First Posted: 1/5/2015
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, err Cooperstown.
Baseball sportswriters across the country are casting ballots this week on this year’s Hall of Fame class, but they are doing so without any benefit of guidance from the Hall of Fame itself.
This year’s ballot is loaded with star power — with as many as 17 players deserving of consideration — yet the final results will be twisted by how journalists feel on the subject of performance-enhancing drugs.
Columnists across the country are loading up the internet with opinions on whether someone like Barry Bonds should be admitted to the Hall of Fame, yet the Hall itself is strangely quiet on the subject.
Major League Baseball also hasn’t made any public statement about whether or not sportswriters should consider suspected and admitted steroid users into the Hall.
This lack of leadership at the highest levels is very disturbing. MLB and the Hall want us sports journalists to decide for ourselves whether or not a player is worthy.
Yet, the fallacy in that logic is that we sportswriters have no say in the day-to-day running of baseball.
If, for example, I were able to impact baseball, then I would have instituted a drug policy similar to the NFL and maybe even the Olympics 25 years ago.
And when Barry Bonds’ noggin began to swell like a helium balloon, I would have demanded rigorous blood testing. Then I would have suspended him for a full season and required regular checkups.
You see, this is the problem. Sportswriters could tell that people like Bonds and Roger Clemens and Jeff Bagwell just kept getting bigger and bigger. We knew there was a problem. We wrote articles about this problem, yet MLB didn’t take drastic enough action in the 1990s to catch the criminals.
And the reason was simple: MLB wanted records to be broken to bring back fans after yet another stop in play.
The 1994 strike wiped out the World Series that October. That was the eighth strike in MLB history and the fourth to stop play in a 22-year span.
Fans were angry and many vowed to stop watching baseball altogether.
According to attendance tracked by baseball-reference.com, the average number of fans at a game dropped 20 percent from 31,000 to 25,000 from 1994 to 1995.
Baseball needed something to bring the fans back, and 1998’s home run duel between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa was just the thing. No one in the league office cared if one or both of the sluggers was juicing. All they cared about were the increase in tickets and TV ratings.
Now here we are two decades later with players like McGwire, Sosa and Bonds up for selection, and suddenly it’s my job to figure out who should get it?
My first reaction was to say no. Not just no, but heck no to any athlete who cheats like those three sluggers. But what proof do I have that they cheated? I live in North Carolina — I’ve never even been to an MLB game in person (but I love the Dash’s stadium). I see games on TV. I have no idea if Mike Piazza did steroids (or is gay for that matter, another common rumor).
So after much consideration, I started to sway toward the idea of voting for players based strictly off merit, not rumors.
Then my third reaction was to go with what I’ve been saying here: you shouldn’t expect me to make decisions after the fact when I had no way to make decisions during the PED era.
• For the sake of clarity, I am not a member of Baseball Writers of America, so I don’t get a ballot. However, if you are curious about who I would choose and why, look for a post on The Mount Airy News’ Facebook page.