I don’t mean to make this post into a Manny Ramirez referendum — we’ve had plenty of those in the past few days — but in his defense of Ramirez’s Cooperstown credentials, Allen Barra raises a point I have yet to see addressed when he says “Manny paid his debt the first time and is paying an even bigger one now. That should be all that matters to HOF voters.”
A lot of the ire I’ve seen at guys like McGwire, Clemens and Bonds is based on the fact that their drug use rendered baseball an uneven playing field and strongly encouraged if not demanded that other players take PEDs too if they wanted to keep their jobs. While I don’t think this should keep them out of the Hall of Fame for reasons I’ve explained in the past, it is a legitimate criticism to say that guys like them helped foster and perpetuate the Steroid Era, and that that was a bad thing.
But do the same arguments hold for players in the post-testing era? Maybe not Manny himself — it’s fairly naive, I think, to believe that Ramirez began taking PEDs in 2009 — but for a hypothetical PED user who debuted in 2007, say, has a Hall of Fame career and then tests positive for PEDs in, like, 2023, just before he retires. What do we do with that guy? Has he still committed some unforgivable moral transgression that demands the door to Cooperstown be shut, or is he treated like a pitcher who was suspended for intentionally beaning a guy or a batter for corking his bat? A guy who broke the rules and the norms of the game, but who was dealt with within the framework of the system and paid his dues to baseball society? A guy who did no more to pressure other players to use than any other rule breaker does to pressure others to follow suit because there’s an institutional deterrent in place.
I guess this is a broader ethical question. Are PEDs a different kind and degree of wrong, even in the post-testing era, or were they so bad before precisely because there was no enforcement against their use, leading to a wild west environment? A lot of Hall of Fame voters have already staked out a position on this, either saying that they were and are an unequivocal evil or saying that they were bad because they created an inherently unfair era.
Going forward, it seems, these people will need to be clear and, hopefully, consistent on this matter.