The baseball writers are filling out their Hall of Fame ballots, and Hall of Fame member Joe Morgan authored a much-needed letter on behalf of his fellow honorees to urge voters to keep steroid cheats out of the Hall. He wrote—on Hall of Fame stationary, so it is clear that this was both personal and official:
The Hall of Fame is Special – A Letter from Joe Morgan
Over the years, I have been approached by many Hall of Fame members telling me we needed to do something to speak out about the possibility of steroid users entering the Hall of Fame. This issue has been bubbling below the surface for quite a while.
I hope you don’t mind if I bring to your attention what I’m hearing.
Please keep in mind I don’t speak for every single member of the Hall of Fame. I don’t know how everyone feels, but I do know how many of the Hall of Famers feel.
I, along with other Hall of Fame Baseball players, have the deepest respect for you and all the writers who vote to decide who enters Baseball’s most hallowed shrine, the National Baseball Hall of Fame. For some 80 years, the men and women of the BBWAA have cast ballots that have made the Hall into the wonderful place it is.
I think the Hall of Fame is special. There is a sanctity to being elected to the Hall. It is revered. It is the hardest Hall of Fame to enter, of any sport in America.
But times change, and a day we all knew was coming has now arrived. Players who played during the steroid era have become eligible for entry into the Hall of Fame.
The more we Hall of Famers talk about this – and we talk about it a lot – we realize we can no longer sit silent. Many of us have come to think that silence will be considered complicity. Or that fans might think we are ok if the standards of election to the Hall of Fame are relaxed, at least relaxed enough for steroid users to enter and become members of the most sacred place in Baseball. We don’t want fans ever to think that.
We hope the day never comes when known steroid users are voted into the Hall of Fame. They cheated. Steroid users don’t belong here.
Players who failed drug tests, admitted using steroids, or were identified as users in Major League Baseball’s investigation into steroid abuse, known as the Mitchell Report, should not get in. Those are the three criteria that many of the players and I think are right.
Now, I recognize there are players identified as users on the Mitchell Report who deny they were users. That’s why this is a tricky issue. Not everything is black and white – there are shades of gray here. It’s why your job as a voter is and has always been a difficult and important job. I have faith in your judgment and know that ultimately, this is your call.
But it still occurs to me that anyone who took body-altering chemicals in a deliberate effort to cheat the game we love, not to mention they cheated current and former players, and fans too, doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame. By cheating, they put up huge numbers, and they made great players who didn’t cheat look smaller by comparison, taking away from their achievements and consideration for the Hall of Fame. That’s not right.
And that’s why I, and other Hall of Famers, feel so strongly about this.
It’s gotten to the point where Hall of Famers are saying that if steroid users get in, they’ll no longer come to Cooperstown for Induction Ceremonies or other events. Some feel they can’t share a stage with players who did steroids. The cheating that tainted an era now risks tainting the Hall of Fame too. The Hall of Fame means too much to us to ever see that happen. If steroid users get in, it will divide and diminish the Hall, something we couldn’t bear.
Section 5 of the Rules for Election states, “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”
I care about how good a player was or what kind of numbers he put up; but if a player did steroids, his integrity is suspect; he lacks sportsmanship; his character is flawed; and, whatever contribution he made to his team is now dwarfed by his selfishness.
Steroid use put Baseball through a tainted era where records were shattered. “It was a steroidal farce,” wrote Michael Powell in the New York Times. It is no accident that those records held up for decades until the steroid era began, and they haven’t been broken since the steroid era ended. Sadly, steroids worked.
Dan Naulty was a journeyman pitcher in the late 1990s who admitted he took steroids, noting that his fastball went from 87 to 96. He told Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci in 2012, “I was a full-blown cheater, and I knew it. You didn’t need a written rule. I was violating clear principles that were laid down within the rules. I understood I was violating implicit principles.”
The Hall of Fame has always had its share of colorful characters, some of whom broke or bent society’s rules in their era. By today’s standards, some might not have gotten in. Times change and society improves. What once was accepted no longer is.
But steroid users don’t belong here. What they did shouldn’t be accepted. Times shouldn’t change for the worse.
Steroid users knew they were taking a drug that physically improved how they played. Taking steroids is a decision. It’s the deliberate act of using chemistry to change how hard you hit and throw by changing what your body is made of.
