Baseball's shame

Patrick Creighton: Hall of Fame hypocrisy

Bud Selig is in the Hall of Fame, but Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds are not. Wikipedia

Another Baseball Hall of Fame vote has now come and gone and as usual, the biggest story surrounding the vote is who did and didn’t vote for guys who used (or may have used) performance enhancing drugs.  Quite frankly, I’m sick of it.

I’m sick of the hypocrisy, I’m sick of the revisionist history, I’m sick of "ex post facto punishment" towards the players who saved the game of baseball.  Mostly, I’m sick of the owners getting a free pass while the players take the full brunt of the blame.

Yes, the owners.  Think about this for a second: PED use by players has gotten them scorned, ridiculed, and kept out of the Hall of Fame by "holier than thou" baseball writers.  The men who, at best, turned a blind eye to steroids and some who encouraged it – the owners – have not only gotten a free pass but the man most responsible for the Steroid Era is in the Hall of Fame!

That man would be Bud Selig, the same man who conspired with White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf (while he was still owner of the Milwaukee Brewers) to oust Fay Vincent for the purpose of swinging the negotiations with the MLBPA from a work in progress to a demand for full capitulation to owners’ demands for a hard cap or else.  Their decision to demand a hard cap or no negotiations led directly to the 1994 strike.  You remember that one, when the World Series got wiped out?

When baseball finally returned, the fans did not.  The strike completely destroyed the Montreal Expos franchise (a team that had the best record in baseball in ’94).  Owners were wondering how long and what it would take to get the fans to come back.  The answer was more offense.

MLB had no PED policy in the 1990s.  It had always turned a blind eye to rampant amphetamine use that has been a part of the game since the 1940s (if not earlier).  Now it was turning a blind eye to PEDs.  It didn’t even have a banned substance list. Baseball didn’t care about steroids because it only cared about the fans’ returning dollars.

The great Home Run chase of 1998 was the biggest galvanizer for fans to return to baseball.  Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were on TV every time they came to bat.  McGwire was doing interviews at his locker with a tub of Andro right in plain sight.  Andro was legal in ’98.  You could buy a tub of it at GNC for $40. No one cared.  

Players around the league saw other guys using PEDs, getting bigger, stronger, faster, and maybe most importantly, recovering faster.  Owners saw it too.  They did nothing.  So more and more players, seeing the positive results and, more importantly to them, the massive paydays coming with it, began using.  Owners loved the offense. They loved your money.

Barry Bonds was one of those players.  He saw the massive money and attention that users were getting and since baseball was perfectly fine with it, he went along too.  When Barry started playing the PED game, he went from one of the best ever to a modern day Babe Ruth.  He was the biggest draw in baseball.  He not only filled what was then Pac Bell but every stadium the Giants went to.  He used things that baseball did not ban, as at this time they still had no policy in place.

If the fact the owners (and Bud Selig, now as commissioner) blatantly turned a blind eye to PED use isn’t enough to convince you, let’s take a look at their early PED policies.

MLB’s original PED policy, set forth in the 2002 CBA, allocated only for testing in 2003 without penalties. Players could be caught using PEDs and there was NO PENALTY.  If fewer than 2.5% of the players tested positive, they would drop testing altogether. Only if greater than 5% of players tested positive would they then go to tougher testing that would also implement punishment.  

When MLB announced that 5-7% of the players tested positive in 2003, they were then forced to ramp up testing and implement the punishments.  Punishment for a first offense was counseling.  You read that right, counseling.  Players were not suspended.  They were not fined.  They had to go to counseling.  A second positive test would be a suspension without pay of 15 days or a fine of $10,000.  Penalties increased to a 25 day suspension or a $25,000 fine for a third positive, 50 day suspension or $50,000 fine for a fourth positive test, and a 1 year suspension or a fine of $100,000 for a fifth positive test.

Now if that isn’t the softest penalty in the world for such a terrible crime of using PEDs, I don’t know what is.  After all, using PEDs is a heinous crime in sports, isn’t it?  Isn’t that how the players are treated today, 15 years after the fact, as dirty cheaters who should be exiled from baseball and don’t deserve anything but our scorn?  

