By In Stuff

The Three PED Arguments

There will plenty to say about the Baseball Hall of Fame this year. Predictions. Arguments. Laments. Challenges. Before Jan. 9, the day the Hall of Fame class is announced, and for days afterward, I imagine a half billion words will be spilled on the subject, probably half of them right here.

But before getting into specifics, I’m thinking we should try to simplify the PED discussion just a little bit.

First: It seems to me that there are three major philosophical reasons why someone would not vote for a player who used (or probably used) performance-enhancing drugs. Maybe you can think of another, but I’m stuck at three:

1. Because using PEDs is cheating, and cheaters do not belong in the Hall of Fame.

2. Because using PEDs turned non-Hall of Famers into Hall of Famers.

3. Because those players who used PEDs irreparably soiled the game and, as such, have no business being in a museum that is meant to celebrate those who brought glory and honor to baseball.

I’ve read and listened to 10 bajillion-shmillion PED/Hall of Fame arguments, and it seems to me that the argument always comes down to one (or more) of these three. This is good. This is manageable. One thing that made the Trout-Cabrera arguments so frustrating, I think, was that it was a constantly moving target. One side would argue that Trout was a better player than Cabrera — Triple Crown and all — and suddenly the argument would be about whether being better is the same as being more valuable. You would discuss the quirks of the English language and the argument moved to who was better in September. You would discuss September and suddenly the argument would be about the leadership Cabrera showed moving to third base. You would argue leadership and the argument shifted to how the Tigers made the playoffs and the Angels didn’t. You would argue that part and suddenly the argument was about who was more feared at the plate. And so on. The discussion was like Sugar Ray Robinson. It moved too fast to hit.

It seems to me, this steroid and PED controversy — which baseball fans have been arguing in fits and starts for a decade now — would be better discussed if we have the framework. Pick a number – 1, 2, 3. Maybe we can go from there.

Now, there are counterarguments to each of these three arguments. As far as I can tell, the best of these are:

1. There are many, many cheaters in the Hall of Fame, including drug cheaters.

2. There are several players — Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens among them — who most people would agree were Hall of Fame-caliber without PEDs.

3. There are people in the Hall of Fame who soiled the game too, but more to the point, we really have no way of knowing who did and did not use PEDs during the Steroid Era, because there was no testing in place and our eyes are not a reliable method for picking the users from the abstainers.

Now, I should say — even generally believing the counterarguments, I concede that they do not obliterate the original points. That’s why this should be a fascinating and passionate argument. It’s Gnip Gnop, back and forth. It IS true that steroid use brought dishonor to baseball. It IS likely that some players might not have anything close to a Hall of Fame argument without PEDs. It IS certain that while we have no way of knowing everyone who used or didn’t use, there are some players (1) who have tested positive after testing was finally implemented; (2) who admitted using after being caught by one method or another; (3) who have a preponderance of circumstantial evidence pointing to their PED use. And then you have the, “Just because you can’t catch all the bank robbers doesn’t mean you should not charge the ones you do catch,” line.

The counterpunches again. There are many, many cheaters in the Hall of Fame. Would Gaylord Perry be in the Hall of Fame without the spitball? How about Don Sutton or Whitey Ford without cutting the ball? How about all the players who used greenies — as illegal as steroids in the law — to pep them up before a game? Many think Babe Ruth corked his bat. Others in the Hall certainly did. But in some ways, just listing off the many who cheated — the Hall of Fame would be a lonely place without any cheaters in it — doesn’t make the point strongly enough. Cheating isn’t just a part of baseball, it has been (until recently) a CHERISHED part of baseball.

“I’ve cheated, or someone on my team has cheated, in almost every game I’ve been in.”
— Rogers Hornsby, Hall of Famer

“I didn’t begin cheating until late in my career, when I needed something to help me survive …  I didn’t cheat in 1963 when I won 24 games. Well, maybe a little.”
— Whitey Ford, Hall of Famer

“If you know how to cheat, start now.”
— Earl Weaver, Hall of Famer

“No, we don’t cheat. And even if we did, I’d never tell you.”
— Tommy Lasorda, Hall of Famer

“Anything short of murder is OK.”
— Dick Williams, Hall of Famer

“[A player holding the base runner down] … I don’t call that cheating. I call that heads-up baseball. Win any way you can as long as you can get away with it.”
— Leo Durocher, Hall of Famer

And so on. Nobody is entirely sure where “It you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin'” or “It’s not cheating if you don’t get caught” came from. But these have been prominent ideologies in baseball. Even now, when you talk about greenies or corking bats or scuffing balls or stealing signs, many people just kind of shrug and laugh and think of it all as relatively harmless mischief. Steroid use, though, has taken on darker and more sinister tones.

Which leads to the argument that steroid use is a different level of wickedness and brings a whole different level of dishonor to the game — maybe. But what brought more dishonor to baseball than the years when dark-skinned players were simply not allowed to play in the major leagues? It remains the game’s greatest shame. And yet men who used their position and power to ACTIVELY participate and advance that shame — men like Tom Yawkey, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Ty Cobb, Cap Anson, George Weiss and others — are in the Hall of Fame. Alcoholics are in the Hall of Fame. Other drug users are in the Hall of Fame. People who did pretty despicable acts — spit on an umpire, attack a fan, purposely spike other players, purposely throw at other players’ heads — are in the Hall of Fame. All these, certainly brought dishonor to the game.

It’s a fascinating set of arguments, powerful points on each side. Election to the Hall of Fame, of course, is not a right. It’s a privilege. And for a player — any player — to get 75% of the voters to agree on his Hall of Fame worth, he must win any number of arguments. If 6% don’t vote for a player because of his defensive deficiencies, 9% because of his base running flaws, 7% because he did not hit with enough power, 4% because he wasn’t good enough in the postseason … he doesn’t have enough votes. It isn’t just one reason. It’s never just one reason.

And this, I think, is the power of the anti-PED surge. The three arguments — that PED use is cheating, that it turns ordinary players into stars and that it is a stain on the game — are each powerful in their own right. Together, in rat-tat-tat combination, they are overwhelming. That’s why I think the arguments should be broken down, bit by bit.

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125 Responses to The Three PED Arguments

  1. Bill Gerlt says:


    Baseball has a microscope on every player.

    While the NFL has several players in the Hall of Fame
    (Mike Webster?? etc.) that probably used steroids. Look at all the guys that have been dealing Sam Horn? Nate Newton? Bam Morris?

  2. Is every baseball article from now on going to be about Mike Trout vs. Miguel Cabrera?

    Geez, you’d think it was Bush v. Gore.

  3. Met Fan says:

    There are those who distinguish between cheating on the field and cheating off of it. Is this argument really without merit?

    And comparing the shame to the game from a one-time offense, like spitting at an umpire, to extended steroid usage hardly seems fair.

  4. nachumj says:

    ” we really have no way of knowing who did and did not use PEDs during the Selig Era “

    Why “THE SELIG ERA”? OK , he was commissioner during most of it; but there’s also an implication in your choice of language the some Selig is at fault for not standing up to the cheaters.
    Is Selig really the person most at fault? Shouldn’t it be the “Marvin Miller” era? Yes, we all loved loquacious Miller, and Selig has bad hair, but is your blame being correctly and accurately placed?

    • Tampa Mike says:

      Selig is the most to blame because he actively turned a blind eye to the explosion in steroid usage after the strike. Baseball was struggling to win back the fans, so he allowed it to go unchecked because of all the home runs. As questions were raised about players bulking up, he refused to test. He is not the only one at fault, but as commissioner during the most active years he takes the burden.

    • nachumj says:

      Speculative that Selig refused to check .
      Fact- the union refused to allow testing;read Joe’s column on Marvin Miller from yesterday.
      The story has no heroes.
      We ALL turned a blind eye.
      Lets be honest , we all knew at some level that NFL players were steroiding.
      We all saw that baseball players stopped looking like Greg Maddux, and that utility infielders were looking like Gil Hodges. It was not just healthy living.

    • Selig is most certainly at fault. Aid and abetted and commissioned approved a coverup report from Mitchell that only looked at players, not coaches, front office mangers, GMs .

      The fact he remains as commissioner says a lot about Baseball’s continued cover up.

      Love JoPo, but this was more than just cheating and those analogies don’t work. The sport was irreparably damaged by this and continues to be.

      A Rod – if you ask about him you are told to shut up. Pettit – got a new contract – Giambi could have been Rockies manager.

      Ryan Braun – Blame it on the mail man – Melky – 50 games off and a big contract

      This is an ongoing scandal that may yet take Baseball down

    • John says:

      The real crux of the the argument, what makes the Selig Era the ideal name, is the impossibility of there ever being a time after “The Steroid Era.”
      Today, we live in the Steroid Era, as we will tomorrow.
      But a tomorrow will come when the Selig Era finally ends.

