Should baseball's steroid era players be allowed into Cooperstown?
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By Jeff Weisinger
It was probably the darkest period in the game of baseball, and, unfortunately, it's the one era in baseball that the sport wants to forget.
When the baseball writers elected Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas and managers Tony La Russa, Joe Torre and Bobby Cox into Baseball's Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, they made their stand very clear: nobody with even a suspicion of using PED's will get into baseball's hall of fame.
All three players inducted this year were clean throughout their career, however some of the others on the ballot weren't.
Those "dirty" players starting to come up on the Hall of Fame ballots led to baseball changing it's eligibility from 15 years to 10, more evidence that baseball is trying to forget the steroid era.
The funny thing with baseball trying to look down on the steroid era is forgetting the fact that the steroid era, highlighted by the home run chase between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, revived the game following the 1994 strike.
(For those wondering why the game nearly died following the '94 strike, here's the highlights of 1994: The Montreal Expos who made the postseason just once ever, were the best team in the game, the Padres' Tony Gywnn was on-pace to become the game's first .400 hitter since Ted Williams and the Giants' Matt Williams was on-pace to break Roger Maris' single season home run record.
In the six years following the strike (1995-2001), baseball was revived by the aforementioned home run chase, and then brought back to full health when Barry Bonds broke McGwire's 70 home run record in 2001.
Baseball fans who returned to the game bitter after the '94 strike were rewarded just a few years after.
Everyone loves the long ball and the 44 percent increase in attendance during that six year span was proof. From 1995 to 2001, MLB revenue grew from $1.4 billion to $3.7 billion, a compound annual growth rate of 16.3 percent.
If numbers never lie, then those players who helped bring the game back need to be recognized for helping the game. Most fans know it and most writers know it, so it's time to give some credit where credit is due. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens each received over 30 percent of the BBWAA ballot this year, McGwire received 11 percent while both Rafael Palmeiro and Sosa each earned less than 10 percent.
"If you were a Hall of Famer during that period as far as your pitching and playing, I would create some kind of asterisk, where everybody understands that, 'Look, we have some questions, but you were still the dominant pitchers and players of your time," La Russa said prior to his induction into Cooperstown.
"I might get voted out of the Hall of Fame with that attitude, but that's what I believe."
La Russa hired McGwire to be the Cardinals hitting coach in 2009 and explained that the steroid era in baseball "is not as easy to explain as people would think" in an interview on National Public Radio.
"Baseball is still not sure how to explain that 10 or 12 year period."
Not everybody, of course, agrees with La Russa's beliefs. Baseball's older generation has stuck to their tough stance on baseball's steroid era.
"The game has no place for cheaters," Hall of Famer Hank Aaron said.
Yes, how they went about their job was wrong, and this isn't an article saying cheating is okay. However, without those players knocking all of those balls into the seats (or in Bonds' case, McCovey Cove), the game wouldn't have the prosperity and notoriety it has now.
Athletes always look for a way to get an edge and keep their job. There's no other job in the world that gives anyone the benefits and financial security that being a professional athlete does. That mentality of doing anything possible to be the best at your job will never change for high-level athletes. That mentality leads to players doing anything possible including new physical and mental trainings, diets and evolving supplementation.
While the steroid era was the biggest black eye for baseball since the infamous Chicago Black Sox scandal of the early 1900's, the game needed it. The fans needed to get excited about the game again after 1994 left the most disgusting taste in their mouth, and seeing two division rivals chase a historic landmark in the game. Follow that with seeing Barry Bonds break McGwire's 70-home run mark, then Hank Aaron's 755 career home run mark keep the fans in their seats.
If anything, Bonds chase for 755 kept Giants fans in the seats even when the Giants began to struggle.
If Cooperstown is supposed to be a museum, telling the story of baseball, then guys like Barry Bonds (.298, 762 HR, 1,996 RBI), Mark McGwire (.263, 583 HR, 1,414 RBI), Sammy Sosa (.273, 609 HR, 1,667 RBI), Rafael Palmeiro (.288, 569 HR, 1,835 RBI) and Roger Clemens (354-184, 3.12 ERA, 4,672 K) need to get in, even if it's on their last ballot. To completely do everything to avoid the steroid era would be irresponsible.
The steroid era is a big chapter in baseball, whether we like it or not. It's the black eye that actually saved baseball and brought it back from its near death in the mid-90's.
To try and forget about this time of the game would be wrong, and would keep Cooperstown incomplete. It's time for baseball to admit its mistakes and admit that regardless of the steroids that these players were still the best in the game during their time.
It's time for baseball to be honest with itself.
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