I and other Hall of Famers played hard all our lives to achieve what we did. I love this game and am proud of it. I hope the Hall of Fame’s standards won’t be lowered with the passage of time. For over eighty years, the Hall of Fame has been a place to look up to, where the hallowed halls honor those who played the game hard and right. I hope it will always remain that way.
I agree in every respect.
Joe had to know the cynical among the journalists, the young and drug-loving as well as those who can run down all the invalid rationalizations to support voting for Barry Bonds or Manny Ramirez (to name my candidates for the worst of the worst) would attack him, and indeed he was immediately attacked. I’m hoping that the next volley from the players in the Hall will be a pledge to boycott the museum and even ask to have their plaques taken down in steroid cheats find their way into Cooperstown,
Here was typical response from a steroid-enabling writer, Jeff Passan, who announced that Morgan’s letter caused him to give up his vote for the Hall. (Again, good; one down, and about 75 Bonds voters to go…). Passan wrote in part,
“If, by sacred place, the Hall means one in which racists, wife beaters, drunks, gamblers and purveyors of manifold moral turpitude otherwise are celebrated, well, Cooperstown is a shining beacon of divinity set upon a hill of hypocrisy.”
Oh, go tear down a statue of Thomas Jefferson, you ass.
This is the standard “everybody does it” opening shot by the fans of Bonds, Roger Clemens and others. Except that the misconduct that should matter in a baseball Hall of Fame honor is conduct related to baseball, and everyone has always understood and accepted that, until ethics dunces like Passon started to desperately find a way to justify admitting cheaters
“The Hall sees the rising tide of support for steroid users among writers who increasingly believe that denying entry to the best players of an era would amount to whitewashing history.”
The watermark of a bona fide Ethics Dunce: a cheater is by definition NOT one of the “best player.” Good players don’t cheat. Cheating makes them bad players, unsportsmanlike players.
“Either Joe Morgan doesn’t realize steroid users already have entered the Hall of Fame and is thus fundamentally disqualified from writing a letter like this because it would be positively embarrassing to let someone so ignorant speak on behalf of such a cause, or he is lying and obfuscating. The latter is likelier.”
OK, wise guy, who are the current Hall members who used steroids? Name them. You won’t, because you know you can’t prove it, and you might get sued. Sure, it’s possible one or two slipped in. Prove it, and they can be kicked right out, too. This is another popular argument, and the equivalent of arguing that if the justice system can’t guarantee that every convicted defendant will be guilty, it shouldn’t imprison anyone.
Let’s assume, arguendo, that a couple of cheats slipped in. That’s better than three. It’s a lot better than ten. It’s infinitely better than two plus Barry Bonds.
I dealt with this rationalization for polluting the Hall here.
Passan makes the “greenies argument”, which was late to the debate and only recently adopted because the other defenses of the steroid cheats were so lame. Baseball players openly used illegally prescribed amphetamines, with the knowledge of the clubs, for decades. This helped battle fatigue, and in that respect may have boosted performance in unmeasurable ways. Speed is not comparable to steroids and other PEDs, nor was its status in the game similar. No players regarded it as cheating. There isn’t a shred of evidence that any player’s statistics were inflated by greenies. No non-greenie using player failed to make a roster because another player was surpassing his performance by taking amphetamines. If everybody, literally everybody or close to it, is using a stimulant and it is considered in the culture as standard practice, then it cannot be called cheating. There is no net competitive advantage, unlike a hitter like Bonds suddenly looking like the The Incredible Hulk and adding 10 yards or more to his fly balls.
Finally, and predictably, Passan attacks the character clause quoted by Morgan in his letter, calling it “the so-called character clause, the most farcical of the Hall of Fame’s voting tenets, one ignored for generations.”
Ignored by writers like YOU, Jeff, which is one more reason you should give up your vote. I bet you’d be one of those guys who calls me a “so-called ethicist.” You don’t know what character is, much less how important it is. Being a drunk isn’t a mark of bad character. Gambling isn’t either, unless one gambles on baseball, like Pete Rose. Players whose attitudes and biases mirrored the time and the culture in which they lived cannot be punished later by an enlightened public that has had the benefit of experience and events that those players did not. That provision isn’t farcical, it is essential. It is inspirational, and sets a standard for the game. That’s what Morgan’s letter does as well.
Bravo to Joe Morgan and the Hall for responsibly opposing the ethics rot writers like Jeff Passan would see flourish in baseball, like it has in football, basketball, and society itself.