    • GK says:

      Which is interesting as it seems to leave football alone. You cannot tell me that the NFL does not have a steroids problem. They just have a one-game suspension for “failing a drug test” and never mention the drug. We continue turning a blind eye in the name of entertainment, while “shocked” at the “horror” of steroid use in baseball, helping ourselves feel righteous and clean.

    • Selig bothers me for two reasons. Two of the biggest stains in baseball history happened on his watch: steroids and the strike. In neither did he show leadership.

    • Shouldn’t you make your argument about Donald Fehr? Marvin Miller stopped directing the MLBPA in 1982. (And probably there needs to be an argument, not just an assertion.)

  5. George says:

    I think there is a slightly different twist to argument 2, the only valid one:

    Because the HOF is based upon thats that are compared to previous eras, using traditional yardsticks will unfairly help players of the Steroid Era if not taken into account.

    I think we should treat the Steroid Era just like the Deadball Era: not bother about historical comparisons but rather ask which players were the best relative to their peers assuming a historically constant rate of HOF-caliber play. In other words, induct the best 10 to 15 players of the era and call it a day.

    • Schlom says:

      You should never bother with historical comparisons because you simply can’t compare players across different eras.

    • Josh says:

      Sure you can. You can compare things to the league averages, for example. Thirty-five homers in 1982 means something different than the same number in 1987.

      Besides, every single player played in a sightly different era. Dave Stieb and Jack Morris have largely overlapping careers, but not perfectly overlapping careers. Can we not compare them because Morris was pitching in 1977 and 1978 (and Stieb was not).

    • Chris says:

      Josh, you defeat your own argument. Your solution isn’t comparing history, its looking what a particular stat means to its own era

    • Stephanie says:

      Posnanski articulated it best: “Baseball is at its best when past and present click together seamlessly.” And he said this in his July 2011 Sports Illustrated article, “Loving Baseball: What Keeps the Grand Game Great” just before further writing this: “Derek Jeter hit a home run in the third inning of a July game against Tampa Bay. The homer tied the game 1–1. So what? Why would anyone care about that? But no one who was there will forget it, because it was Jeter’s 3,000th hit, and only 28 men have done it.”

      Baseball is a game that is measured against itself. “In baseball, history is a living and breathing character.” Statistics have always been a part of baseball, George, and they serve to measure players against their peers so much as they measure players against the previous decades.

      Maybe you are right that exacting historical comparisons should not be made, but I think we are at odds of who loses by making parallels. At different times in baseball’s history players have worn wool jerseys, webless gloves, have had regular jobs in the off-season, and so on. The age of dri-fit gear, personal trainers, million dollar paychecks, and advancements in technology have all made baseball players of today not only more comfortable, but given them greater opportunities to be GREAT.

      Historical comparison has not diminished the accomplishments of Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Roger Maris or any other Hall of Famers and record-holders. If anything, the comparisons have made the achievements of days gone by more profound, and those of today more pathetic.

      People who loathe performance enhancing drugs, love baseball. And baseball is more than homeruns and grandslams and 100 mph fastballs. It is small ball, picking the perfect pitch, when to bunt, it is strategy, it is the Dead-Ball Era, the death of the Dead-Ball era, it is a game for kids, and for families, for athletes,and statisticians, it is a means of socialization, and to all the above it is a love affair.

      People who loathe performance enhacing drugs, love baseball, and they hate PED not because it mutes the glory of all that has transpired in its history, but because it disrespects it. Baseball players specifically, and athletes in general were admired first for their raw talent- now that the cultural tradition of admiring athletes is cemented they want to take the fame without the talent. It is an illusion and a lie. It is a disgrace.

      I don’t like lip-synching and auto-tune in music, and I don’t like PED and cheating in baseball.

  6. goodman.dl says:

    Everytime someone who used Greenies says “I did it the Natural Way” I laugh a little. Put Barry’s plaque right next to Pud Galvin.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Greenies never caused anyone to hit 73 HRs. They were wrong & illegal, but they were essentially no different than the energy drinks of today. Nobody is claiming that a can of red bull every day creates a HOFer.

  7. Edward Gohl says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Edward Gohl says:

    I agree with a previous poster here, it just seems to me there are OBVIOUSLY different degrees of cheating…

    There’s something more, let’s say, ‘romantic’ when your opponent happens to be the biggest and the strongest and the fastest and you’d have little chance in a totally square fight, so you muddy down the infield a little, or put a little vaseline on the ball, or tug on his jersey when you know the ref (/ump) isn’t looking, to even things out a bit.

    Is it cheating? Of course it is. But simply just taking some pills to just become the biggest, strongest, fastest yourself seems worse.

    I’m not even necessarily advocating against Bonds, Clemens and the rest, just wanted to make that point. It’s more complicated than simply “did they break rules or didn’t they”, just as in college a violation for making a few disallowed phone calls is different than driving a dumptruck full of money up to a prospective recruit’s house.

    • tomemos says:

      Perhaps I’m dense, but the moral calculus here completely escapes me. You have an opponent who’s better than you and you decide to cheat to beat him. You can illicitly make yourself better (steroids, greenies, spitball) or him less good (muddy the infield, steal signs, tug on his jersey). What is the moral standard by which the first kind of cheating is bad and the second is “romantic”? Can you think of another area of law or ethics where that applies?

      Furthermore, why is it that steroids, alone among the “help yourself” methods, is worse? What is your stance on greenies?

      By the way, do you notice that you have to keep putting “little” in your descriptions to make the approved cheating methods seem more cute? “muddy the infield a little,” “a little vaseline,” “even things out a bit.” Why is it no one ever talks about a little injection to give yourself a tiny boost in vitality?

    • Edward Gohl says:

      Can I think of any area of law this would apply? How about EVERY area? Criminal negligence causing death, involuntary manslaughter, manslaughter and first-degree murder all involve killing someone yet the first might allow you off on probation while the last gets you a trip to the chair (if you, uh, live in Texas.)

      And what about my NCAA example of ethics? Are you honestly saying Coach A (commits minor recruiting infractions) and Coach B (offers 10 grand to some high school star to play for him) should be held equally guilty under the same standard?

      It just seems like night and day to me, I don’t know what else to tell you; I suppose the way I do my ‘moral calculus’ is indeed just different from your method.

      Greenies? It’s cloudier but I suppose I still think it’s different in that it’s not necessarily a “performance enhancer”; plenty of modern college students use Ritalin and other ADD drugs without a prescription because it enables them to focus more intently, study longer, etc. I wouldn’t love it if I were a prof or a fellow student, but it’s NOT breaking into the Dean’s desk and stealing a copy of the answers in advance. A direct performance enhancer, like HGH, TO ME seems more akin to doing just that.

      P.S. Yes, my folksy use of language was fully intentional because dagnabbit, there’s just something (not to keep using this word, but…) OBVIOUSLY different about Gaylord Perry and Roger Clemens.

    • Ian says:

      Steroid use required clean players to either A) start breaking the law or B) play at a disadvantage. Clean players couldn’t point to the cheater and have it end.

      The gradeschool logic of stealing a bag of M&Ms is just as morally wrong as stealing someone’s life savings is a bit naive.

    • Edward Gohl says:

      This comment has been removed by the author.

    • tomemos says:

      “Can I think of any area of law this would apply? How about EVERY area? “

      No, you’ve misunderstood me. I’m aware that there are areas in which similar crimes are punished differently as a matter of degree. What I’m asking is, where in other areas of law or ethics is the principle that cheating by improving yourself yourself (steroids) is worse, and punished more harshly, than cheating by impeding others? A game show competitor, say, who sabotaged a fellow competitor would not be treated or viewed less harshly than one who stole answers to benefit him- or herself.

      Absent justification for this ethical principle, you haven’t demonstrated why the difference between steroids and the spitball is akin to the difference between manslaughter and first degree murder, or between minor recruiting infractions and outright bribery. As for greenies, I hope my use of bold type does the trick:

      “It’s cloudier but I suppose I still think it’s different in that it’s not necessarily a “performance enhancer”; plenty of modern college students use Ritalin and other ADD drugs without a prescription because it enables them to focus more intently, study longer, etc.

      The bottom line is, why did baseball players take stimulants unless they thought it would enhance their performance? And what is the difference between that form of performance enhancement and any other?

      P.S. The reason you keep using the word “obviously,” as with most people who do that, is that your position is not obvious and you have no reasons to support it.

    • Edward Gohl says:

      (Sorry about the deleted posts/comments, when I find a glaring typo it eats me up inside and I need to fix it!)

