FOR YEARS THE Baseball Hall of Fame has avoided establishing an official institutional policy on the viability of candidates who have been linked to performance-enhancing drugs. Last week, however, Hall voters received a mass email from Joe Morgan asking them to reject "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."
A Hall of Fame second baseman who has served on Cooperstown's board of directors since 1994, Morgan also wrote, "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." Morgan used the Hall's email address and signed it as "Vice Chairman," a capacity in which he has served since 2000. This was, unmistakably, an official position.
Sent a day after the BBWAA's 2018 ballot went out, Morgan's letter is apparently aimed at halting the momentum of candidates Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, who last year—their fifth out of 10 on the ballot—received more than 50% of the vote for the first time, a threshold that has historically indicated future election. Both have overwhelming credentials but have fallen short of 75% due to connections to PEDs that predate MLB's 2004 introduction of testing.
Morgan's letter marked the Hall's latest attempts to move the goalposts with regard to steroid-linked candidates. In the summer of 2014 the board unilaterally truncated all candidates' eligibility from 15 years to 10, shortening the time Bonds, Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and others had to reach 75%. Morgan's position, however, is disingenuous. He uses the term steroids and not performance-enhancing drugs—conveniently sidestepping the fact that amphetamines, or "greenies," were prevalent for more than four decades, long after 1970, when they were classified as a controlled substance. In 2003, outfielder Tony Gwynn estimated that 50% of position players were using them routinely. Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Mickey Mantle, are among the HOFers who have been connected to amphetamines.
When sluggers Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire became eligible for election, in 2007, the same voters who never viewed greenies as a disqualification began to pass judgment on steroid use. Canseco, a pariah thanks to his 2005 tell-all Juiced, received just 1.1% of the vote, removing him from further consideration. McGwire got a tepid 23.5%, with some voters invoking the so-called character clause, which states, "Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the team(s) on which the player played." Introduced in 1945, the clause hasn't prevented the Hall from enshrining players, managers and executives who were Ku Klux Klan members, Prohibition-era alcoholics, cocaine and amphetamine users, and spousal abusers.
And then there's Bud Selig, who was elected by the 2017 Today's Game Era Committee and who as commissioner turned a blind eye to the influx of PEDs until Congress forced the league's hand in the mid-2000s. Yet the 16-member committee, which included eight Hall of Famers, did not view Selig's role as disqualifying. Instead it enshrined him with near unanimity.
From an official standpoint the Hall has appeared to want things both ways, recognizing the accomplishments of steroid-linked players by displaying their milestone home run balls and other artifacts while tacitly hoping they won't be inducted. For over a decade, the Hall was content to let voters make up their own minds about McGwire and those who followed in his wake, to let the chips "fall as they fall," as Hall president Jeff Idelson told SI in 2011. But as Bonds and Clemens gain support, the Hall's thumb on the scales is now obvious, particularly when coupled with the board's refusal to accept a widely popular BBWAA proposal to publish every voter's ballot. Last year 71% of voters voluntarily revealed their ballots, and those that did gave Bonds and Clemens more than 60% of the vote, whereas the pair polled just shy of 40% on the remaining ballots.
The proliferation of steroid use was the result of a complete institutional failure that implicated the commissioner, the owners, the players' union and the media. The Hall shouldn't flinch from telling that story and reminding its visitors of that hard lesson. But if baseball couldn't punish the likes of McGwire, Bonds and Clemens while they were active players, the Hall shouldn't be trying to do it retroactively. Recognize the era's best, while understanding the context in which they thrived, and move on.
Steroid use was due to a complete institutional failure that implicated the commissioner, owners, players and media.
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Plus-minus for Rockets forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute in a 125--95 win over the Nuggets on Nov. 22, the highest on record. In his 26 minutes on the floor, Houston scored 93 points to Denver's 36.
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