Calcaterra: Will baseball’s steroid users get the same forgiveness as baseball’s gamblers?

From Craig Calcaterra at The National Pastime Museum on October 16, 2016:

For the past several years, Hall of Fame voters have had to make some difficult judgments with respect to candidates who are accused of or have been established to have taken performance- enhancing drugs during their careers. The judgments are made all the more difficult by virtue of baseball’s Wild West environment when it came to drugs prior to 2005, when the league and the union adopted formalized drug testing. Some players whose primes occurred before 2005 have admitted to doping. Some have denied it vehemently. For some there is considerable evidence, circumstantial or otherwise. For others there is nothing but suspicion. Deciding who was clean, who was not, and who, therefore, can and cannot enter Cooperstown has been a vexing business.

When it comes to one Hall of Fame candidate, however, there has been no difficulty whatsoever. For Rafael Palmeiro there is no uncertainty and no conjecture required. He failed a drug test in 2005 and, as such, the historical assessment is an easy one: he’s a cheater, pure and simple. He was caught red-handed and punished and we are thus able to forego the difficult matter of leveling ethical judgment. He was on the ballot for four years, never received as much as 13 percent of the vote and fell off after 2014. The same fate will likely befall two-time test failure Manny Ramirez when he makes the Hall of Fame ballot next year and any other player who is established to have taken drugs in the clear-cut, post drug-testing world.

As we transition into that clear-cut world, Hall of Fame voters and historians will continue to wrestle with those ballot holdovers for whom there is imperfect evidence of drug use. But I wonder: will there come a time when they don’t bother to wrestle with the ambiguous, pretesting era at all?

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Originally published: October 17, 2016. Last Updated: October 17, 2016.