The Baseball Hall of Fame’s voting process has become a joke.
Look, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who cares more about baseball, its history, its importance to society or who recognizes the truly great honor it must be to be enshrined on a gold plaque in Cooperstown. Visiting that place was the closest thing I’ve ever had to a religious experience.
But Mike Piazza, yet again, not getting elected into the Hall of Fame today has made me re-think a lot of beliefs I’ve had about baseball’s greatest achievement.
In the height of the whole “steroid scandal” I was pretty hard-nosed against those who used them. You’d probably hear me spouting off about how could we elect cheaters into something as sacred as Cooperstown? Or how the players of the steroid era tarnished the game and its integrity by trying to get a step above the competition.
What a load of crap.
It’s thoughts like the ones I used to pontificate that have created the quagmire that is the Hall of Fame election process we have today.
A lot of people will say it’s the writers association’s fault – and I guess it is kind of true. Who appointed them to be a moral jury that says who and who didn’t violate the rules of the game? But the real blame falls on the shoulders of Major League Baseball for completely flubbing their attempt to scrub the game clean.
Let’s not be naive here – baseball knew damn well how pervasive steroid use was back then. On the heels of an embarrassing work stoppage, a cancelled World Series and dwindling interest in America’s greatest sport, the MLB would have looked the other way even if players were injecting themselves as they rounded first base trying to nab a double.
The MLB knew they were in trouble. So in light of all of the problems snarling the game, why would the league do anything about players who might be cheating? Boy did those towering home runs fill up those once empty stadium seats – and subsequently the pockets of team owners.
So the years go by and MLB rakes in millions of dollars in revenue. Profits explode, home run records are broken and the world of baseball becomes rosy again – and then BAM, Jose Conseco happens.
The public then goes crazy; finding out that all of these superstars are cheating. Soon enough Sammy Sosa is pretending he doesn’t know how to speak in front of a congressional hearing and Rafael Palmeiro points his finger at them and blatantly lies, yada yada yada.
Soon enough, a witch hunt backed by the MLB occurs trying to find out who used steroids – but only a few short years earlier no one would have blinked an eye at it all happening. Sounds like a bit of a flip-flop to me.
Let’s jump back to why all of this matters now.
Today the greatest hitting catcher of all time was left out of Cooperstown for the third straight year. Mike Piazza is, and judging by the way catchers are today he very well could always be, the best offensive player at his position to put on a uniform in Major League Baseball – and he gets left out because people “suspect” he used steroids? Give me a break.
Steroid use was rampant for more than a decade’s worth of games played in the major leagues. To think that we’ll be able to pin-point who didn’t use them and who did on a case-by-case basis is absurd.
For someone as distinguished as Piazza – who hasn’t admitted to using any steroids and whose only detractors come in the form of heresy – is just as absurd.
So now the hall that is supposed to house the greatest players who ever played the game is without: the player with the most career home runs (Barry Bonds), the most Cy Young Awards (Roger Clemens), and not to mention most hits (Pete Rose) – but that’s a whole other issue.
But this is what happens when you go from blithely accepting something to suddenly condemning it as immoral and against the integrity of the sport.
Major League Baseball flubbed the whole thing. If they were serious about their moral code suddenly being switched, they should have drawn a line in the sand years ago. A simple “we made a mistake by letting it happen, but the fact of the matter it did” admission and then saying “those who used them are absolved from our witch hunt, but from this day forward anyone found guilty of using steroids will face stiff consequences” would have made all of the difference.
Not only would have it saved us years of people making moral judgments on players – rather than simply voting based on their statistics – it would also be a clear and defined end of the “steroid era.”
But that’s exactly what that time in baseball was – an era full of blame on all sides. Steroids were an undeniable part of baseball’s history – and it is time to admit that and move on.