Banned substances and the Hall of Fame

Posted by ESPN's Pedro Gomez

Once again, one of the front-burner topics in baseball is whether the players who have been implicated using performance-enhancing drugs should be voted into the Hall of Fame.

Manny Ramirez's 50-game suspension for being caught using banned drugs has pushed this hot-button subject back to the forefront.

The argument made in the defense of the users being elected into the Hall of Fame centers on the supposition that most players from the last 15 to 20 years were on something, so if these were the best players of the era, then they should be considered the best candidates for Cooperstown.

OK, let's use that defense.

Let's say your son or daughter is caught cheating while taking his or her SATs. But let's say 80 percent of the class also gets caught cheating. If almost everyone in the class was cheating, it's OK for your child to have done the same, right?

And, let's say he/she scored in the top 5 percent of the class on those tainted tests. Well, Stanford, Harvard and other elite schools should simply overlook the fact that these kids cheated, because almost everyone else did the same. So, a reward is in line for these kids. It's not such an easy argument anymore, is it?

The Hall of Fame is not something to be viewed lightly. Not everyone gets in because it is the ultimate honor and the ultimate reward for major league players. Plus, right there among the list of rules on the cover sheet of the ballot is the following sentence: "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."




If these traits didn't matter or shouldn't be considered, they shouldn't and wouldn't be part of the process. Voters cannot and should not start to overlook certain aspects of a player's integrity, sportsmanship and character just because many players from the same time span were equally morally bankrupt and were doing the same.

How can anyone who injected himself in the rear or spread some lotion on his body to boost his performance be viewed as someone with these three traits?

How do you place Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez and now Manny Ramirez in the same class as Sandy Koufax, Willie McCovey and Al Kaline, three of the classiest and most legitimate players ever to put on a big-league uniform?

How do we know with 100 percent certainty that the players who have been caught or implicated were truly the best players of this era? We have no way of knowing unequivocally now because the implicated players decided to take that argument away with their use of PEDs.

Many believe some of the players implicated were the best, but how much was their natural talent and how much were the drugs they ingested? Now, there's no true way to know. But baseball offers a litmus test other sports do not: the trust of your eyes.

The mob mentality that obviously was pervasive within the game for the last 20 or so years should not in any way excuse the players from using, let alone getting caught. If so, then the looters who took advantage of a post-Katrina world in New Orleans should never have been prosecuted.

Again, if everyone was doing it, then what's the big deal, right?

The big deal is that anything wrong is still wrong, be it at the beginning or end of the day. The players who used illegal, performance-enhancing drugs knew full well that they were doing something against the rules.

If it was truly OK and not a big deal, then the players would not have gone to such great lengths to hide what they were doing.

When substances like Creatine were all the rage inside big-league clubhouses, it was difficult not to find a bucket of the powder out in the open. But there were never vials or syringes of steroids or human growth hormone lying around lockers or on table tops.

Players hid what they were doing because they knew they were cheating. The subject was taboo because, well, it was taboo.

The Hall of Fame is the ultimate place for the game's elite. It should never become the Hall of Shame.

Pedro Gomez is a reporter for ESPN and has been voting for baseball's Hall of Fame since 2002. He can be reached at pgespn@aol.com.