EIGHINGER: Baseball's Hall of Fame mirrors life - including its imperfections

Posted: Jan. 8, 2013 2:18 pm Updated: Feb. 6, 2013 9:15 am

This is one of those days I feel the need to climb atop the nearest soap box with some questions that deserve adequate answers -- answers I have yet to see.

At some point this afternoon, we will learn who the newest member(s) of the Baseball of Fame will be, and it's safe to say none of the big names on the ballot from the "steroid" or "performance enhancing drug (PED)" era of the sport will gain admission. That means guys like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

Like you, I have read about and listened to the evils of those who allegedly used the needle to try to enhance their productivity until I could no longer read or listen any longer. For years, I was 100 percent convinced Bonds, Clemens and others should never be permitted to darken the doorway of the Hall of Fame. (Even though the only court that has convicted the large majority of those accused was the court of public opinion.)

And then I changed my mind.

Why are we treating this era of ballplayer any differently than we did the amphetamine era? Many from that period are enshrined in Cooperstown.

Sure, what Bonds and Clemens and others (allegedly) did was not right, but much of the success of baseball is predicated on cheating. The same holds true with auto racing, where the mantra of "it's only cheatin' if you get caught" would also seem to serve baseball.

Before you automatically turn your cheek to Bonds, Clemens and their steroid-era contemporaries, consider the following: Amphetamines were once as much a part of baseball as the infield fly rule and Cracker Jacks.

Willie Mays, regarded by many as the game's greatest overall player, was an amphetamine user. Longtime baseball writer Jerry Cransnick wrote in "Kicking Amphetamines" that during the Pittsburgh drug trials in the mid-1980s, outfielder Jon Milner testified that Mays introduced him to a liquid amphetamine known as "red juice."

Mike Schmidt, felt to be the greatest overall third baseman in MLB history, once told a nationwide audience on ESPN that he used amphetamines on a regular basis throughout his career. He also said there would be a bowl in the locker room that was filled with amphetamines.

Amphetamines, which were a part of the game for roughly 50 years, were always said to help players through the grind of the long season -- a similar argument for steroids assisting the user to come back quicker from an injury.

It was no secret that Mays, Schmidt and many others during the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and into the 2000s relied heavily on amphetamines -- yet not once do I remember hearing of any roundtable to either not allow their entry into the Hall of Fame, or to boot them out. How were the careers of Mays and Schmidt enhanced by the performance enhancing drugs of their own era? We'll never really know, much like those involved with the steroid era.

Mays, Schmidt and others were voted into the Hall of Fame because they were the best of their era, and that era included amphetamine (ab)use.

Some other questions to ponder:

Why was Gaylord Perry permitted in the Hall of Fame after he admitted to years and years of throwing some sort of combination of a spitball, Vaseline ball, etc.?

There is an ethics clause on the Hall of Fame ballot that mentions the importance of maintaining strong moral character off the field, so why is a player like Wade Boggs or, for that matter, even Mickey Mantle in the Hall of Fame? Mantle's drinking and carousing were legendary. Boggs' infidelity was also legendary.

How about the racism Ty Cobb never tried to hide?

They were voted into the Hall of Fame because they were the best of their era, even if that era was drug-riddled or morally decadent.

Baseball, and its Hall of Fame, mirror life itself -- whether either entity will admit to that. And that includes the imperfections.

The imperfections of Bonds and Clemens are a part of life and baseball. The should also be a part of the Hall of Fame.




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