, who held most of baseball’s pitching records before Cy Young, was both a user and vocal proponent of an injectable testosterone substance. If Galvin, then the best pitcher in baseball, said that the testosterone injection was helping him, how many other of the best players of the pre-1900 era were doing the same thing?
Of course despite all the imagined benefits of steroid use, we really don’t know how much any player was better because they used steroids. Nor is there any real way to quantify it. Did Bonds hit more home runs because of steroids? Probably, but we don’t know for sure. Bonds had over 400 home runs in his career before his steroid use started. He hit another 350+ home runs after his steroid use began after the 1998 season. How many more would Bonds have hit without steroids? 300? 250? 200? We just don’t know. What we do know is that Bonds, before steroids, had 3 MVP awards and 5 other top 12 in the MVP voting finishes, 8 Gold Gloves, and 7 Silver Slugger awards. That is a sure fire Hall of Fame career even before his steroid use started.
In addition to his home run record, Bonds also owns the record for most walks and intentional walks in a career. This is because many teams refused to pitch to him. During games, Bonds often had only one or two hittable pitches. He turned many of those few hittable pitches into home runs because of his incredible hand-eye coordination, reaction time, and pitch recognition. Those are not talents that are aided by steroids. So while Bonds likely had greater strength due to steroids, his ability to make contact with a baseball was not a function of steroids. Similarly with Clemens, steroids likely added a few miles per hour to his pitches, but it did not help the great control he had throughout his career.
Then there is the issue of how many baseball players were using steroids. While there is again no definitive way to tell, we do know that 104 players tested positive for performance enhancing drugs in the 2003 anonymous testing. That accounts for about 10% of the players that year when the players KNEW that MLB was testing them for PEDs. So how many players were using before PED-testing began? Substantially more for certain. So if Bonds and Clemens were using, what does that mean if their competition was also juicing?
Beyond steroids and amphetamines, the baseball Hall of Fame has numerous other cheaters as well. Gaylord Perry’s known affinity for the banned spitball is legendary. Tiger Hall of Famers Charlie Gehringer and Hank Greenberg benefitted from the Tiger system of having scouts steal signs from the centerfield bleachers. Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker admitted to betting on their own team during one game at the end of the 1919 season when the opposing Cleveland Indian team told them they would lose the game so that the Tigers finished ahead of the Yankees in the standings. Rogers Hornsby, the great Cardinal second baseman admitted that he or one of his teammates cheated in virtually every game he played. Whitey Ford admitted cheating late in his career when his talent was waning.
There is also the stain of baseball’s color line that wasn’t broken until Jackie Robinson’s appearance in 1947. Many Hall of Fame players, from Cap Anson to Ty Cobb, were vocal proponents of black players not being allowed in the major leagues. Would their stats have been as good if they had been facing the best black players of those days?
So the Hall of Fame is already chock full of players who have cheated, used steroids and amphetamines, and helped keep the best black players of the pre-1947 era out of baseball. And now they want to draw a line in the sand? This is hypocrisy at its highest. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens deserve to be in the Hall of Fame with the rest of this motley lot. The baseball writers need to get rid of their holier than thou attitudes.