Home Runs, Steroids, and The Hall of Fame

The HOF has shunned Pete Rose, the all-time hits leader for gambling. Should it do the same to HR-Leader Barry Bonds for steroids and lying?

If there’s a clearer scoreboard on how baseball aims to treat players smeared with the taint of steroids in years to come, the way the game treats its greatest home run leaders after they retire seems brighter as a guidepost than any other for the road-signing we are getting elsewhere. After all, home runs are the big power play in baseball. Steroids cannot give you fast wrists, or make contact between bat and ball, but they sure as hell can can make the balls fly farther that do run into a powerful wooden surface.

So, far, at least, none of the great home run hitters of recent years who’ve even been mentioned in the same breath with steroids have made it into the Hall of Fame, or even come close, after achieving voter eligibility. Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and now Rafael Palmeiro are our main poster boys these days for that  reality.

Will it be this way forever? Who knows, but it is the way it is for now.

Of the twenty-five (25) players with 500 or more home runs in their careers, fifteen (15) are members of the Hall of Fame – and all made it there prior to the explosion of the steroid issue.

Of the ten (10) others, two (2) (Alex Rodriguez and Jim Thome) are still active players.

Of the eight (8) others, three (3) (Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Rafael Palmeiro) have been rejected for the HOF by low vote totals, so far.

The remaining five (5) men (Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey, Jr., Manny Ramirez, Frank Thomas, and Gary Sheffield) remain at variable points through their five year periods of eligibility clearance for HOF consideration following retirement.

Among the members on this premier list of home run sluggers who are not in the Hall of Fame, only Ken Griffey, Jr. seems to me like a can’t-miss selection on the first ballot. Maybe Jim Thome will make it too, at some point, but all the others have received the sting of the “S” word interlaced into the narrative of their playing careers.

Hopefully, we will resolve our reactions to this mess someday. For now, the baseball world seems split apart by all the competing forces that have arisen from the “steroid era.”

Baseball people don’t want to reward cheaters so enough HOF voters simply ignore the accomplishments of players they either know or strongly suspect of cheating. On the other hand, a lot of us don’t much care for a Hall of Fame concept that ignores some of the game’s premier statistical  achievements because of either the scandal associated with their accomplishment (Pete Rose) or the unfair ways they achieved their totals (McGwire, Sosa, et al). The net effect is that we are left with a Hall of Fame that suddenly rejects candidates with major character defects as it coincidentally ignores their statistical impacts upon the game. How long can we ignore the issue in the hope that time will simply take all of this unfortunate ugliness away?

I don’t believe in asterisks. When Roger Maris broke Ruth’s single season home run record in 1961 by hitting 61, the record was his. Period. The fact it took him a 162-game schedule to do it wasn’t his fault. Baseball added those extra games, not Roger Maris, and I accepted him as the new home run king in spite of the fact that he broke the previous record of my still all-time greatest hero, Babe Ruth. Tacking a blooming asterisk onto Roger’s 61 HR in 1961 made as much sense as tacking an asterisk on to the 755 career homers of Hank Aaron would have made. After all, Hank did his thing in the era of extended game seasons too, but nobody put any asterisks on his accomplishment.

As baseball, we need to find a better way of recognizing great record accomplishments under one roof. We do not need “juiced” and “non-juiced” versions of the Hall of Fame or asterisks that denote special circumstances attendant to some records and record-holders. A record is either a record or it isn’t. And a certain player either did it or he didn’t.

The Hall of Fame was never a choir boys’ society. Never was. Never will be. The problem is, our game’s public relations wishes always seem to reach out to the great achievers in the hope that they will all will themselves into the greatest role models of all time. Unfortunately, these great achievers cannot, or will not, always come out smelling like roses or Hank Aarons. We’re much more likely to find great things being done by players with certain flaws of character.

If perfect character is the prerequisite for the Hall of Fame, then we may as well shut the place down or rename the Hall of Fame into something like the “St. Abner Doubleday of Cooperstown Baseball Choir Boy Society.”

At any rate, here’s our 500 HR Club list. Look it over and tell us what you think too:

The 25 Members of the 500 HR Club & Their HOF Status

(1) Barry Bonds (L) – 762

(2) Hank Aaron (R) – 755 – HOF

(3) Babe Ruth (L) – 714 – HOF

(4) Willie Mays (R) – 660 – HOF

(5) Ken Griffey, Jr.  (L) – 630

(6) Alex Rodriguez (R) – 618

(7) Sammy Sosa (R) – 609

(8) Jim Thome (L) – 591 

(9) Frank Robinson (R) – 586 – HOF

(10) Mark McGwire (R) – 583

(11) Harmon Killebrew (R) 573 – HOF

(12) Rafel Palmeiro (L) – 569

(13) Reggie Jackson (L) – 563 – HOF

(14) Manny Ramirez (R) – 555

(15) Mike Schmidt (R) – 548 – HOF

(16) Mickey Mantle (B) – 536 – HOF

(17) Jimmie Foxx (R) – 534 – HOF

(18t) Willie McCovey (L) – 521 – HOF

(18t) Frank Thomas (R) – 521

(18t) Ted Williams (L) – 521 – HOF

(21t) Ernie Banks (R) – 512 – HOF

(21t) Eddie Mathews (L) – 512 – HOF

(23) Mel Ott (L) – 511 – HOF

(24) Gary Sheffield (R) – 509

(25) Eddie Murray (B) – 504 – HOF

(Bold-type used above for players who are still active.)

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5 Responses to “Home Runs, Steroids, and The Hall of Fame”

  1. Mark Wernick Says:

    My take: the Hall of Fame is an honor, a privilege – not a right.

    And the voters have a right to vote in whatever way they see fit.

    That said, defects of character are an identified variable the voters are expected to weigh. Perfect character isn’t the standard. The question is, where should the line be drawn?

    And I think that is the question that needs to be discussed.

    Mark

  2. gary Says:

    The Hall of Fame can’t just act as though 20 years of baseball never happened without making itself irrelevant. And it’s a bit late in the day to mount a moral crusade against cheating in baseball.

  3. Darrell Pittman Says:

    Barry Bonds should not be in the Hall.

  4. Bill Gilbert Says:

    Bill-

    Excellent column. One minor correction – Sosa does not become eligible for the Hall until 2013.

  5. aneh dan konyol Says:

    aneh dan konyol…

    […]Home Runs, Steroids, and The Hall of Fame « The Pecan Park Eagle[…]…

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