Today for the first time since 1996 the Baseball Writers of America elected no new members to the Baseball Hall of Fame. This was the first year of Hall of Fame eligibility for players such as Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, all players who had extraordinary careers that have since been tainted by their steroid use. Two other players with great careers notably tainted by steroids, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro, have been eligible to enter the Hall for several years, and also failed to be elected.
The failure of not just the players who have been heavily linked to steroids but all players eligible this year demonstrates some of the reluctance of baseball fandom to embrace the “Steroid Era.” Baseball more than any other sport I can think of is one dominated by statistics. Fans regularly compare the performance of players based on their batting average, home runs per year etc. These comparisons are not just made between current players; often players are judged across eras and record-setting performances such as Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak and Hank Aaron’s715 home runs are held as sacred. The inability to make an apples to apples comparison of the performances of the past to those of the 90’s due to steroids has particularly angered some baseball purists.
The lingering distain for the steroid era comes not just from skewed stats but also from the fact that the “greatest” players of America’s Pastime in the 1990’s cheated to improve themselves in a way that could hurt their bodies. But as many others have noted, nearly everybody in that era used some form of performance enhancing drug, players such as Clemens, Bonds, and McGwire were just the cream of a steroid injected crop. I’d be willing to bet that performance enhancing drugs are still quite prevalent in baseball and across sports as the incentive to perform is massive and testing lags behind more modern performance enhancing drugs. While there may always be an asterisk that hangs over these players’ careers baseball and other sports heavily impacted by performance enhancers will have to eventually come to some sort of complete control of these substances or tolerance of their use.