Steroid Usage Causes Collateral Damage
With the steroid era behind Major League Baseball, fans can relax a bit. They don’t have to constantly worry about whether their team’s slugger is hitting home runs because he’s taking Human Growth Hormone or because he’s a bonafide baseball player.
Unfortunately, the steroid era is still something people have to worry about. Baseball is not through with it yet, as many of the players who put up such gaudy numbers in the tainted era are now eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Baseball writers who vote for the inductees have to determine now if the all-star in 2002 was a legitimate player, or was one of the juicers, and if that player deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.
First of all, those who say that the players who took steroids and put up gaudy numbers deserve to be in the Hall of Fame have a valid argument. Players like Roger Clemens, Jose Canseco, and Mark McGwire had undeniable talent, and even though they have been linked with steroids, they were surely Hall of Fame material if they had never taken the drugs. Those performance enhancers just took them to the next level.
Take Barry Bonds for instance. Before he joined the Giants, where he allegedly began taking steroids, he was was a two-time All Star, three-time Gold Glove winner, three-time Silver Slugger award winner and a two-time National League Most Valuable Player.
He was one of the most talented players in the game, hands down. Once he joined the Giants, he transformed from a five-tool-player into one of the greatest home run hitters of all-time and, amongst many other accolades, a five-time NL MVP. So he could make the Hall of Fame based on his talent, and what he potentially would have accomplished had he not had the aid of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs).
Unfortunately for players like Bonds, part of the Hall of Fame selection process and one of its central ideals is character. Character entails not only being a good sportsman and an even better teammate, but also playing the game within the rules. This means no game-fixing scandals like “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and the infamous 1919 Black Sox, no betting on baseball like all-time hits leader Pete Rose, and no taking illegal performance enhancing drugs like many of the steroid era’s stars.
By taking PEDs, these players cheated. They broke the rules so that they could get themselves an unfair advantage, and thus shouldn’t even be considered for the Hall of Fame.
But the real victims of the steroid era are the players who just by playing in the steroid era have tainted records. Baseball writers just don’t know if players were juicers or legitimate all-stars, so they end up doing a lot of guesswork.
Jeff Bagwell is one of these guys. He played right in the heart of the juicing era, and was one of the best players. He mashed 449 home runs over his 15 year career, was named a four-time time All-Star, won the Silver Slugger award three times, won Rookie of the Year, was named an NL MVP, and was referred to as the fourth best first baseman of all-time by acclaimed baseball statistician Bill James. Not a bad resume. Should pretty much be a lock for the Hall of Fame, right?
But unfortunately the one set of numbers that matter to many voters are 1991-2005, the years Bagwell played in the MLB. In other words, right in the heart of the steroid era. He fits the mold of a juicer too; a barrel chested home run crushing slugger. So questions sprout about his legitimacy, even though Bagwell has never been linked to steroids in his career.
This is the real tragedy. Players like Bagwell have questions raised that had they played in a different era would never have even come up. Their reputations are tainted, even though they may have never cheated. They’re the victims of an athlete culture that will do anything for wins and money.