Wednesday’s Hall of Fame voting announcement should have been one of the best days of the baseball year. Baseball’s all-time home run leader, Barry Bonds, was a first-time candidate for election. Roger Clemens, one of the greatest pitchers ever, was, too. Craig Biggio, who had over 3,000 hits, and Sammy Sosa, who had 609 home runs, were first-timers, as was the best-hitting catcher in history, Mike Piazza. Curt Schilling and Jeff Bagwell, who should have been no-doubt inductees, also made their ballot debuts. That doesn’t even include other great players like Mark McGwire, Larry Walker, Edgar Martinez, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell or Dale Murphy, who were on the ballot again after being snubbed in previous years.
The Hall limits a voter to just 10 selections per year. Given the players who’ve recently garnered election to the Hall, and given the on-paper credentials of the players on the ballot, it should have been quite tough for a voter to limit his selections to just 10.
Instead, Hall voters pitched a shutout.
Obviously, this had everyting to do with baseball’s continuous scandals involving performance-enhancing drugs, as voters decided they ultimately didn’t trust anyone. There’s plenty of blame to go around. Baseball was still reeling from a players’ strike that canceled the 1994 World Series until McGwire and Sosa revived a fading game in ’98 with their race to break Roger Maris’s single-season home run record. Commisioner Bud Selig and others, not wanting to quell the wave of momentum, more or less took a don’t-ask, don’t-tell stance as the game’s athletes suddenly started to look more like bodybuilders than baseball players almost overnight.
The court of public opinion has made Selig the fall guy for the whole mess. Certainly, Selig deserves a lot of blame, and his name came up a lot on Wednesday for his failure to prevent this mess.
The guy whose name should have come up as much as anyone’s, however, was Donald Fehr. It’s not fair to single out just one person as the poster child for a scandal in which hundreds of people were guilty, but if one did, the spineless lawyer who was head of the Major League Baseball Player’s Association from 1986 to 2009 wouldn’t be a bad choice.
Fehr knew about the issue of steroids in baseball as far back as the 1998, yet did nothing. The head of the MLBPA is only an extension of the players, and for the most part, the players preferred the status quo. But Fehr had an ethical responsibility as their leader not only to keep the game clean, but to also warn the players that this titanic problem would eventually hit an iceberg.
Yesterday, noted baseball writer Peter Gammons spoke on the MLB Network about the Steroid Era. He related a conversation he’d had with Kansas City Royals’ star Mike Sweeney about something that happened at Spring Training in the early 2000s. According to Sweeney, some connected with the Players’ Association actually went into camps and instructed players on how to beat drug tests. Sweeney told Gammons that he aired his grievances with the MLBPA’s actions at the time, but was ignored, as the MLBPA continued to whistle past the graveyard.
This was not out of character, as the Players’ Association has typically done whatever it could to protect the guilty.
Just over a year ago, Milwaukee Brewers’ superstar Ryan Braun (the National League’s reigning MVP at the time) tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone. It was reported that Braun’s testosterone levels were twice that of anyone who’d ever taken a test. The MLBPA immediately went into defend-at-all-costs mode, and got Braun’s case overturned on a technicality by a three-man panel that voted 2-1 in Braun’s favor.
One of the voters was none other than Fehr’s replacement, current MLBPA chief Michael Weiner.
I’m not arguing that people don’t deserve a defense – this is America, after all – but the Players’ Association, by its actions, has failed to defend those who most deserve a defense; namely, the people who never used drugs in the first place.
The greatest failure of both MLB and the MLBPA was not having long-term vision of what was good for the game and its players. In addition to Wednesday’s problem, it should also be asked why the MLPBA didn’t look out for the physical health of its players with regards to the drug use. Watching this mess from afar over the last decade has been like watching a parent who fails to discipline his kids; what he doesn’t realize is that if he doesn’t take care of the problem, someone else down the line (quite often, the legal system) will, often after it’s too late and after innocent people get hurt.
On Wednesday, Bonds, Sosa and Clemens certainly deserved what they got as the writers meted out the discipline that MLB and the MLPBA resisted for so long. As much as I hate it that some innocent baseball players probably were denied rightful admission to the Hall on Wednesday, it’s hard for me to argue that MLB and the MLBPA on the whole didn’t get exactly what it deserved.