It was in January 2005 when, under pressure from Congress (who clearly had nothing better to do that get involved in baseball – not like there was a war going on in both Iraq and Afghanistan or anything), MLB toughened up its PED penalties.  A first offense would now get a 10 day suspension, second offense a 30 day suspension, third offense a 60 day suspension, and a fourth positive test would get a 1 year suspension.  Further violations of the policy would receive a penalty determined by the commissioner directly.

In reality, those are still some soft penalties for the great and terrible crime of using PEDs.  So soft, that Congress was still on MLB’s case about it the entire 2005 season.  In November 2005, players and owners would announce another new policy, this time a first offense would result in a 50 game suspension, second offenses would be punished with a 100 game suspension, and a third failed PED test would trigger a lifetime ban.

Only when Congress got heavily involved did the owners cave in and go for a policy that implemented harsh and strict penalties for PED usage.  

Baseball owners didn’t care about PED use.  They cared about money, specifically your money as a baseball fan and that you would spend more of it on them, at their park, for tickets, parking, food, drinks, apparel, and souvenirs. Baseball owners loved PED use, because the fans were spending more money on the game than ever before.  Media was paying more attention to the game than ever before because records were being challenged or broken almost every season.  They were pigs getting fat, and they wanted to keep getting fatter.

Today, baseball writers talk about how everyone should have known that players were dirty when the offenses spiked and older players were getting better instead of worse.  The truth is, the owners did know.  They loved every minute of it.

Today, some of the greatest players in MLB history are scorned and ridiculed, being kept from immortalization in Cooperstown by writers who think they are so important they must weed out the dirty players from the game.  A Hall of Fame littered with racists, drunks, womanizers, drug users, and even some criminals can’t possibly survive with PED users in it, because apparently that would just destroy the integrity of the game.

Arguably the greatest hitter of all time, Barry Bonds, is not in the Hall of Fame yet again.  He is the all time home run king, the single season home run king, holds records for most walks in a single season and career, most intentional walks in a single season and career.  He holds the record for most MVP awards with seven. He is a 14 time All Star, two time batting champ, won eight Gold Gloves and 12 Silver Sluggers.  He is the only member of the 500/500 club (500 HR and 500 SB).   He is also the only member of the 400/400 club.  Not worthy.

Among the greatest pitchers of all time, Roger Clemens, is also not in the Hall of Fame. Holder of a record seven Cy Young Awards, the two-time World Champion is also an 11 time All Star, four time wins leader, seven time ERA leader, five time strikeout leader and won an MVP as a pitcher.  Twice he won the pitching triple crown, leading the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts in the same season. His 354 career wins is ninth all time, his 4,672 strikeouts is third all time. Not worthy.

Yet Bud Selig, the man who oversaw this era of baseball, the era of baseball that our writers tell us is the worst all time because of the rampant cheating (despite baseball having no rules on PED use to be broken at the time), is enshrined in the Hall of Fame.  

If the players are to be held accountable for breaking rules that didn’t even exist at the time, why are the owners who chose to not have these rules and deliberately ignored PED use or even encouraged it, given a free pass?  They are just as complicit as the players are for using because they created the environment where using was not only unpunished, it was rewarded with giant contracts!

Men like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, etc – these players saved the game of baseball from its own greed, a greed led by Bud Selig and Jerry Reinsdorf.  They should be beloved players, not scorned players.  Yet they are all but exiled from baseball.

Recently Tom Ricketts, now owner of the Cubs, said Sammy Sosa wouldn’t be welcome at Wrigley Field until he apologized for using PEDs.  He didn’t even own the team until 2009.  Slammin’ Sammy put the Cubs back on the map, and he is effectively persona non grata.  Yet the owners of the time, they are welcome everywhere, especially Selig and Reinsdorf.

I’m done with this.  Celebrate the players’ accomplishments on the field.  Otherwise, enforce the punishments equally.  If you want to banish the players who used PEDs (before MLB had a PED policy), then banish the owners who let them, encouraged them and made boatloads of money off those players performances.

It’s time for the hypocrisy to end, one way or the other.  The owners can no longer be given a free pass while the game’s greatest players wear scarlet letters.

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