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Friday, January 11, 2013

Cheating, Steroids, and the Hall of Fame

"If you aren't cheating, you aren't trying hard enough."

-- Mark Grace, former Chicago Cubs first baseman

As most readers know Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens failed to be elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility because most voters believe that Bonds and Clemens cheated. Their rejection wasn't too much of a surprise, and evidently many current members were glad to learn that Bonds and Clemens were rejected (it wouldn't surprise me, however, if they eventually get the required 75% of the vote). However, although I don't support the use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs by athletes, there's a bit of hypocrisy at work here that should be addressed but probably never will:
  • First, as captured by Grace's remark, Bonds and Clemens are not the first professional baseball players to cheat. Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry made a career of cheating by throwing an illegal pitch, the spitball, and it is arguable that he wouldn't have put up the numbers he did (and thus be elected into the Hall) if he hadn't thrown the spitter. This begs the question, "Why are some forms of cheating acceptable and others are not?" (Note: This is not the first time I've explored this question -- see "Cheating and Sports, Part I: What are the Rules about Breaking the Rules?")
  • Second, and perhaps more troubling, Bonds and Clemens and all of the other baseball players who used steroids (according to Eric Gagne, former LA Dodger pitcher, 80% of the Dodgers used steroids when he was there) are not the first to use performance enhancing drugs. I know from my time playing professional baseball that ball players routinely used drugs to either relieve the pressure and/or to get "up" for a game. Alcohol was the most common drug for dealing with pressure; as the great Cleveland Indians pitcher Bob Lemon once remarked, "I never took the game home with me. I always left it in some bar." And anyone who has read Jim Bouton's hilarious book, "Ball Four," knows that Lemon wasn't alone in this regard. Of course, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to hangovers, so ball players often turn to uppers or "greenies" to get them ready to play. So again, we are left with a question: "Why is the use of some drugs acceptable and the use of others not?"
I don't claim to have answers to these questions, but it does bother me that no one seems to be asking them.

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