What To Do With Baseball’s Steroid Stars?

It is no secret that football has firmly supplanted baseball as America’s game.  The NFL is the most popular and profitable sport; and while the Super Bowl is basically an unofficial holiday, baseball’s fall classic has become more and more unpopular, with the seven lowest-rated World Series all coming in the last seven years, according to USA Today.  

That being said, baseball, in many ways, still remains America’s pastime.  There’s no denying a strong sense of nostalgia when it comes to Americans and their feelings toward baseball; the names, the stories, the records all seem to hold a special significance for each of us, similar what Miguel Cabrera’s triple crown meant to many fans and MVP voters.  We are seeing many of these special and prideful attitudes toward baseball brought up again, as the 2013 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot was announced last week, with some of the game’s most infamous names on it for the first time.

The 2013 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot was released last week, containing a few highly controversial names. Photo courtesy of Zak Hornung.

Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens, among others, are now eligible to become members of the Baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.  By their statistical achievements alone, they’d go in. Bonds is the all-time leader in home runs, Sosa is the only player in MLB history to hit 60 home runs in a season three times, and Clemens is a seven-time Cy Young winner.  Of course, these are also three of Baseball’s several revered stars to have their careers tarnished by allegations of steroid use.  Whether or not these men belong in the Hall of Fame has been widely debated for some time now, even before their names were mentioned in the Mitchell report or BALCO investigation.

Now, finally, a firm stance is required.  Do these men, who knowingly and willingly used banned substances to improve their on-field performance, belong amongst the greatest names to ever step on a baseball diamond?

The ‘knee-jerk’ reaction is often no, that putting these men in a class with Ruth, Gherig and Cobb is unfathomable.  While they and many others in the Hall of Fame are regarded as American legends, Bonds, Sosa Clemens are considered science projects.  And, while trying to gain a competitive edge over one’s opponent has been accepted and even celebrated in the past (i.e.: Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry and the spitball),  the use of performance enhancing drugs seems to cross a line.  Steroids go past the institution of playing with one’s natural ability, and threaten the integrity of the game.

The common opposition to this stern belief is a more objective viewpoint that Baseball is ever changing and can be broken down into different eras.  The period of baseball from 1998 to roughly a few years ago, is already considered the steroid era, and players like Clemens, Bonds and Sosa would go into the Hall of Fame as the best players from that era.  Also, a valid argument.

My favorite, and possibly the freshest take on whether or not to let players of the steroid era into baseball’s Hall of Fame, is the one Chicago Cubs broadcaster, Len Kasper, tweeted last week.  Kasper’s opinion is essentially this: let them in, and let them either explain themselves or stew in their own inner turmoil while giving their acceptance speech in front of their peers.

Frankly, I agree with Kasper.  So much of me wants to say ‘no, no way, no how,’ but Major League Baseball itself turned their heads in 1998, when suspicion of steroid use arose while Sosa and McGwire saved baseball with their chase of Roger Maris’ single-season home run record.  Plus, these players still hold all of their individual accolades, so why now?  Let these men, who for years have denied their wrong doings in a cowardly and defiant manor,  stand up in front the Baseball immortals, and accept their ‘honor’ as a member of the game’s elite.

While more to this grey-area remains, whether it be the monetary gain of signing one’s name ‘HOF’ or determining if a player’s pre-steroid career is enough to get him in,  I just simply want to hear from these men.  I want to see if Bonds and Clemens, who have taken on perjury indictments while pleading their innocence, will break down and come clean, or if Sosa finally remembered how to speak English.  In the end, no right or wrong answer exists, and the voting process as whole remains confusing and imperfect.  However, Kasper’s view seems to be the most fitting.  It obviously meant enough for them to cheat, so let them live with their record achievements, and let them live with the guilt, too.