For years, the barons of baseball turned a blind eye toward performance-enhancing drugs. One possible reason: It was good for business. Fans love dramatic home runs more than anything, and these guys who shot themselves up to bulk themselves up were definitely delivering the goods.
The peak was the 1998 home run race between Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs. Both men were chasing Roger Maris’ heretofore unmatchable 61 homer record set in 1961. Since that heady summer of 1998, McGwire and Sosa have both been linked to the illegal use of steroids, as have other star players such as Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds.
Their career years and records now come with asterisks too big to fit in the door at Cooperstown.
Indeed, while sports junkies ever since have debated whether such players should be admitted to the esteemed Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., this week the initial answer seemed clear enough: None of the 37 eligible former players was elected to the hall this year by the Baseball Writers Association of America – and Clemens, Bonds and Sosa received embarrassingly few votes.
While there were unfortunately some other deserving and innocent players who got caught up in the steroid backlash – this was the first year of eligibility for the cheaters, and they no doubt dragged down the votes for others, too – the Baseball Writers Association made an important statement against cheating.
It’s a statement that Major League Baseball itself was sadly late and timid in making.
Proof, too, that while the owners and players could sidestep the issue for a few years, they could not evade history’s judgment.
Some of the people happiest about the Hall of Shame vote were members of the Hall of Fame.
“I’m kind of glad that nobody got in this year,” legendary slugger Al Kaline said. “I feel honored to be in the Hall of Fame. And I would’ve felt a little uneasy sitting up there on the stage, listening to some of these new guys talk about how great they were.”
“If they let these guys in ever – at any point – it’s a big black eye for the Hall and for baseball,” hard-throwing pitcher Goose Gossage said. “It’s like telling our kids you can cheat, you can do whatever you want, and it’s not going to matter. I think the steroids guys that
are under suspicion got too many votes. I don’t know why they’re making this such a question and why there’s so much debate. To me, they cheated.
Are we going to reward these guys?”
Pitchers often throw high and inside to a batter they’re mad at, just to make a statement. This Hall of Fame vote was historic chin music – not just for the players who cheated, but for the entire league.
If there was one induction into the hall this year, it was the asterisk.