      Also, there are umpires on the field to look for sandpaper under someone’s hat or to watch for a (little) jersey pull. If no single person could ever actually find a reason to toss Gaylord Perry from a game even though EVERYONE knew he was probably throwing spitter after spitter, more power to him.

      Steroid users in the late 90s on the other hand knew they wouldn’t be tested so they could just break the rules with full impunity. Isn’t that also a key difference? Steal a sign and a self-respecting pitcher is going to put a pitch in your or one your teammates’ ears. Take some HGH in 2002 and there’s no worry at all.

      And again, I sort of agree that THAT fact is on MLB, and I’m not saying I wouldn’t vote for Barry Bonds. My reaction here is just as a response to the “Well, they all cheated and all cheating is the same so what’s the use even talking about it” argument.

    • Edward Gohl says:

      This comment has been removed by the author.

    • Edward Gohl says:

      “The bottom line is, why did baseball players take stimulants unless they thought it would enhance their performance? And what is the difference between that form of performance enhancement and any other?”

      One of them ACTUALLY ENHANCES your physical performance by making you able to hit a ball you connect with further or throw a fastball faster. The other helps you mentally get up for Game 115 some afternoon in Cleveland in mid-August when you were up late drinking the night before. Different. (Obviously.)

    • tomemos says:

      “Steroid users in the late 90s on the other hand knew they wouldn’t be tested so they could just break the rules with full impunity. Isn’t that also a key difference? Steal a sign and a self-respecting pitcher is going to put a pitch in your or one your teammates’ ears. Take some HGH in 2002 and there’s no worry at all.”

      Well, wait a minute, The reason that baseball wasn’t testing for steroids was that *steroids weren’t against the rules of the game.* So isn’t a more salient difference between Perry and Clemens that Perry broke the rules of the game and Clemens, at least in the late 90’s, did not?

      “One of them ACTUALLY ENHANCES your physical performance by making you able to hit a ball you connect with further or throw a fastball faster. The other helps you mentally get up for Game 115 some afternoon in Cleveland in mid-August when you were up late drinking the night before. Different. (Obviously.)”

      First, amphetamines are not Adderall or Ritalin. They do not just improve alertness (“mentally get up”); they affect your body’s energy levels. So what you’re saying still amounts to, “one of them enhances your performance, while the other enhances your performance.” (Actually, this would be true *even if* greenies only improved mental alertness.)

      Second, the performance-enhancing effects of amphetamines are well-documented, whereas those of HGH are highly disputed. So you might want to reconsider where you’re fighting this ground.

      Third and most important, thank you for inadvertently illustrating the *real* reason people see a difference between greenies and steroids with your “up late drinking” comment. The common view is that ballplayers of the past were a bunch of lovable, unprofessional scamps, whereas ballplayers today are unsentimental, joyless professionals. Therefore, the cheating of the past is cute, part of the game, and acceptable, whereas cheating today is a sign of everything that’s wrong with baseball. I’ve seen this same attitude before: I saw an author (don’t remember the name) speak about his book on the 1975 World Series. He talked affectionately about Bernie Carbo’s home run in Game 6, hit (the author said) while on greenies and recovering from drinking too much. Yet a few minutes before the author had spoken bitterly about how baseball had gone to the bad since that Series–and used steroids as Exhibit A. Greenies were a fun source of antics; steroids are soulless.

      On an emotional level, I actually do understand this viewpoint. But as an argument, it’s irrational. And it’s wrong. Willie Mays used greenies, and he didn’t stay up late drinking before games. Hank Aaron used them, and he didn’t stay up late drinking. Ballplayers then were like ballplayers today: competitive professionals who would do whatever they could get away with to win. The moral or ethical difference between greenies and steroids does not exist.

    • tomemos says:

      Ian: “Steroid use required clean players to either A) start breaking the law or B) play at a disadvantage. Clean players couldn’t point to the cheater and have it end.”

      And that is equally true of greenies, which, as unprescribed prescription drugs (like steroids) were illegal to take.

    • Edward Gohl says:

      I guess I’m willing to more or less say point taken re: greenies. I still think there’s a degree of difference between altering your fundamental body chemistry over a long period of time (which is what *I* think when I hear “performance enhancing drug”; maybe we just need a new term for this, since grouping all ‘drugs’ that ‘enhance performance’ together is troubling for reasons I feel we’ve covered by now) and taking something that gives you short-term pep, but the ethical comparison is fair.

      Responding to your earlier question of “where in other areas of law or ethics is the principle that cheating by improving yourself yourself (steroids) is worse, and punished more harshly, than cheating by impeding others?”
      A) I don’t think I ever made such a plain general statement, but rather that I feel one method that does that (steroids) is worse than those others that happen to not do that. Using a corked bat is improving yourself (allegedly) rather than impeding others, and would rate the same in my eyes and muddying up the infield

      B) Without going off on some sort of philosophical tangent, cheating via steroids (or greenies, sure) is just “unnatural” in a basic way, as players were (/are) just clandestinely improving their abilities in a way above and beyond what “nature” allows. My previously listed ‘romantic’ methods do not explicitly do this.

    • Rob Smith says:

      One poster missed the point. Steroids WERE against the rules. They just didn’t test for them.

    • tomemos says:

      Okay; show me the rule players were breaking when they took steroids. I’m happy to be proven wrong.

    • nightfly says:

      The rule the players broke was federal law. I think it’s a splitting of hairs to say that as long as they’re not arrested, they can keep on taking the ‘roids because baseball doesn’t test for it. It’s something that shouldn’t require the rulebook to expressly forbid – “Hey, don’t commit fraud to gain a permanent competitive edge, OK?”

      Now it may still be useful to split hairs over certain things. One such hair is the difference between greenies and steroids. To me the difference is lasting effect. If I start taking greenies in April and quit in July, I’m not permanently more alert from August through October. But a few cycles of steroids give me fifteen extra pounds of muscle that do last… not permanently, but long enough. The whole point of cycling on and off is to fool any random tests while still gaining a benefit.

    • tomemos says:

      So you’re using two standards here. The first is, it’s cheating if it’s against the law, even if it’s not against the rules of baseball. Of course, that would also include greenies (unprescribed prescription drugs). So then you say, well, also it’s only cheating if the effects are “permanent,” a completely arbitrary standard that has no basis in either baseball rules or federal law. This looks like a pretty naked attempt to carve out an exception for greenies, since including greenies would mean implicating some of our greatest and most beloved players. That’s understandable emotionally, but unfortunately doesn’t really make any sense the way you’ve laid it out.

      As far as “permanence,” do you think there were many players that took greenies from April to July and then stopped cold turkey? Don’t you think players tended to take them year-round, or as they needed them? So if you’re getting an extra boost year-round, how is that not “permanent,” just because you have to keep taking the pills to get the effect?

    • Matt K says:

      Just want to chime in briefly on ‘greenies’ and amphetamines in general, having taken many of them over the course of my life (prescribed for ADD, though I have since stopped as they are really not great for you). The idea that all that amphetamines are doing is giving you a ‘liitle pep’ is as off-base as saying that steroids make you ‘a little stronger’ – especially in the doses that they were taking, they are absolutely no doubt performance enhancers (judging from ‘Ball four’ and other baseball books discussing the time, it was far more than your average prescription user would normally use). Aside from increasing your energy levels HUGELY, users become tremendously focused, and perception/sharpness of reflexes/senses are enhanced greatly. There is absolutely no way that they wouldn’t affect things like strike zone judgement/plate discipline, speed of reflexes, etc. Think of them as steroids for your mind – they are seriously powerful, can have dangerous side effects, and are definitely not something to take lightly.

    • nightfly says:

      You answered your own question, tomemos – it’s not permanent if you have to keep taking the pills to get the effect. “Permanent” would imply an effect that no longer needs its cause to persist – I don’t have to keep hammering a nail once it’s in the wall.

      As to my other point, I never said I was carving any sorts of exceptions for anything. I said it was different… one is worse than the other. Both may well be against the law, as we saw in the 80’s when baseball (and basketball, IIRC) had huge drug scandals over illicit substances like cocaine. I still think that steroids were worse. It’s not so much an emotional decision as an intuitive one. If I take a greenie and I’m “locked in” I may hit pitches that would normally handcuff me; am I going to also hit them 50 feet farther? Am I going to run faster, jump higher? Am I going to operate at my peak or will I push that peak even higher? That feels like enough of a difference to me. You can call it “arbitrary” if you like, because it is on some level. Most of this is going to be differences of degree, not of kind. Nobody’s reasons are going to be perfect or acceptable to all.

      Part of the issue is that we have PED players just now reaching Hall eligibility, vs. the careers of the 70’s and 80’s all having concluded a while ago. It would be very hard to go back 30-40 years, determine who gained an unfair edge from greenies, and drum them out of the Hall of Fame. All we have is the present and future, and figuring out how to deal with it. I’d vote the users in, and dedicate a separate wing of the Hall to the story of pharmaceutical gamesmanship.

