There is an old saying that "cheaters never win." Throughout my life, I have been reminded of this phrase numerous times. The concept provides motivation to follow the rules by suggesting that the person who tries to take a shortcut will ultimately finish last. So a few weeks ago, when the Baseball Writers' Association of America failed to elect many players suspected of taking performance-enhancing drugs to the Baseball Hall of Fame, it was a relief to see that this old phrase still packs some punch.
The group of players up for election to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. was very impressive. Included were such stars as Barry Bonds, Major League Baseball's career and single-season home run record-holder and a record seven-time National League MVP winner, and Roger Clemens, winner of seven Cy Young awards, more than any other pitcher in the history of the game. Beyond these two headline candidates were many other players with Hall of Fame-worthy records, including Sammy Sosa (over 600 career home runs), Mark McGwire (583 career home runs and the previous single-season home run record holder) and Rafael Palmeiro (over 3,000 career hits and nearly 600 career home runs).
When the men and women who comprise the BBWAA were faced with the choice of which men to vote for on their ballot, it seemed that this would be a difficult decision, as each writer is limited to voting for 10 of the 37 candidates. But the elephant in the room this year was that most of the candidates with impressive resumes had links to steroids, which have been banned from baseball since 1991. It is true that much of the evidence in favor of these links would not stand up in a court of law. But, given the testimony of other players and the physical appearances of the accused, it seems clear that many of the men on the ballot this year used performance-enhancing drugs.
Given these facts, the decision of whether to allow steroids users into the Hall of Fame became quite a dilemma. All the home runs and strikeouts recorded by the players up for election clearly happened. It is impossible to deny that Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs in 2001 or that Roger Clemens won 20 games in 2001.
But while the record books reflect these facts, the Hall of Fame should not. If Cooperstown was meant to be a place where all those players with 3,000 hits, 600 home runs or 300 wins were enshrined, that would defeat the purpose of having a Hall of Fame in the first place. If these were the ends that the Hall of Fame hoped to achieve, we might as well just print a bold line in the record books when these milestones are reached. That would make clear where our statistical cutoff for baseball immortality lies.
Instead, Cooperstown should represent something more than mere numbers. Election to the Hall of Fame ought to be reserved for men and women who were not only great players, but who also played the game according to its rules. Our society pushes the idea that those who do not play by the rules should not reap benefits at the expense of those who do. Otherwise we would find ourselves in a hyper-competitive culture in which those who do not enhance their short-term abilities at a cost to their long-term health would fall behind. This type of a society is not only undesirable, but also unacceptable from a health perspective.
As a result of these considerations, the baseball sportswriters chose not to elect anyone from its 37 candidates to the Hall of Fame this year. The closest a player came to receiving the necessary 75 percent support was Craig Biggio, who received 68.2 percent of the vote after amassing 3,060 hits over a career that no one has linked to steroids. Although many critics have lambasted this year's vote as being inconsistent with the record books, it may be one of the best votes by the BBWAA in recent history. Major League Baseball failed to successfully prevent cheaters from entering its record books. We can and should, therefore, keep them from attaining the ultimate achievement in baseball: enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.