Can you imagine the Baseball Hall of Fame without the greatest home run hitter in the history of the game? How about the most dominant pitcher of a generation? That's what likely to be the case next year, when Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens join the ballot for the most exclusive club in sports.
Today Barry Larkin was the lone player elected in the class of 2012, leaving Mark McGwire (583 HR, 10th all-time) and Rafael Palmiero (569 HR, 12th all-time), both perceived to be steroid users, nowhere close to election.
Sooner or later, the prevailing theory among sportswriters will have to change. If they continue to punish suspected and proven steroid users, pretty soon nobody will be going into the Hall.
Because in the 90's, baseball had a problem. And it wasn't just Bonds, and Clemens, and Sosa and McGwire. It was everywhere. Maybe half the players were using. Maybe 90 percent. We'll never know. Personally, I suspect every player who played in that era to have taken some type of performance enhancing drug at one point or another. It doesn't mean they all did. But enough did that I suspect them all.
And you know what? I don't care. And when I say I don't care, it's not that the act of breaking the rules itself doesn't bother me: It certainly does. But if such a large percentage of players were juicing (and I believe they were), it created a level playing field. And the great players of the "steroid era" really were great. And their own peers, some of who are now in the Hall of Fame, agree.
I'm not saying I condone the use of performance enhancing drugs. But it didn't stop me from watching baseball back then, and it probably didn't stop you either. Baseball was great during the steroid era. We all loved it. We bought tickets. We packed parks. We marveled at the monstrous home runs. It was great fun, which is what sports are supposed to be.
As for the argument that cheaters shouldn't be in the hall of fame: We don't know who used and who didn't. To single out a small group of great players who either admitted it, or were caught, as the only ones is naive. And is it cheating if Barry Bonds hit a home run off a pitcher who was also on the juice? Nope. That's a level playing field.
The real question in my mind isn't whether or not players who used should be let in, it’s “How do we measure their inflated stats?”
I think every players needs to be looked at on a case by case basis. Some you could argue were not good enough, had they not used steroids, to be Hall of Famers. Others, like Bonds and Clemens, were Hall of Famers long before the steroids came into the picture.
Even others, like McGwire and Sosa, I think are worthy strictly on the merits of contributions to the game. What they did to bring baseball back into the national forefront in 1998 was far more impressive than their career home run totals. Oh, and by the way, those were pretty good too.
Eventually, some of these guys will go into the Hall of Fame. Because they belong there. And to ignore their contributions would be to ignore a big piece of baseball history.
The greatest players of the last twenty years, even those who used, belong in the Hall.
Because a Hall of Fame without several of the greatest players of all time isn't a Hall of Fame at all. It's an incomplete collection. And it ignores the history of the game, which good or bad, is a big reason why we the fans love it so much.