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On the last Sunday in July, the National Baseball Hall of
Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., inducted its latest class of hall of
famers. Typically, the sportswriters who vote on those Major League Baseball
players who are eligible give at least one player a nod into the Hall. This
year, no player got enough votes. Three people did get inducted -- a team
owner, an umpire, a 19th-century catcher -- but they came via the veterans
committee. All three were inducted posthumously.
It's not the first time sportswriters dunned the eligible
crowd. The last time was 1996. But this year was different. It seemed to be a
message that the sportswriters were closing the doors to the Hall of Fame to
those who either admitted using performance-enhancing drugs while playing the
game or are alleged to have used them.
The New York Times reported that Ozzie Smith, the Hall of
Fame former shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals, said that "being
rejected by voters 'is one of the things you have to weigh when you decide to
do something wrong. ... You have to realize you won't get in'."
Dennis McNamara, the nephew of Hank O'Day, the umpire
elected into the Hall, told the crowd assembled in Cooperstown that the lesson
of his uncle "is do your best with honesty and integrity -- a lesson that
might be in the minds of some players not elected."
Perhaps Smith and McNamara are correct -- that if you get
caught or suspected of using steroids to boost your performance, you don't
deserve a place among the baseball immortals in the Hall. But do some of these
players still deserve to be considered given their overall contribution to the
Some sportswriters obviously think so given the healthy
percentage of votes some of the higher profile players suspected of steroid use
received. Sports bars and baseball stadiums are littered with vocal supporters
of these players.
Still others believe a spot in the Hall of Fame should be
reserved for those players whose prowess was based on skills not amplified by
One former major league player told me that he thinks
that, eventually, some of the players who had a storied career before their
steroid use was obvious might find their way into the Hall, essentially arguing
to discount their statistics after the steroid use began. If they juiced up
from the get-go, he felt they had no place being honored.
This year's vote may have been meant as a symbolic
message that steroid use will keep you out of the Hall. If that was the intent,
then it's important that from now on the veterans committee holds true to this
stance and restrains from letting in the biggest culprits. Otherwise, it's a
The right thing falls back on assessing how people choose
to behave when they decide to be together. If no one cares about steroid use in
the league or among the fans, then there's no reason not to vote for players
suspected of steroid use. But if the decision is made to base the votes to the
best of their knowledge on letting in players whose performance was not
enhanced by steroids, then the sportswriters sent the right message this year.