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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, April 14, 2024

Sports and Society: Orwellian baseball


Steroids once were the secret sauce to hitting greatness but not if you ask the Baseball Hall of Fame.

When asked over the years what the legacy of steroids in baseball is, the Hall has responded with a mix of denial and administrative fight-or-flight. Mix that with a healthy dose of inflated self-importance — along with one or two olives and a twist of lemon — you’ve got a cocktail of historical erasure that would make Big Brother proud. 

On Dec. 4, the Contemporary Baseball Era Players Committee slammed the door shut on any player popularly associated with steroid use — the usual suspects being Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire — ever being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Both Bonds and Clemens appeared on this year’s ballot and failed to even receive a third of the required votes. To the Hall, their purgatorial ordeal of litigating the steroid era is at an end. Case closed. Book shut. Probably-didn’t-have-to-be-three-hours-long Netflix special over. 

But as with the often life-threatening effects of steroid abuse, the devil is in the details. In the fine print of Sunday’s vote at the MLB’s winter meetings, one might wonder how the ballot could have featured lengthy biographies of Bonds and Clemens — their combined eight MVP years, Clemens’ seven Cy Young awards and Bonds’ 762 home runs all rightly appear — without a single use of the word “steroid.” In fact, one would have a hard time finding the forbidden word anywhere in the Hall of Fame, either in Cooperstown itself or on its extensive website. It appears once total, mentioned in a passing glance in an article about Glenallen Hill’s 1991 Topps baseball card. 

Whatever the Hall wants you to believe, hundreds of MLB players used steroids to launch baseballs into orbit during the aptly named “steroids era,” which most remember as the 1991–2003, a comical 12-year period where steroids were banned but not tested for. Imagine for a moment that someone told you that you could double your paycheck. Your boss said that you weren’t allowed to do that but explicitly mentioned he wouldn’t check if you did for 12 years. 

With that level of incompetence ruminating in the historical ledger, it has become clear that the Hall and those that maintain it have no interest in validating the steroid era and would much rather forget it ever happened. Yet, as all historical lies are, the Hall’s fallacy is rooted in rejection of questions in favor of a constructed certainty. The Hall thinks it has all the answers, so let’s ask some real questions:

What even is the Baseball Hall of Fame? Currently, it’s a glorified trophy case. Obsessed with preserving the sanctity of its own importance, it is highly selective about who does and does not get to enter its pearly gates. In its current organization, my complaints of historical erasure are hardly important, since the Hall is not a museum. It is a social club that gives out hardware. 

But what should it be? Seeing as the entire point of professional baseball while you are playing is to win trophies, I wouldn’t be crushed if the Hall pivoted to what it would be more useful doing: preserving the historical memory of baseball, a game that is currently dying under the weight of pointless squabbles like this one. The Hall wants to have it both ways but giving out the game’s highest honor and acting as a historical institution has proven oxymoronic, and the Hall must pick a lane. If they don’t, I fear this historical gridlock will never end.