    • tomemos says:

      Well, we’re not in serious disagreement about the implications of this–we both think the users should be in. But I’m still puzzled by the distinction you’re drawing. First, steroids clearly are *not* permanent, you have to keep taking them. Otherwise testing would be an impossibility. But even if they were–why would permanence, as you define it, make steroids worse than greenies? Is there a practical or moral difference between someone who takes “permanent” steroids, and someone who takes greenies all season, every season? To me this sounds like we’re just finding ways in which steroids and greenies are different and asserting that that’s an important distinction, rather than incidental.

      Up to a point I can agree that steroids may have a more dramatic physical effect than greenies. On the other hand, that effect isn’t automatic; steroids enable you to build more strength but you still have to do the bodybuilding, whereas greenies just work on their own. Regardless, what we’re talking about is the *efficacy* of the cheating, which as I’ve said elsewhere in this thread doesn’t seem (to me) to affect the moral implications.

      Ultimately, what you say in your last paragraph is right: people are reconciled to the idea of greenies users being in the Hall, and it’s too tricky to root them out, so they find arbitrary distinctions to say why steroids are worse.

    • nightfly says:

      Perhaps instead of “permanent” I should say “enduring.” Using steroids, I could bulk up an extra 25 pounds, say… I go off the steroids to avoid being caught by testing, but I still have the extra 25 pounds of muscle to work with, at least for a few months. I’m now doing things I would never be able to do under my own power. So it would be a practical difference – simply being at my maximum alertness via a greenie (or a couple of Red Bulls) isn’t expanding my capabilities beyond their natural limits, the way steroids would. An upper may push me to 100% of myself, but at least in theory, I could be at 100% without the help; a few cycles of steroids would put me at 125%.

      I think it’s only natural to want our games be on the level. “We face each other as God intended, skill against skill alone.” Maybe the other guy can’t help being the biggest and strongest… but that’s still admirable. There’s a wonder in watching what the truly elite are capable of. It’s not very sportsmanlike to just get it from a bottle or a needle. One is humanity pushing the limits, all that “Wide World of Sports” narration; the other feels empty in the end, like mashing “reset” to start the big game over and over until we win it.

      It’s also possible that this sort of distinction is nothing but sophistry in the end, used to justify one method of cheating; or as you say, to outlaw the other one. But I still feel like the one is worse than the other. For me, anyway, it’s a real attempt to try to logically define something I feel rather than think. It seems like there ought to be a reason why steroids seem worse than a couple of uppers. But romance and adventure never seem as interesting when they’re analyzed. It really could be nothing more exotic than having grown up watching sports in the 70’s and 80’s, and thus thinking of that as a baseline – a baseline that was obliterated in baseball during the 90’s. It feels like more than that, but the more I try to pin down how and why, the less I succeed.

      In any case, good conversation. Thanks!

  9. y42k says:

    I believe any argument that contains a Gnip Gnop metaphor.

  10. tudorguy says:


    You claim “many believe Babe Ruth corked his bat.” Could you provide a reference for this claim? I ask not querulously, but out of a genuine desire to know.

  11. Johnny Utah says:

    The reason people hold steroids so against those players is that they made us look like fools.

    I look back at how exciting 1998’s Sosa/McGwire homerun chase was, and I feel like they fooled me, and I feel dumb in retrospect. They’re going to pay for that by not being immortal.

  12. Bill says:

    Here’s the thing — reporters knew players were taking steroids before this became a big deal. They didn’t care. They did not care. It was only when the public started caring that reporters cared. Reporters need to own up to this. As such, they’re being hypocrites when they choose not to vote for players because of actual or suspected steroid abuse.

    When I was in college in the mid 1980s, non-varsity athletes were openly talking about their steroid use w/r/t weight training. Varsity athletes talked about it. They talked about using in high school. They’d get prescriptions for some of the stuff. Yet reporters would have us believe they never heard of steroid use among professional athletes? They would have heard their own kids talking about it! If they came of age in the 80s, they knew folks using! They might have used it themselves! All the former players and managers who went into broadcasting — are we to believe they never told stories about game day preparation to the beat reporters? Are we to believe everybody in professional baseball with access to the clubhouse truly didn’t care about amphetamines, but were always concerned about steroids? Reporters knew. And they didn’t care. They’re going way way overboard with their outrage now. I have to conclude it’s to draw attention away from their, um, ah, how to put this? Their failure to recognize a story before it became a story.

    • jkak says:

      Exactly. The “disgrace to the game” argument isn’t that players used PED’s. It’s that the league at best tolerated and probably encouraged players to use PED’s because the power game was such a factor in overcoming the real disgrace, the 1994 season, and reporters knew PED use was going on and didn’t report it, and then when the truth went public both the league and reporters had to become holier than thou.

      Punishing players for doing what they were allowed/encouraged to do, and what most of those now voting knew were doing, by not voting them into the HOF is cynical, self-righteous, and hypocritical.

    • Rob Smith says:

      I remember the fans at Angel Stadium chanting “Steroids! Steroids!” at Jose Conseco in 1987. It wasn’t like there was some sort of awakening to the realities of steroids in 1994 or 1997. Fans knew.

    • Paul White says:

      I’m sorry, but you started your comment with “here’s the thing”, so I simply couldn’t read it. It reminded me of the way Mike Lupica used to smugly spout that line just before providing his view on The Sports Reporters, which was his way of announcing, “And now I will issue forth with THE TRUTH that none of you other fools are smart enough to see”. Man, I hate that guy.

    • Mark Coale says:

      Lupica is one of the people who profited greatly from 1998 . I dobut he has returned his book money because glorofying mcguire and sosa is now seen as horrible.

  13. Nick says:

    I think the reason why steroid usage trumps sign stealing is because of the message it sends; “kids, you too can grow up and play in the majors, but only if you inject yourself full of a dangerous drug that could wind up stopping your heart when you’re 50”. I do agree that steroids are a blight on baseball and I’m glad they’re (mostly) gone. That said, making the major leagues kind of requires a mentality that would lead a person to not think twice about roiding if they thought it would allow them to hit more dingers, heal quicker, run faster, etc. Look at Schiano’s “attack the kneel down” strategy…it increases your win probability by maybe .0001% and thus he has no problem doing it. The thought of boppin’ Barry not making the HOF is a joke. He may have been the greatest hitter of all time!!

    • Chris says:

      And all the other methods of cheating DO send a good message to kids?

      I don’t think either send a good message.

      I agree with whoever suggested letting in the best of the generation. The numbers may/may not be inflated but here were still 10-15 players who set themselves apart.

  14. Mark Daniel says:

    Vito Corleone explained it best. “It’s true I have a lot of friends in politics, but they wouldn’t be so friendly if they knew my business was drugs instead of gambling, which they consider a harmless vice. But drugs, that’s a dirty business.”

    “Because I believe this drug business is gonna destroy us in the years to come. I mean, it’s not like gambling or liquor, even women, which is something that most people want nowadays and it’s forbidden to them – by the pezzonovantes in the church. Even the police departments have helped us in the past with gambling and other things. They’re gonna refuse to help us when it comes to narcotics. And I believed that then, and I believe that now.”

  15. Unknown says:

    I’m with Bob Costas on the fact that we really can’t compare steroids to any other form of cheating. Here’s what he said:

    “Some people try to glibly minimize the impact of steroids by saying, ‘aw, y’know, guys used to do amphetamines, maybe some still do, whatever.’ This is like comparing a conventional weapon to a nuclear bomb. Did guys always search for an edge? Yes. Did they get it with greenies? Did they get it by stealing signs? Did some guys get it by scuffing a ball or throwing a spitball or corking a bat? Yes. All minimal stuff compared to the effects of steroids. What amphetamines by and large did, just as one example, was allow people to do what they could do at their best in a day game following a night game in August.[Steroids] didn’t give guys a boost or an edge. They transformed them. To equate steroids to other forms of cheating and edges around the margins in baseball history is just stupid.”

    And he’s right. Look at what Bonds did in those 5 years after his injury in 1999. No man at age 36 should be able to hit 73 homers in a year. At that age, a lot of men can’t hit 73 homers in five combined years.

    • Nemo says:

      Excellent point, and irrefutable, as far as I’m concerned.

      The resurrection of Clemens is almost as damning as Bonds’s numbers, and suggests the same conclusion.

      Thanks for making this important point.

