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Today the Hall of Fame celebrates the (imaginary) purity of baseball

Jul 28, 2013, 1:03 PM EDT

Cooperstown

Today the Hall of Fame honors its inductees. Posthumous inductees, that is, as it is only inducting umpire Hank O’Day, Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert and 19th Century catcher/third baseman Deacon White. One living honoree — Spink Award winner Paul Hagen — will take the stage and speak.

This despite the fact that there is no shortage of worthy living players who deserve induction. Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza and Alan Trammell all have strong cases on the merits. Obviously the Hall of Fame voters disagree as they tend to do. I think eventually most of those guys will make it. There are two, however, who deserve to be on that stage today but won’t be and may never be: Barry Bonds and Rogers Clemens.

The reason for this is pretty obvious. They cheated. Bonds definitely, as has been widely documented. Clemens most likely, even though the evidence against him isn’t as public and isn’t as thorough. Each of them are out of the Hall of Fame, not because their baseball cases are debatable, but because they are seen wanting in the department of character, morals and ethics.

But on this day when only the dead speak and only the pure of heart and soul shall pass, let us not forget that the Hall of Fame has long welcomed cheaters with open arms.

Gaylord Perry threw a spitball. Don Sutton and Whitey Ford (and probably almost every other pitcher in history) scuffed or cut balls. Scores of batters corked their bats. The 1951 Giants won the pennant after rigging up an elaborate, electric sign-stealing mechanism. John McGraw, both as a player and a manager, invented and carried out more ways to break rules than anyone in history, ranging from umpire distracting and cutting the corners on bases and tripping or obstructing opposing runners. Ty Cobb sharpened his spikes in an effort to maim opposing players who would dare try to tag him out. While we single out the 1919 White Sox as a unique stain on the game, many players — including Hall of Famers — fixed baseball games prior to the Black Sox scandal.

While many have attempted to argue that using PEDs is different in kind than all of those other examples — examples which are often laughed off as quirky or colorful — the fact is that there are PED users in the Hall of Fame already. Only, instead of steroids, they used amphetamines or “greenies” as they were called. Players who have either admitted to or have been credibly accused of taking such things include Pete Rose, Mike Schmidt, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. And this leaves out all of the drug and/or alcohol users who took things which hindered their performance, which also impacted the competitive nature of the game, albeit adversely to their team’s interests. And it also assumes that there are no steroid users already in the Hall of Fame, which I do not believe is a reasonable assumption.

The common thread here: all of these examples of baseball cheating involved players breaking rules in an effort to gain some sort of edge on the competition. Rule breaking that, in turn, put the competition in the unenviable position of having to decide if they too should break the rules to keep up. There is not a black and white difference between a user of PEDs and baseball’s other cheaters.

Oh, and there are tons of racists in there too. Men who actively fought to keep minorities out of the game for decades, which is both objectively evil and which adversely impacted the game’s competitive landscape . There is also a former Spink Award winner in there — Bill Conlin — who has had more credible accusations of sexual molestation leveled at him than many players who are being kept out of the hall for steroids have had steroids accusations leveled at them. Character matters, see. Except in those cases where it doesn’t.

Not that any of this makes Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens better people than they are. Two wrongs don’t make a right. But let us not forget that, until very, very recently, the Hall of Fame has never cared about wrongs in the first place.  Why it should start caring about them now is beyond me.

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