Much has been made of the recent and past votes for Major League Baseball’s hall of Fame. There’s a growing movement to accept anyone with statistics, regardless of whether they inflated their numbers with PEDs (performance-enhancing drugs) or broke the important rules of the game. But this is why sports needs a hall of fame. Because such inductions are the only factor designed to keep players, coaches, and executives honest.
The list of those with impressive statistics but came up short in playing or coaching the game correct is well-known. There’s all-time hits leader Pete Rose, along with all-time home run leader Barry Bonds, and home run record breakers Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Other stars like Roger Clemens and Rafael Palmeiro had statistics that probably would get them in the hall of fame.
It’s important to note that not a single person on this list was deprived of the right to earn millions of dollars for their performance. Even when it was revealed that some of these players had broken the rules, they were allowed to play for millions. They have also been able to sell memorabilia and sign autographs for money, despite past transgressions as well.
None have been asked to give their money back, which were clearly based upon these padded statistics.
How many players who have lied to congressional delegations or in court have spent time in jail? Though Rose spent time in jail for tax evasion for not reporting autograph earnings and horse racing receipts — something that has happened to others in politics.
Some PED players even get to be a coach.
Those who favor players getting into the hall of fame who took PEDs or gambled make the claim that public opinion has changed. After all, Mike Piazza was elected to the hall of fame, and some think he took drugs. Others like Bonds and Clemens received a bump in their numbers.
However, one could not vote out Piazza without actual evidence that he engaged in wrongdoing, and even that suspicion kept him out in several earlier votes. Neither McGwire nor Sosa received 13 percent of the vote, far behind other nominees. And Bonds and Clemens did a little better, but that’s only because a number of older writers were purged.
Even then, the gains were so slight that neither got 50 percent of the vote, and both have a long way to go. Some think that Veterans’ Committee might admit these players, but given the statements of players like John Smoltz, Chipper Jones and Roy Halladay, not all players are chomping at the bit to admit these players.
On sports talk radio, there is a definite refrain, saying that you can’t deny these players their historic achievements. You couldn’t have a hall of fame without these players and coaches! What would it say about the sport?
In fact, such decisions are very instrumental for current players and coaches, showing that there are consequences for actions, even if it’s just a plaque in Cooperstown, New York. It is a message to those who played long ago and chose not to cheat the game, or make extra money gambling on the side.
It tells kids and students in high school and college who play the game that there are rules that will be enforced, and fame should be earned the right way. Nobody, no matter how famous, is above the law.
As a last, desperate argument, the pro-PED and pro-gambling forces have argued that some earlier baseball players blocked blacks from playing. They even note O.J. Simpson is still in the NFL hall of fame. But we should not let people into Cooperstown or Canton just for that.
In fact, it may not be a bad idea to create a system where players who bring shame to the hall of fame be purged — if evidence later shows that Piazza broke the rules, he should be pulled. The hall of fame isn’t a right, but a privilege. It’s a small way to keep the games honest.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College. He may be reached at [email protected]