    • tomemos says:

      Well, no man had ever hit 73 home runs before, at any age. And it’s not like steroids were helping people do it all around baseball, either. Power numbers and longevity certainly increased, but Costas is generalizing from the most exceptional cases. Which player was a more typical effect of steroids: Bonds, or Bobby Estalella? Armando Rios? F.P. Santangelo? Jay Gibbons? If you’re going to say that steroids are a worse form of cheating because the results are so much more drastic, you have to either a) ignore the great majority of players, who were not “transformed” by steroids, or b) basically say that Bonds and Sosa and McGwire are being punished, not for cheating, but for getting such good results from cheating. It’s like suspending someone more for a corked bat based on whether they get a hit with it or not.

    • jkak says:

      Costas’s moralizing about steroids is not “fact”, it’s his opinion. And his opinion is lessened by the fact that he said nothing during the steroid explosion of the late 90’s.

      What is “just stupid” is to maintain that amphetamines are not “transformative” but just some marginally effective substance such as ibuprofen. Players took speed every day because it is performance enhancing: it improves mental acuity, perception, hand-eye coordination, reaction time.

      And Costas’s argument is based on the proposition that only a few and only the best players used steroids, which I find very hard to believe. Steroid use became the culture of the game in the mid-late 90’s, the league condoned and probably encouraged it. In my opinion (and yes, it’s only opinion) it is difficult to believe that less half of the players during that time used steroids to some extent. Even so, some players still were much better than the rest, just as during the greenies era some players who used speed were much better than others who used speed.

      So what do you propose, that no player who played between 1996 and 2005 be eligible for HOF consideration? Or, as tomemos says, would you only exclude those who hit the most home runs, or whose personalities were less appealing than others’?

    • Unknown says:

      Ok. I’ve got my counter. Look, we all know that steroids alone isn’t just the factor. Bonds was already an AMAZING player. He was a Hall of Famer before he took the drugs. What steroids did was allow him to fight Father Time and then kept him fresh and more powerful over 162 games with fewer slumps.

      But, he ha to have TALENT in order to do something. Think of steroids as a scope to a long range rifle. You have to have a good rifle or else the scope isn’t going to help as much. Jay Gibbons, Bobby Estalella, Armando Rios, and F.P. Santanglo aren’t rifle. They are pea shooters in terms of talent. The scope that is steroids can only do so much with them.

    • adam says:

      Do we have any empirical evidence that steroids improves performance more than greenies?

    • djangoz says:

      100% agree.

      I love Joe’s writing, but I think the comparisons to other forms of cheating are absurd.

    • tomemos says:

      “Think of steroids as a scope to a long range rifle. You have to have a good rifle or else the scope isn’t going to help as much. Jay Gibbons, Bobby Estalella, Armando Rios, and F.P. Santanglo aren’t rifle. They are pea shooters in terms of talent. The scope that is steroids can only do so much with them.”

      So you agree that Bob Costas is wrong and steroids do not “transform” people.

    • tomemos says:

      Also, how about Rafael Palmeiro for someone who a) is clearly talented, b) used steroids, and c) never put up otherworldly numbers.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Wow! I can’t believe all the people that justify steroids as no big deal. Did you see the size of the players during the steroid era? They were freakish! Did you see the 500 ft broken bat, opposite field HRs? (Only a mild exaggeration). Greenies were wrong, but they never generated anything like steroids. I see a better argument against Gaylord Perry and Don Sutton for having careers based on their abilities to doctor the ball. They were cheaters & I would be OK if they were thrown out of the HOF for it.

    • Rob Smith says:

      tomermos: Palmeiro? He never hit more than 14 HRs in any of his first five seasons. Then suddenly he went on a HR tear, starting in 1991, and ended up with 569 lifetime HRs. Those aren’t “otherworldly” numbers. There are only 11 players ever that had more HRs lifetime.

    • Matt says:

      What Bob Costas is really saying:

      “None of the players that I idolized growing up could be guilty of doing something so terrible. I’ve got no problem attacking players from a later era, but don’t disparage my heroes.”

      Whether or not Costas’ view on the difference between greenies and steroids is correct, I can’t use his view as an arbiter of judgement.

      It would be like listening to Limbaugh saying that the way the Republicans are handling the “fiscal cliff” is the correct way while the Democrats are a bunch of fools (or, to turn it around, Keith Olberman saying the same thing in reverse).

      It doesn’t mean that they’re wrong, but we all know what they’re going to say, regardless of whether it’s accurate.

    • tomemos says:

      “Wow! I can’t believe all the people that justify steroids as no big deal.”

      I don’t think that’s a fair description of our argument, but if you mean people that don’t see steroids as a clearly different moral category than other forms of cheating, yes, there are a lot of us.

      “Did you see the size of the players during the steroid era? They were freakish!”

      I’m starting to think that people really do just mean “Bonds, McGwire, and Sosa” when they refer to “the players during the steroid era.” Again, look at *all* the players who used steroids. The ones I mentioned above (Estalella, Gibbons, et al) were not freakish. Benito Santiago was not freakish. Palmeiro (about whom more below) was not freakish. Frank Thomas was huge but is generally thought of as one of the clean ones. Look, I certainly do think steroids raised the average size and power production across the game, but the “freakish” and “transformed” arguments—the argument that steroids drastically altered the players, either in size or performance—really only works if you look at the exceptional cases.

      As for Palmeiro, I think steroids probably did play a role in his HR production. But the “He never hit more than X home runs until Y” really doesn’t work as well when you’re talking about a guy’s 20-25 seasons. We expect a player to come into his power gradually, and going from 14 to 26 HR between 24 and 25 is not such an unreasonable change. (The more damning thing with Palmeiro is that his power peak lasted so long into his 30s.) Again, my point is in response to Bob Costas’s idea that steroids utterly transformed people, and particularly the idea that Bonds represents a typical transformation.

      “Greenies were wrong, but they never generated anything like steroids.”

      How do we know what they generated? We don’t even know how much of the power explosion in the 90’s was caused by steroids and how much by other factors.

      “I see a better argument against Gaylord Perry and Don Sutton for having careers based on their abilities to doctor the ball. They were cheaters & I would be OK if they were thrown out of the HOF for it.”

      I sincerely appreciate your consistency here; it’s rare. However, the fact that it’s rare should give you pause. The standards of the Hall are set by the players who are elected; these two (and many more, like McGraw et al) were elected despite being known cheaters. In fact, can you name anyone who was kept out of the Hall for cheating? (Not Pete Rose; he was kept out for gambling, not for trying to improve himself beyond the limits of the rules.) So, sure, if we adopted a standard that no players who are known to have built their careers on steroids will be enshrined, it would be consistent to keep out the steroid players (though you’d still have the conundrum that Bonds and Clemens had HOF-worthy numbers before doing steroids). But we all know that’s not the standard we have, and few others are advocating for it.

    • Unknown says:

      Tomemos: I agree that steroids transformed people just not all of them. A scope transforms the gun’s ability. It just doesn’t transform every gun the same way.

      We have tons of evidence. Ask any (legitimate) doctor in the world about steroids and they’ll tell you that steroids change the body.

      Look at the numbers of admitted steroid users and the signs are there obviously. Caminiti, Canseco, Sosa, Giambi, and Bonds combine for 8 MVPs. Then we have to talk about McGwire etc.

      And tomemos: Shoeless Joe Jackson was kept out for cheating aka throwing the game. And as for Palmeiro, I’d say 569 homers is otherworldy in a sense.

      Bonds isn’t a typical transformation, he’s the most extreme and it tells the truth about the power of steroids when used on a great player. Imagine if Ruth had used him.

      And Matt, Costas is not one of those narrow-minded, out to get you, I am super-biased kind of analysts. He fully admits the faults of the players he idolized like Mantle.

    • Rob Smith says:

      I think a lot of people (rightly) speculate that players used steroids prior to Jose Canseco’s entree into the league. However, I played ball at the time, and the common wisdom at the time was that getting to big will make you muscle bound & will hurt your game. So, even weight lifting wasn’t even a huge part of the game for a long time. I’d look at early examples like Brian Downing for guys who may have used. He went from a borderline backup catcher to a .275/25/85 guy almost overnight. So, he was an outlier from the era & you can see where his production suddenly jumped in 1982 (at age 31) and continued on. Another early weight lifting guy was Tom Seaver. Hard to speculate that far back, but again, if true it would be a major outlier for his era. What Conseco provided with his obvious juicing was a glaring example of what steroids could do for a player. That was 1986. So, I’d generally say that the idea started to catch on about then. If there was anyone using steroids before that, and made it into the HOF, you’re talking one or two. Outliers. The steroid era produced hundreds of roided up players and it shows in the stats. That’s why steroids are so terrible. They changed the game and made it almost impossible for non users to compete. Non users had to consider using just to keep up. That’s why users should not go into the HOF. Their stats are phony. If you want to put Bonds and Clemens into the HOF on the basis of pre-steroids HOF credentials…. well, whatever. Bonds has a strong case, but Clemens really only had about half a career at this point and had tailed off substantially at age 31. Guys like that are not shoe ins for the HOF. See Dale Murphy.

