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Saturday, May 23, 2009
Hall of Fame, Steroids, and Cheating

Zev Chafets argues on ESPN that steroid users should not be kept out of the Hall of Fame. His argument is that steroid users are no different than players of past generations, many of whom engaged in questionable activities off the field (consorting with gamblers, the Klan, and gangsters) and were "happy to use any substance they thought would give them an edge" on the field. As to the latter category, Chafets points to Hall of Famers of the past using non-anabolic steroids, amphetamines, monkey testosterone (hey, it was 1899), and other substances. He argues generally that we have to judge one generation against itself, not past generations. So Barry Bonds's greatness, even if steroid-enhanced, must be measured against his contemporaries, many (most?) of whom also were using steroids.

I am generally sympathetic to the argument, so long as it focuses on on-field behavior (I think off-field behavior is irrelevant and, to the extent Chafets relies on past greats' off-field behavior as evidence, I reject the consideration). And I agree that the visceral rejection of the use of science and chemicals to improve performance (while accepting and encouraging other ways of improving performance, including different science and different chemicals) is too short-sighted.

But I think Chafets ignores one point: Steroids are against the rules of baseball (also illegal more broadly, although I do not necessarily care about that), while these other substances were not specifically banned by baseball at the time. Rule 5 of the Hall Rules requires consideration of "integrity, sportsmanship, character," which must be understood as a prohibition on cheating within the game; cheating necessarily means breaking the rules. There is, I would argue, a difference between "doing what was necessary to stand above their peers" when it involved breaking the operating rules of the game (i.e., cheating) and when it did not. So, to the extent players were using steroids in violation of MLB rules, I disagree with Chafets' conclusion; to the extent they were not banned by the game (regardless of what federal law had to say about them), I think he has it about right.


So, how might you come down on the question of Pete Rose in the HoF?

His 4256 hits were more than likely unaided by steroids.

His wagering on baseball is clearly against the rules of the game - - but that seems to have happened after he was playing and after he amassed those 4256 hits.

Anonymous The Sports Curmudgeon -- 5/24/2009 7:58 PM  

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