Confront Baseball History, Don’t Ignore It.
Like other kids of this generation, my first memories of baseball were filled with Godzilla-sized players hitting baseballs extraordinary distances under the influence of some synthetic Popeye-esque spinach. With necks the size of tree trunks and forearms capable of ripping a phonebook in half, baseball in the early 2000s was a game that reinforced the idea that bigger is better. With the influx of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) into the game, a baseball player could no longer be confused with someone having the body type of a golfer but rather with having that of a middle linebacker. The era provided the sporting world with record-shattering performances like the widely captivating home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in 1998, and Barry Bonds breaking the all-time home run record nine years later.
But now, baseball is trying to rewrite its history. On Jan. 24, four new members were elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, a shrine archiving baseball’s past. But sluggers Bonds and Sosa and pitchers Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling — a group linked to PED usage — did not make the cut despite 2018 being their sixth year on the ballot. As opposed to reconciling and confronting its tainted history, Hall of Fame voters appear to be deliberately ignoring the steroid era all together.
By no means am I condoning the use of PEDs. I hated Bonds growing up and cursed him with the very few expletives I knew as a child. He was a cheater, a liar, an insert-an-expletive-here. I consider myself a baseball purist, and the use of a drug to better one’s performance is among the most despicable actions in my book. Players who turned to a needle or pill to get that extra edge have been rightfully villainized in baseball culture, but their contribution to baseball history cannot be ignored.
If that means inducting the players with asterisks by their names, so be it, but turning a blind eye to one of the most riveting eras in baseball history altogether is a disgrace to the Hall of Fame’s mission statement to “[foster] an appreciation of the historical development of baseball and its impact on our culture by collecting, preserving, exhibiting and interpreting its collections for a global audience as well as honoring those who have made outstanding contributions to our national pastime.” To suggest that the steroid era did not contribute to the historical development of baseball or subsequently influence culture is an incredibly misguided notion. At a performance level, records previously deemed unbreakable like the single-season and all-time home runs records were shattered. At a cultural level, the rampant use of PEDs caused the U.S. Congress to conduct an investigation in 2005 on steroid use within the sport, and featured star players like Sosa and McGwire testified in the Capitol building. While PED-filled baseball may not have been the prettiest era in the sport’s history, it captured the attention of the entire nation.
If the Hall of Fame serves to police morality, then it failed with the very first class ever inducted in 1936. Babe Ruth played drunk and Ty Cobb attacked a fan who had no hands in the middle of a game, yet those two retired as all-time leaders in home runs and hits, respectively. Nonetheless, they were both inducted into the Hall of Fame. From the 1960s through the early 2000s, amphetamine usage in the form of “greenies” was widespread in the sport and banned at a federal level. Even players like the highly regarded Hank Aaron admitted to using it. Yet, the outstanding performers of the era were inducted without hesitation. Cobb, Ruth and other star players who used amphetamines were crucial to the historical development of the sport of baseball and deserve to be enshrined in baseball archives in spite of their questionable actions.
It’s been 80 years since Ruth and Cobb were inducted, the push to disregard the historical contributions of players like Bonds, who now holds the record for single-season and all-time home runs, and is the only player ever to steal 400 bases and hit 400 home runs in his career, questions the integrity of the Hall of Fame’s very own mission statement. Induct Bonds and fellow PED users with an asterisk. Make it well-known that they cheated at America’s most coveted pastime; create a separate section within the hall for these most deplorable of players. But please, please, confront the past instead of trying to erase it.
Brian Taggett is a College junior from Kalamazoo, Mich.