This may be the year that PED users make it into the Hall
On January 21st Major League Baseball will announce the players who were listed on 75% of the ballots and consequently received enough support to enter the Hall of Fame. If Baseball Hall of Fame tracker is correct then Derek Jeter, Larry Walker, Curt Schilling, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens will be inducted. Derek Jeter is a no-brainer and Larry Walker will create some controversy although most writers believe he has done enough to warrant induction in his last year of eligibility. As for the other three, the question does not relate to their on-field play, but rather other factors.
On the Field
Curt Schilling was a six time all-star, 3 time World Series Champion and two time wins and strikeout leader. His 3,116 career strikeouts puts him 15th all time and aside from Roger Clemens (to be discussed later), every other player ahead of him in career strikeouts is in the Hall of Fame.
Barry Bonds is the all-time home run leader with 762 home runs along with the single season record of 73 homers. He is a 14 time all-star, 7 time MVP, 8 time gold glove winner and two time NL batting champion and home run leader.
Roger Clemens is 3rd all-time in strikeouts with 4,672 Ks, 9th all-time in wins with 354, is an 11 time all star, 7 time Cy Young Award winner, 5 time strikeout leader, four time win leader, 7 time ERA leader and two time Triple Crown leader.
Off the Field
Yet despite these figures Schilling, Bonds and Clemens are all on their 8th year of Hall of Fame eligibility.
Bonds and Clemens have been rejected thus far because they have been associated with the use of performance enhancing drugs, while some claim Schilling has been spurned due to comments he has made publicly after his career ended that have been dubbed as xenophobic, homophobic and outright racist. Some also speculate that as an outspoken born-again Christian who has vehemently supported all Republicans, including Donald Trump, that Schilling may have lost the support of some more liberal writers who have deemed him morally ineligible for the Hall. But others say Schilling's mediocre win-loss percentage and higher ERA don't justify his inclusion.
Regardless, one thing that can't be denied is that had Bonds and Clemens not been implicated with PEDs, both would have been voted in unanimously on the first ballot. Supporters of Schilling argue that off-field actions or morally objectionable comments should not disqualify anyone, since all that matters is on-field performance and Schilling should be judged by what he did in his playing career. His supporters also point to other players like Ty Cobb and Casey Stengel along with others who had questionable morals but were still inaugurated. Similarly, those who support Bonds and/or Clemens argue that the PEDs may have helped their performance somewhat but their numbers were so good that they still would have excelled without the use of drugs. Many also note that these players were standouts in the game long before they started using steroids. And how many players in the Hall of Fame have cheated in a similar way but did so before the effects were known or technology could spot it?
What about Charlie Hustle?
If MLB does, however, inaugurate Schilling, Bonds or Clemens then one player they have to reconsider is Pete Rose. In 1989 Rose was deemed permanently ineligible to appear in baseball stadia and to be voted into the Hall of Fame after he admitted to betting on baseball games when he managed the team. John Dowd, who conducted the famous investigation said that he believed that Rose bet against the Reds while managing but had no proof. And Rose has steadfastly denied ever betting against his team, although he did admit to betting on the Reds in his book My Prison Without Bars. And no tickets were ever found showing otherwise (the bets were made legally at Las Vegas sportsbooks), nor has any sportsbook worker or manager ever claimed to have witnessed Rose betting against his own team. Since his ban, Rose has been vocal about what he perceives to be unfair treatment and he has even camped out in Cooperstown to try and drum up support. And the league commissioners following Barlett Giamatti, who instituted the lifetime ban on Rose, have refused to reconsider the issue. Fay Vincent said the ban must stand, while Bud Selig said he would take another look at it, but never acted in his 13 years as the Commissioner. And most recently, in 2015 Ray Manfred refused to lift the ban saying Rose is unapologetic for his actions and was still involved in "wrongful misconduct."
Things, however, have changed dramatically since 2015. Sports betting is now legal in the United States and Major League Baseball is benefiting greatly from sponsorships with sportsbooks and daily fantasy sports companies, like Fan Duel and Draft Kings. And with that, the whole negative attitude to sports betting has softened. Moreover, it is only in the U.S. that betting on your own team is deemed an issue. In Europe coaches, players, owners etc. will often bet on their team and it is deemed acceptable. But the law everywhere states it’s illegal to bet against your own interests, which as mentioned was never proven in the Rose investigation. Even in the U.S., owners, trainers or jockeys will bet on their own horses and that was never a concern, so long as they didn’t bet against themselves. And don’t forget that Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker were implicated in a betting fix scandal and betting on baseball, but both men are in the Hall of Fame and there was never a real discussion of removing them.
And, no one can argue that Charlie Hustle deserves to be in the Hall if judged by his on-field statistics. He does, after all, hold the record for most all time hits, games played, at bats and singles. Not to mention he was a 17 time all star and 3 time NL batting champion.
More importantly, if Schilling is voted in, then MLB can no longer stand by its contention that Rose is morally bankrupt and shouldn’t get in, since with that vote they would be conceding that on-field performance trumps off-field antics. And if MLB allows Bonds or Clemens in the Hall, then by continuing to ban Rose they would be contending that using steroids to get an advantage over others is less egregious than betting on your own team to win games, which I doubt few would agree with. Rose has never been accused of doing anything illegal to improve his on-field play. And while MLB is profiting from sponsorships with betting companies they certainly don't take money from Pfizer to promote their product depo-testosterone.
So Pete Rose has been shunned by baseball since he admitted to betting on the game and initially refusing to apologize for it. Now he might actually stand a better chance to plead his case, if admitted steroid users and/or those with questionable conduct flaws are admitted to the Hall. If Rose bet against the Reds while managing or playing with the team then absolutely he should be banned forever. But without that proof one has to take Rose at his word that he only bet on his own team. While some may have an issue with that, it's hard to argue it is a worse offense than knowingly using banned substances to better your performance. The International Olympic Committee, the various European sports leagues and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association all understand that since they have rules against using performance enhancing drugs, but do not have rules against betting on yourself. And deep down MLB must know too that what Rose did may have been questionable and did violate a rule for which he paid for. But, it is certainly not worthy of a lifetime sentence, particularly if they are willing to reward more heinous violations of rules.