Yesterday, my blogging brother-in-arms Matthew Callan decried the writers' sanctimonious attitude towards Hall of Fame-caliber ballplayers with alleged performance-enhancing drug experience as those writers were the very ones in a position to call out said ballplayers when it mattered most.
Matt, of course, makes a great point regarding those writers with sin who continue to cast stones with impunity while we still wait for them to ask forgiveness or even fully acknowledge their role. Some have (ESPN's Buster Olney comes to mind, and there are certainly others), but then you get shlock from folks like Ken Rosenthal at Fox Sports whining that modern baseball is an illusion because it will never be clean.
The accountability still needs some work, but I continue to take great exception to the sentiment that what you, I, and everyone else saw over the past two decades should just be ignored. It discounts the realization that, to borrow a phrase from the Pete Rose apologists, "somebody got all those hits."
I adored Nolan Ryan as a kid, which was peculiar as I had no aspirations to become a pitcher. He'd long since left the Mets and long since moved on from the Houston Astros rivalry that fueled Mets fans in the 1980s. I admired that Ryan was a balls-out, somewhat erratic flamethrower with a curveball that made Doc Gooden swoon and a fearless demeanor to keep the young'ns at bay. And he had those seven no-hitters, which are presumably the envy of Mets fans everywhere.
I'm old enough to remember Ryan's last no hitter against the Toronto Blue Jays on May 1, 1991. Ryan threw 122 pitches that day, including 83 of them for strikes. He struck out 16 batters, including All-Star second baseman and MVP candidate Roberto Alomar with a fastball clocked at 93 miles per hour to end the game.
Nolan Ryan was 44 years old on May 1, 1991.
"There's always one guy that defies the odds," said Joe Carter of the Blue Jays according to the New York Times. "He's the guy."
This isn't a direct accusation that I suspect Ryan dabbled in PEDs. I have no tangible evidence, and stranger things have certainly happened in the history of baseball. Rather, I offer it to show how easy it is to get wrapped up in a witch hunt with the flimsiest of circumstantial evidence -- and that, even if I did have something of real merit, it wouldn't suddenly get the Ryan Express expelled from Cooperstown.
SB Nation's Marc Normandin offered a great write-up on the hypocrisy of high morals in curating the talent eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Of all the players recited as examples of impurity already within the Hall, Ty Cobb stood out most for me -- but not for the reasons listed by Normandin.
Cobb, of course, is the very definition of a first-ballot Hall of Famer as he was one of the first five ever picked. He, along with Tris Speaker, also retired suddenly in 1926 and one day prior to accusations made by Dutch Leonard that the duo along with Smokey Joe Wood fixed a game on September 24, 1919. Commissioner Landis exonerated the players involved, but suspicion persisted that the commish wanted to bury a scandal after the 1919 World Series and the Black Sox.
So there's sort of a precedent for dealing with this scale of corrupting the sanctity of the game. There was no Rule 21 yet, so Cobb didn't necessarily know any better but was hardly above suspicion. He then received more votes than anybody (including Babe Ruth) in the inaugural Hall of Fame class. The precedent? Eh, let him in anyway if he was that good.
(And if that's not good enough for you, former Giants manager John McGraw definitely bet on his own team to win in the 1905 World Series. He was inducted to Cooperstown one year after Cobb.)
It's not hard to come up with more examples of hypocrisy, but how does that help Jeff Bagwell or Mike Piazza? How does showing a past failing make it right to allow a possible one to occur again? And why aren't the writers in charge of sorting this skip the "ask for forgiveness" phase as they found religion on the topic of PEDs?
The trouble I have with this "Did he or didn't he?" bickering is that we're once again moving away from putting the players of a particular era in a proper context. No matter how high and mighty Rosenthal or Jon Heyman or Bill Plaschke get, the so-called Steroids Era happened. It counts. Somebody got all those hits.
Let's have a sincere dialogue about the Steroids Era to put it in a proper perspective for future fans looking back on box scores that always leave out the context. Let's stop with the finger wagging and name calling and instead make it an open environment for writers to admit their failings and players to speak without repercussion about the pressures and temptations of using PEDs to keep up with the Joneses over the past two decades. Let's make it clear that performance-enhancing drugs have been, are now, and always will be a gray area in a professional sport where even the slightest edge can be worth millions of dollars to a lot of people.
But, to those writers who continue to behave as guardians of the Hall to compensate for their perceived diminishing role in the modern baseball conversation, please stop telling me that the last two decades of baseball were a mirage. It truly is the only baseball I and a lot of my fellow admission-paying fans have ever known -- and our numbers are growing. The players have a role in this as well due to their stonewalling, but they're the ones who are afraid to speak because you're the ones in charge of writing their epitaph.
Tell us what you know to be true and not what you think should be true given the era. And don't crucify those who do before you're ready to come to your senses.