    • tomemos says:

      “Tomemos: I agree that steroids transformed people just not all of them. A scope transforms the gun’s ability. It just doesn’t transform every gun the same way.”

      At that level of qualification, haven’t we lost the distinction between “transformation” and “performance enhancing”? The original Costas claim, which you fully endorsed, was that steroids are worse than greenies because steroids transformed players. Now you’re saying that, well, they don’t transform everyone, just some who are really really good. So you’re not disqualifying Bonds et al for the immorality of their actions (which is surely the same for all steroid users, no?), but because they got good results. That’s ethically incoherent.

      Incidentally, I would keep Palmeiro out of the Hall of Fame, because his numbers just aren’t impressive in the context of the steroid era. My point was that saying “steroids made people hit 73 home runs” is pretty silly when only one steroid user managed to do that, one time.

      “Shoeless Joe Jackson was kept out for cheating aka throwing the game.”

      No, this is just the Pete Rose example in older clothes. Throwing the game is the exact *opposite* of cheating. Cheating is trying to win through illegal means. We expect players to go right up against the rules in their attempts to win, and sometimes the line is unclear: is it cheating to pretend you made a tag you didn’t make? To throw at a player intentionally? To intentionally break the rules against interfering with a fielder? (To be clear, I’m not saying that these things are equivalent to steroids, or that using steroids isn’t cheating. I’m merely pointing out that in trying to win the game, a player often approaches an ambiguous line between competitive and cheating.)

      Cheating is bad because it distorts the fairness of the competition. But throwing the game, or gambling on it (which could provide incentives to throw a game) is worse because it obliterates the very concept of competition. I can see the anti-steroid case; I really can, even though I don’t agree with it. But anyone who thinks that cheating is as bad as throwing games or colluding with game-fixers has a seriously warped ethical view.

    • Rob Smith says:

      (1) Transforming vs. Performance Enhancing – Let’s go with Transforming. Performance enhancing is too generic. Either way, it’s hair splitting.
      (2) Cheating vs. Throwing Games. Yes, throwing games is worse. It doesn’t mean that cheating isn’t really wrong.
      (3) You wouldn’t put Palmeiro in the HOF because his numbers aren’t impressive. He’s 12th all time in HRs. That’s not impressive?
      (4) Steroids made people hit 73 isn’t a good argument because only one player did that. No, but known steroid users have the top 7 best HR seasons.

    • tomemos says:

      “Transforming vs. Performance Enhancing – Let’s go with Transforming. Performance enhancing is too generic. Either way, it’s hair splitting.”

      If it’s hair splitting, tell that to Bob Costas, who thinks that the “transforming” nature of steroids make them dramatically worse than mere “performance enhancers” like greenies. Actually, maybe you yourself could explain why steroids are so much worse than greenies due to their dramatic effects, yet the average steroid-using player looks a lot more like Armando Rios than Barry Bonds.

      “Yes, throwing games is worse. It doesn’t mean that cheating isn’t really wrong.”

      Right, but there’s still no good explanation of why steroids are the only form of cheating that is “really wrong” enough to warrant exclusion from the Hall. (You’re the exception as you’ve said that Perry and other spitballers should also be out, but again, you’re the exception.)

      “You wouldn’t put Palmeiro in the HOF because his numbers aren’t impressive. He’s 12th all time in HRs. That’s not impressive?”

      Palmeiro is a compiler: he stuck around a long time as a good player without ever being one of the best in the game. The fact that he did it in an offense-rich era makes the numbers impressive historically but not in context.

  16. Robert says:

    Just to respond (and drag Joe’s recent argument about the AL MVP chase), no one in the history of the game was able to do what Mike Trout did in his rookie year. Does that make him an obvious PED user?

    • Unknown says:

      Now that’s just silly. The main reason we suspect the guys suspected is because SEVERAL of them were defying father time in their 30s. Trout was 20 when called up and just an amazing weapon got have.

      If he were a 35-year-old rookie, I’d wonder!

  17. Daisuke says:

    On a totally emotional level, I believe that many people object to suspected PED users simply because they refuse to admit that they used anything. If you have somebody like Roger Clemens saying that he never used steroids, and his defense is that he doesn’t have a third ear growing out of his forehead, it rubs you the wrong way.
    I know that other people are going to say “but nothing was ever proved about Clemens’ use of PEDs”, but if you compare it to the Hall of Famers that Joe quotes about cheating, the attitude seems so different, leading to the assumption that “they knew that they were doing something wrong, and wanted to cover it up”, whether rightly or wrongly.

  18. PB says:

    First of all, I don’t have any problems with steroids users getting elected, and I would have no qualms about voting for them if I had a ballot. With that said, I’ll play devil’s advocate for a bit:

    1) Just because there are already cheaters in the Hall of Fame does NOT mean that we should necessarily elect more cheaters – two wrongs do not make a right. On this point, I merely hope that voters are consistent – if they are voting against steroids users because they cheated and/or brought dishonor to the game, they should similarly vote against other players, etc. who did so even if they did not cheat by using steroids. For example, they should not support any owners (Steinbrenner, Selig, etc.) who participated in collusion.

    2) This point was made above, but steroids can have ramifications that are far more serious than most other forms of cheating; younger players, insofar as they are able, are going to mimic what they see big leaguers doing, whether that’s cheating by using steroids or by using an illegal bat, stealing signs, etc. Of all of these, steroids is the one that provides a significant health risk to young people in particular (granted, an illegal bat could arguably do the same if it results in more screaming line drives), and for this reason it is perhaps particularly shameful/dishonorable/etc. To me, this is the only valid way to draw a distinction between steroids and other forms of cheating, if one wishes to do so.

  19. djangoz says:

    Sosa, Clemens, Bonds, Palmeiro – against them all being in the HOF. They’re just as bad as Lance Armstrong. Okay, maybe not quite that bad, but pretty close.

  20. Personally, I feel that we should judge players by the era they played in. Everyone knows the PEDs helped plenty of players, some probably more than others. If I had to guess why some people look past other forms of cheating, it is that those events happened on the field. Heck, even if a player was popping some speed they were likely to be doing it in the dugout or clubhouse. Steroids is just more secretive and shameful maybe?

    • Rob Smith says:

      When a winery has a a few bad years of wine, let’s say because of a drought that effected all wineries, do they ask their customers to just judge the wine by it’s era? Or do they throw it out? Even if people are forced to drink it, because there’s nothing else available, they do so with a bitter face & definitely don’t put it in the class of elite wines.

  21. i am a yankees fan so I know exactly what it is like to have strong negative feelings toward a single team or player, yes the red sox, however there is not one man in MLB history that i despise more than barry bonds. I cant even begin to describe how little respect I have for him. when people say, bonds shouldnt be punished because everyone was doing it (besides him lying in frot of a grand jury), he was able to use PEDs so well that he now holds one of the most prestigious records. If he is voted into the hall of fame, I will be disgusted at MLB, the hall of fame committee, and I simply couldnt look at the hall of fame the same way with bary bonds in it.
    I dont even like saying his name and hall of fame in the same sentance, unless it is seperated with belongs as far away as possible from the

  22. Kevin says:

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  23. Edwin Diaz says:

    This is so stupid. First off, who the heck knows who used steroids back in the 70’s, 60’s, 50’s, 40’s and 30’s!! A steroid doesn’t give you eye coordination to hit a 90 mph ball or a curve ball with an insane drop. People are making a big deal about PEDs now only because you got minorities taking over the stats. Why didn’t they do PED testing in the 70’s? But that’s not my point, my point is that no one knows who used it, even Babe could had been juicer with Lou. Obviously Mantle and Maris were. If steroids really makes you that great in baseball, I’m going to juice myself and maybe I can be the next BABE! 🙂 inspiration.

    • Rob Smith says:

      So… because someone may have used steroids undetected in the 60s and (may have) made it to the HOF, we therefore shouldn’t hold anyone from the 90s accountable for their actions, even if we know for a fact that they used steroids? That’s the same as saying because people were molesting children in the 50s undetected that we shouldn’t today hold child molesters accountable. You just gave the single dumbest argument on this topic that I’ve ever seen.

    • tomemos says:

      “That’s the same as saying because people were molesting children in the 50s undetected that we shouldn’t today hold child molesters accountable.”

      God, reel it in a bit. If you’re interested in moral accountability, why are you just flatly declaring that greenies had no significant impact on the game? I won’t use an analogy as tasteless as yours, but that certainly seems like deciding not to investigate an older crime because it might reduce our moral outrage at a newer one.

