Thursday, January 09, 2014

Just Put Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens in the Hall of Fame

I don't like Barry Bonds. I don't like Roger Clemens. I hate both of them and think the tremendous success they had in the late stages of their career was due to their PED usage. I also think they're both jerks. I enjoy seeing bad things happen to them.

However, they belong in the Hall of Fame. And the BBWAA has no right to act as self appointed avengers, bringing baseball "criminals" like Clemens and Bonds to justice for their sins. The BBWAA has no right. Because the BBWAA were silent partners in the PED era dominated by Bonds and Clemens.

Countless players were shooting up and cycling right under the noses of the BBWAA. Arm muscles grew to the sizes of leg muscles. Players recovered from injury at an inhuman pace. And the writers did next to nothing to investigate the real cause. These miracles were attributed to wondrous advances in sports medicine and training technology. The BBWAA made no effort to investigate the effects of PEDs, and then look for those effects being displayed by players. "You still have to hit the ball," was a common dismissal of the theoretical impact PEDs could have.

And even after baseball admitted it had a PED problem, moral indignation and outrage was selective. Writers and fans in Boston, for instance, were quick to attack New York players who were listed as PED users. Myself included. Those same writers and fans were just as quick to forgive and embrace David Ortiz. And we didn't question Manny Ramirez's production in Boston until he wasn't in Boston anymore.

Then there were the San Francisco "journalists" and fans who vehemently defended Barry Bonds to the bitter end. Bonds was portrayed as a victim of being disliked, a victim of reputation, a victim of envy, even a victim of racism.

Most of us wanted asterisks added to records and achievements. In retrospect the entire era deserves an asterisk, not just a few players. And how come there are no movements to add asterisks to known spitball pitchers, or those who stole signs? Red Sox fans who wanted Bonds' records stigmatized with an asterisk don't request that the same be done to the 2004 World Series, or to series MVP Manny Ramirez.

In hindsight, it would be dumb for a player NOT to take PEDs during that era. There were no consequences. The sports media and BBWAA weren't putting any serious effort into questioning the gargantuan numbers and muscles of the era. The League ignored the issue, the Players Association denied it, the teams paid for it, we the fans LOVED it. The writers also gained financially as the game's popularity boomed because of the homerun explosion.

And now we want to punish a few players for what many/most did? Who are we to judge when we loved the product? Who are the BBWAA to determine the right and wrong of something they went out of their way to avoid discovering? The biggest sports story in decades was happening right in front of them and it took years and a Congressional investigation to unearth it? What right do the BBWAA have to judge an era's morality when they were part of it?

The Baseball Hall of Fame isn't a Hall of Morality. Just look at Ty Cobb, or the violent and overindulgent Babe Ruth, or the racist Tom Yawkey. How many other morally repugnant men have been enshrined? How many cheaters? What about admitted spitballer Gaylord Perry? If the BBWAA wants the Hall to be clean, they should start with the garbage inside before focusing on the garbage outside.

Removing morality from the equation, you can only assess players by comparing them to their peers who played in the same era. You can't, for instance, compare Rogers Hornsby's 301 career homeruns to Craig Biggio's 291 and say that they're comparable. But you can compare Biggio to players who played at the same time. So if we're comparing Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds within the context of the era in which they played, they were still the best. Bonds was the best hitter of the PED era. Clemens was one of the best pitchers. There's no arguing that.

The BBWAA wants to clean something that stained the game of baseball. But the BBWAA themselves are also stained. That entire era is. It's over. It happened. The BBWAA did its part to allow it to happen. It can't be reversed or righted. Certainly not by a bunch of holier-than-thou sportswriters who enjoyed the ride and profited from baseball's return to popularity. All that can be done now is to compare the players who played in that time, choose the best ones, and send them to Cooperstown.

The BBWAA failed to do its job back when Bonds and Clemens were playing. In an illogical response to that, they've assumed even more responsibilities. They've made themselves into judge, jury, and executioner of baseball sinners. And they don't have the right or the capability to fulfill that role. They should just vote for the best players.

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