Labels are powerful. Whether positive or negative, they can have a lasting effect on a person’s legacy, oftentimes allowing one event to overshadow the rest of their lives. Many football fans still see Michael Vick as a felon, even though he served his jail term and came back better than ever. Others still call LeBron James an attention seeking diva, even though he acknowledged his mistakes, went back home to Cleveland, and brought the city a title for the first time in 52 years. Further, Tiger Woods’ name continues to be a source of criticism and shame, despite his willingness to get his personal affairs in order and return to golf. This sort of characterization has the ability to stain reputations forever. Back in January, the newest Baseball Hall of Fame class was announced, and names like Barry Bonds and Roger Clements were left off the coveted list. Despite being baseball legends, it is widely believed that these names were omitted for one reason: they were connected with performance-enhancing drug (PED) use. Though this is true, they should still be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
I’m not saying that juicing is okay, nor that all steroid users should be allowed into the shrine. However, the infamous label of “steroid user” is so broad and unforgiving that it is highly inaccurate. It’s inaccurate because it ignores a player’s record before they started taking steroids. Let’s look at the example of the San Francisco Giants’ own Barry Bonds.
What many fans don’t know is that Bonds was a phenomenal athlete long before his use of PEDs. Bonds’ use of these drugs started back in 1999, only after he became the first player in baseball history with 400 home runs and 400 stolen bases, along with a historically stellar OPS+, a metric that takes into account extra base hits. According to baseball-reference.com, only 10 other players have an OPS higher than Barry Bonds’, and yes, all 10 of them are in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Contrary to popular belief, steroids didn’t make Barry Bonds a Hall of Fame-esque talent – he already was one. Keeping him out of the Hall of Fame would be negating a significant piece of modern baseball history.
Another controversial example of a PED-user who has been forbidden from Hall of Fame entry is Roger Clements, an 11-time All Star, seven-time Cy Young Award winner and two-time World Series champion with the New York Yankees. In his case, there was never any proof that he used performance-enhancing drugs, only suspicion. In 2008, he was found not guilty of lying to Congress about his PED use. Once again, this goes back to the topic of labels. Even though Clements was acquitted by a House Judiciary Committee, a large portion of sports writers (who ultimately cast Hall of Fame votes) still label him as a PED user and, therefore, refused to vote him into the Hall of Fame.
Opposers of my viewpoint may argue that the Hall of Fame is about setting an example for the youth; to let in “cheaters” sends a message that using performance-enhancing drugs and cutting corners is okay. That is a terrible way of looking at it. Yes, children look up to athletes and dream of being in their shoes one day – to play in the big leagues and hit the walk off home run to win the World Series. However, as cynical as it sounds, baseball is a job to these athletes, not a game. Professional athletes, as famously stated by NBA star Charles Barkley in a 1993 Nike commercial, are not role models. Their job is to play hard and win games on the field, not to put on an act for the kids in the first row.
Labels are a powerful construct. Many times, these labels are so broad that they block out reason and facts. This is the case with Barry Bonds and Roger Clements. So, should “PED users” be inducted into Cooperstown? By the logic presented above, hell yes.
Featured Photo: Roger Clemens was never proven to have taken performance-enhancing drugs. KEITH ALLISON/FLICKR