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January 11, 2013

NASH: Is there guilt in baseball?

— I was born on the 46th day of the decade that saw the rise of the Big Red Machine. The first six years of my life the Cincinnati Reds won four National League West titles four pennants and back-to-back World Series titles. The team featured three Hall of Fame players, and a Hall of Fame manager. The team included six players that would be voted National League MVP with three National League batting titles and the all-time hits king in Major League Baseball.  How can I not be romantic about baseball?

Earlier this week the Baseball Writers Association of America released the results of Hall of Fame voting for the class of 2013. In what was not a huge surprise to most people that follow baseball closely, no one was selected to join the Baseball Hall of Fame this year. I guess that no one who was eligible for election this year was good enough. Maybe the numbers were just not there.

A closer look at those former players who were on the ballot include a pitcher who won seven Cy Young awards, more than anyone else, and is also third all-time in strikeouts. Also included on the ballot was the all-time leader in home runs, as well as the number eight and 10 on that list. Under different circumstances, in other eras, at least four players that were not elected this year would have been assured first ballot election into Cooperstown.

Why were four seemingly otherwise qualified candidates not elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame? Mostly for the allegations that during their careers they used performance enhancing drugs. Absent of actual failed drug tests should the players be considered for the honor?  Should their numbers speak for themselves or should off the field activities be used against them? There are many members of every “Hall of Fame” that have character flaws that could disqualify. Why were Clemens, Bonds, Sosa and McGwire singled out?

Over the last several years nearly every professional sports association has taken proactive steps in order to curb the use of performance enhancing drug use. Last year Lance Armstrong was stripped of his Tour de France titles and banned for life. The NFL began testing in 1987 and has tackled the subject by expanding testing and increasing penalties including suspensions and fines. Even professional wrestling has instituted a “health and wellness program” after several incidents and some deaths that could be attributed to the use of anabolic steroids occurred.

Baseball came a little late to the game. Performance Enhancing Drugs were not expressly banned until 1991, but mandatory drug testing did not begin until 2002. This year’s candidates for the Hall of Fame have all been retired for at least five years so they would only have been tested for the twilight of their careers.  

 Major League Baseball was at a crossroads after the cancellation of the end of the 1994 season including the World Series. They sat back and raked in the dough as people flocked to the stadiums and watched on television a few years later while Sosa and McGwire battled back and forth seeing who would break Roger Maris’ long standing season home run total of 61.  Three years later Barry Bonds shattered the record again finishing the season with 73, after never hitting more than 50 in any previous season. A few years later they would watch as he chased down Hank Aaron’s career home run record.

The Baseball Writers Association has now done more to punish those who have been accused of using steroids than baseball ever did. By not allowing the players into the Hall of Fame they have possibly changed how history will remember those who played in the “Steroid Era.”     

I haven’t been to a Major League Baseball game for many years. I only watch a few games per year on television usually during the playoffs and World Series. One of the main reasons I haven’t attended the games is the cost of seeing the game live. Exorbitant salaries have led to ticket prices that are out of reach for the common family. I can see several Louisville Bats games a year at Slugger Field with beers and dogs, for what it would cost to see the Reds play.

I believe down the road those accused of using Performance Enhancing Drugs will be welcomed into the Baseball Hall of Fame. It may not be in my lifetime, but someday someone will look at the numbers and say that those denied this year will be let in. History will eventually forgive  the ones that used drugs in order to heal faster and extend their careers and put on a better show for their fans. Will the true fans ever forget?

— Matthew Nash believes there should be a Constitutional Amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter can be reached at dmatthewnash@gmail.com

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