    • Rob Smith says:

      tomemos: show me the data that shows that greenies impacted the game signficiantly & I’ll buy in. I’m very open to the idea. But my current thinking is that greenies (which I used in college to study) are just a strong version of the energy drinks that are openly used today. Neither are healthy, and I don’t recommend them to anyone. In fact, my use of them in college was really stupid. But I do have some familiarity with how they work. I can see where they’d help, but they don’t change your abilities. They just help you concentrate and keep your energy up a little better (though their effects tend to degrade with longer term usage). With steroids, the data is there. The huge increases in homeruns. The opposite field HRs. The broken bat homeruns. The number of 50 HR seasons. The size of the players. The before/after comparisons with players like Sosa/Bonds/Palmeiro. There is lots of data to support the idea that steroid cheats put up wildly inflated numbers relative to their talent level. I’ve seen no such data, to this point, on greenies. But, I am certainly open to listening to what you’ve got in this area. I suspect you’ve got nothing, but I’ll wait and see.

    • tomemos says:

      First, let me answer your question: I don’t have any data to discuss the effects of greenies, but that’s to be expected since we know so much less about “the greenie era”: when it started, who all was using. But absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. The veil of secrecy around the clubhouses of the past doesn’t entitle us to assume that their PEDs had no effect.

      But more importantly, I think we’ve found the crux of the disagreement (maybe it’s been clear all along, but I’m finally getting it). To you, cheating is morally consequential based solely on the outcomes, whereas to me it’s based on the intent to gain an unfair advantage. To you, taking greenies, while wrong in an abstract sense, shouldn’t result in serious consequences for a player’s reputation, since the effects are minimal (or at least unclear). To me, though, it seems clear that the players of the past were *trying* to do exactly what the steroid users were: take a substance that would let them perform better. The fact that they weren’t as successful as the most successful steroid users doesn’t change the moral calculus. Look, there’s no consensus that taking HGH improves athletic performance, but you still think HGH is serious cheating, right? Or, in another realm: I’m a teacher, and I frequently have to deal with cases of plagiarism. Often students plagiarize their essays in such a way that they’re not particularly effective; the improvement over what honest work would get them is minimal. Should I therefore treat them more leniently, because the effects of their cheating are mild, or should I not treat all cheating as essentially the same *attempt* to cheat the system?

      To my mind, when a form of cheating (like steroids, greenies, or the spitball in the early 20th century) is universal and permitted (de facto if not de jure), that is part of what the game is in that era. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to stamp out that form of cheating, but it does lessen the moral wrongness of the act. And I especially believe that the place to enforce these moral standards is not the Hall of Fame, which is about recognizing the best players of each era–whatever the quirks of that era were.

  24. Unknown says:

    Babe Ruth could not have been a juicer because synthetic anabolic steroids hadn’t been developed when he was playing. The first one wasn’t developed until 1958. “Minorities” took over the stats in the 60s. Tests for anabolic steroids didn’t exist in the 70s. Have you ever seen a picture of Maris? He wasn’t exactly a body-builder. Only your third sentence made any sense at all.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Joe never makes any sense on this topic. He’s the biggest steroid apologist on the planet.

    • Chris says:

      How is Joe being an apologist? He merely points out baseball’s spotty moral history and asks why steroids are treated so differently.

      I think his position has always been to judge each generation on its own. Bonds gets in not because he wants to justify his homerun record, but because he was clearly the best amongst his peers.

    • Gregg says:

      Babe Ruth played in a segrated league. At best, it was full of minor league talent. How is that not an unfair advantage?

    • Rob Smith says:

      When Babe Ruth played, there were half the number of teams as there are today. He was most assuredly not playing against minor league talent. If African Americans were added, we’re talking 40-50 players max based on the historic percentage of African American players. Maybe a dozen of those would have been stars (again based on historical averages). So, adding African American players would have upped the competition level, but characterizing the league without them as Minor League grossly overstates the situation. In addition, Ruth didn’t duck playing against African American players. He barnstormed in games with them regularly. African American players, just like white players were in awe of Ruth. Gregg, you may have made two of the most ignorant posts I’ve seen in a long time. Try to think through things before you start typing. Throwing out comments you’ve heard elsewhere aren’t necessarily good ones.

    • If Babe Ruth was just feasting on bad white pitching… then why didn’t EVERYONE hit 50 homers in 1921?

  25. Gregg says:

    First, baseball didn’t have rules against it when these guys supposedly (totally) used. So if there’s no rule against it, it’s not really cheating.

    Second, we don’t know when the “era” began. Maybe it became more wide spread in the mid to late 90s. But that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t used in the 80s or even 70s.

    Third, it was (is) so widespread, that the playing field was (is) pretty even.

    Fourth, if this is about integrity then take out every guy who cheated on his wife, cheated on his taxes or blamed the dog for a fart. If it’s because they cheated the game, then anyone who kicked out the back line of the batters box or didn’t admit they missed a tag or didn’t have their foot on the bag.

    It’s all BS. These voters, and fans against voting them in, simply want to protect baseballs records. No one is taking away MVP awards, world series rings or asking for refunds. Lupica hasn’t offered a refund to anyone who purchased his book on the summer of 98.

    Were they great players? Among the best of all time? If the answer is yes, vote them in.

    • Rob Smith says:

      (1)There was no rule, so it was OK. It was, and is, against the law. If it was OK, how come players didn’t openly use?
      (2) Maybe players used in the 60s and 70s and didn’t get punished. In other words, because some didn’t get caught (like in the bank robber analogy)then nobody should be held accountable. There are also many who ran Ponzi schemes for years before they were specifically illegal. So, should Bernie Madoff be let off the hook?
      (3) if it’s OK to erase the back line of the batters box, then who’s to say steroids were worse. Really? So, some small acts that aren’t taken seriously mean we should let everything, including steroids be OK?
      (4) Everyone’s doing it. I hope your parents had a good answer for that. Something about what you would do if your friend Joe jumped off a bridge.
      (5) Voters and fans want to protect the records. There’s probably something to that, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting records to be legitimately attained.

      Congrats! This is the first comment that successfully combined all the half-wit steroid apologist theories into one post.

    • tomemos says:

      Rob, here’s a list of terms you’ve used in this thread:

      most ignorant
      never makes any sense

      Like the guy who kept saying “obviously,” you should consider that this kind of thing makes your argument look weaker, not stronger. Regardless of that, it’s also a jerky way to talk to people.

      As far as steroids being against the law, again, doesn’t this implicate greenies just as much? Granting for the sake of argument that steroids had a more dramatic effect, what moral difference does that make? Both groups of players broke the law by taking substances to give themselves a boost, and the boost varied from player to player. If steroids had been available clubhouses in the 60s and 70s, or if the conventional wisdom against muscle had been different, players would surely have used steroids. That doesn’t make steroid use right, but it does make it inconsistent to give greenies an utter pass while treating steroids as the worst thing since the Black Sox scandal.

    • Chris says:

      Clearly he’s roid-raging

  26. AdamE says:

    Arguement #4: The Hall of Fame isn’t just a bulding full of stuff used by the best players that ever played the game. It is a history of the game and to leave out the best players from an era is more damaging to the Hall of Fame than putting steroid users in it.

    • Unknown says:

      Not really. The Hall of Fame survived Rose and Shoeless Joe. And the guys left out can have memorabilia there; just not plaques.

    • Rob Smith says:

      I’ve always believed that the steroid cheats wouldn’t get in the HOF. But after reading the comments on this page, I’m realizing the younger generation or some subset of american culture just doesn’t care that a whole generation of ball players…. many of them like Sammy Sosa, who sucked as a player, then used steroids and hit 60 HRs three straight years…. completely distorted the sport for about 15 years. Maybe it’s just a part of the morale relativism of the day. The “well, it might be wrong, but on the other hand it could be OK for some people. Everyone who used steroids can’t be bad. You can’t just throw out a whole generation of players. Everyone was doing it”….. It’s disappointing that this is somewhat more than a minority point of view. Outside of point shaving, game fixing/gambling I can’t see anything that’s worse in sport than steroid use. Look at cycling. It completely ruined that sport. Anyway, voters will do what they want, but the current batch of voters, I think, will continue to keep the steroid cheats out. I hope like hell that continues.

    • tomemos says:

      “Look at cycling. [Steroids] completely ruined that sport.”

      You are aware that cyclers have been taking illegal substances for almost the entire history of pro cycling, right? Consider the death of Tom Simpson, caused in part by … amphetamines. ( If cycling was ruined by PEDs, that happened long before steroids and is only now fully coming to light. Baseball, meanwhile, has clearly not been “ruined” by steroids; it’s now probably the cleanest American team sport and is more popular than ever.

  27. Mark A says:

    As I’ve said before, my view on hall PED debates used to be that if you don’t let the players in, you are taking away from the hall, because you’re basically pretending those years didn’t happen.

    Its the mythical “kid walking through the hall” argument.

    “Daddy, which one of these guys had the most hits EVER”
    “He’s not in here, Timmy”
    “Which guy hit the most home runs in a year”
    “He’s not in here”
    “Show me the guy with the most homers in his career then”
    “He’s not here either”
    “Well, which ones of these guys were great players when you were my age”
    “Yeah, um, none of them are in here either”.

    That was my problem with it. And I still kind of have that perspective. I just don’t think it really matters that much.

    Pre-internet, the hall of fame was a big deal for fans. It was the pre-eminent standard and measuring stick for looking at players of the past.

    But thanks to great sites like baseball reference, and countless internet writers like Joe giving fascinating breakdowns on old players (when they aren’t whining about Mike Trout anyway), the hall just isn’t as important.

    I mean, it would be nice to see. But it need not be leaned on as a definitive record of who the greats were, nor to learn about them. For fans, its just a neat museum.

    So all that really seems to me is at stake is whether someone gets the bust and the jacket and the speech and gets to call themselves a hall member. And I have no problem with writers rejecting any number of cheaters or jerks for all sorts of criteria with that being the main thing on the line.

    I do, however, think that the same standard ought to be applied to similar career achievement awards for baseball MEDIA during the height of the steroid era. This was right in front of our face, and fans, management, and especially journalists were willfully ignorant, and at a time when it was in their personal interests not to dump on a feelgood story. The people who looked at the bulked up players and homer totals and thought “supplement my ass”, and reported nothing tarnished the game every bit as much as the players.

  28. Mark A says:

    As for Joe’s question of why PED cheating is worse than all the other cheating through the decades, the answer is in the records.

    Baseball fans and media cherish and celebrate baseball stat records, especially the long held ones. They hold on to their heroes of the past. So for all the talk of health concerns or fair play or morality or what have you, PEDs really bother these people because the cheaters broke those cherished records. And because people think they would not have without PEDs. Its McGuire then Bonds at the heart of it, dwarfing accomplishments of Ruth, Maris, and Aaron. The guys who cheated but didn’t break records are just collateral damage. Can’t get high and mighty about steroids for Bonds and then let Clemens off the hook …

  29. pumpkino says:

    Wonderful discussion. Really appreciate this site.

    The ONLY argument I saw here that really made sense to me as a good argument was the teacher up above who talked about intent. If someone thinks they are cheating, then that fits this argument. I have plenty of doubts that they were effective however, which makes them hapless.

    Anyone who claims that using amphetamines every day is less impactful or harmful than steroids isn’t paying attention. The idea of speed being the same as Red Bull is extremely off.

    So Joe’s three points:

    1) Is it cheating if steroid had no effect, either inherently or because use was 80% of the players (there is no evidence that they do, you know)
    2) See point 1 (and below)
    3) The game is soiled because the media told us it was. Baseball seems to be doing okay.

    The argument to me seems to be: Bonds used steroids. Bonds hit 73 home runs. Therefore, Bonds hit 73 home runs because of steroids. Isn’t there something logically missing here?

  30. Jay Ess says:

    No one here has mentioned Piazza yet–I find his the most interesting case. He’s the greatest hitting catcher in the history of the game. There’s no proof against him except alleged back acne. At least with Bagwell we all saw his ridiculous muscle explosion.

    My own view is Bonds and Clemens shouldn’t get in because a) They flaunted their cheating and flouted the record books and b) they lied in federal investigations. There are degrees of cheating, and these guys did it to the utmost degree. I’m sure lots of players threw games in the early days, but the Black Sox did it in the World Series. That’s just a different level, and so is racking up 762 home runs and 7 MVPs, or 354 wins and 7 Cy Youngs.

    • Rob Smith says:

      I think you are right on about “degrees” of cheating. For example:
      *Stealing signs. Not offensive when done on the field by players (I’m not even sure this is against the rules). More offensive when using technology and an organized effort (like the Blue Jays allegedly did). Still, it’s too general to focus on any one player and the impact to their careers. Non factor.
      *Corked bats – Wrong & should be punished. Serial offenders should have their stats viewed suspiciously. But the actual effects are probably marginal. Still, serial cheaters could be punished in HOF voting if their numbers are viewed as suspicious and the likely result of cheating.
      *Amphetamines – Wrong & should be punished, but I’ve yet to see any attempt to quantify their impact. That’s the big distinction with steroids. Until there is a way to show the performance impact for a particular player (not some general reference to the period or possible theoretical impacts), my stance is that their impact was more along the lines of drinking modern day energy drinks (I say that realizing that amphetamines are illegal, and agreeing that their use should be punished).
      *Scuffing/Cutting/Doctoring the ball – This is definitely crossing the line & was handled once MLB decided to start throwing out balls every time they hit the ground. If you want to challenge the legitimacy of serial cheaters like Don Sutton or Gaylord Perry, I’m OK with that. If they weren’t voted into the HOF, I’d support that. Their whole careers were based on a form of cheating. Gaylord Perry admitted in “Me and the Spitter” that he started throwing the spitter because he was about one batter from being back in the minor leagues. He couldn’t compete without cheating. The fact that MLB didn’t really take many steps to curb it until much later in his career is immaterial.
      *Steroids – It’s easy to quantify the changes they created in stats and in the game itself. Homeruns went way up. Teams stopped running. Players hit broken bat homeruns. Those caught cheating in this way should not be in the HOF. Those suspected…. depending on the level of indirect evididence can be excluded also. There was a very high degree of impact to player performance with steroids.
      *Gambling/Game Fixing – Obviously this is the big no-no. Pete Rose is paying the correct penalty. Lifetime ban and no HOF is appropriate.

      I strongly disagree with those that say either (1) Some got away with it, so we shouldn’t punish anyone or (2) players from early eras did amphetamines & weren’t punished so steroid users should also not be punished or (3) steroid were invented in the 50s so some must have used before the 80s/90s so some users must have illegitimately gotten into the HOF previously. So, therefore since we can’t know who might have gotten in wrongly, we shouldn’t punish anyone. These are all based on the invalid argument that if someone gets away with it (that we don’t know about) then we should not punish those that are caught. Our legal system doesn’t deal with crimes that way, so why should sports?

  31. Scott says:

    I’ve blogged a bit about the new HoF ballot, and McGwire and Palmeiro returning to the ballot myself, and I think Mark McGwire deserves to be in the HoF, and I’m OK with him not getting voted in. Baseball Hall of Fame, PEDs and controversy

  32. simon says:

    When I think about this argument, what is key is the arena in which the cheating is done.

    When cheating is done on the field and ONLY on the field (you can’t create a spitball before the game), then it is part of the cat and mouse game that is present in most sports between the players and the officials. If the umpires want to check for vaseline on a pitcher, they can, and that pitcher has no right to stop them from inspecting his body. If a fielder is holding a runner down, it is up to the umpire to see the offence and penalize it.

    Amphetamines and steroids are different. They are taken before the game or the season, with effects that show up during the game. Drug tests are collectively bargained because of privacy and reasonableness and cost and things like that.

    If a player lived 24h with a rotating team of umpires who watched his every move, was drug tested every pee, and still managed to take steroids, suddenly I would be more willing to roll my eyes and laugh when that player got away with it.

    If Barry Bonds hits 73 home runs with a wood-coloured aluminum bat and nobody thinks to check it out, then good for him. Since he hits them based on his offseason steroid regime, I want to see an asterisk.

    I’m okay with on the field cheating that can only take place during the game. It is up to umpires and opponents to be vigilant and excellent and prevent the cheating. I am not okay with cheating taking place off the field that cannot possibly be completely monitored. That is the difference I see between the harmless mischief cheating and the sinister steroid cheating.

  33. dbutler16 says:

    I think that perhaps the reason why steroid use has been looked on more sternly than previous forms of cheating is that the home run record (both lifetime and for a season) is perhaps the most cherished record in American sports, and that record has been compromised, tainted, ruined, whatever you want to call it, by steroids. Some other forms of cheating have quite possibly elevated certain players HR totals, but I doubt that anything has jacked them up and devalued the HR like steroids, HGH, and the like.

    As far as my problem with the PED cheater, Joe’s reason #2 is my reason for keeping people out. I’d stil probably vote Bonds and Clemens in because I think they’d be Hall of Famers without PED’s, but that requires as much speculation on my part as trying to figure out who cheated and who didn’t.

  34. […] will continue to use these performance-enhancers until something better comes about.  Writers Joe Posnanski and and William Moller from “They Say/I say”, agree with the fact that the game is not viewed […]

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