What's the worst thing in baseball history?

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David Laurila of Baseball Prospectus interviews Ken Burns today. It’s a great, wide-ranging interview that should get you primed for the update to Burns’ “Baseball” documentary that will begin airing this week.  This question and answer caught my eye:

DL: From a historical perspective, just how important is the steroid era?

KB: In the scheme of the negatives of baseball it’s maybe two or three in position. I think that the gambling scandal, as epitomized by the Black Sox scandal in 1919, would probably be No. 1. I guess I’d put steroids either No. 2 or No. 3, and if it was No. 3 I’d say that the exclusion of African-Americans for six decades would be No. 2. You could argue that was the worst thing that baseball has ever done. Should there be asterisks next to Babe Ruth’s name because he never had to face Satchel Paige or play against Josh Gibson, who once hit 70 home runs in a season?

It’s a fascinating topic, no?  I think the Black Sox scandal and segregation have to be 1-2, with your particular ordering of those things depending on how much (if any) slack you want to cut baseball for the color line due to the fact that the policy mirrored the larger segregation policies enshrined in law. Though it would have been wonderful if it had, should baseball have been expected to transcend the ugliness afoot in American society much earlier than it did? Does it get credit for doing away with segregation before most of the rest of society did?  These are questions that could get you talking for hours.

One thing that is missing from Burns’ answer, though, is baseball’s cocaine problem in the 70s and 80s. Depending on my mood, I’d slide that ahead of steroids into number three. Unlike steroids, players died as a result of this scourge. Your mileage may vary, but my view is that while steroids made for an unlevel playing field by giving some players advantages over others, cocaine users intentionally disadvantaged the teams they played for, doing just as much of a disservice to their teammates that steroid users did to the opposition, with greater externalities in terms of health, etc.

We missing anything here?  Other things often thought of as negatives — teams moving cities, free agency and other business concerns — tend to have winners and losers and their negativity depends on your point of view.

If we’re leaving something out, though, by all means, let’s talk about it in the comments.  It’s a gloomy Monday in much of the United States, so let’s revel in some negativity, shall we? 

Jones, Maddux, Morris consider Bonds, Clemens for Hall

USA TODAY Sports
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COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Hall of Famers Chipper Jones, Greg Maddux, Jack Morris and Ryne Sandberg are among 16 members of the contemporary baseball era committee that will meet to consider the Cooperstown fate of an eight-man ballot that includes Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Rafael Palmeiro.

Hall of Famers Lee Smith, Frank Thomas and Alan Trammell also are on the panel, which will meet in San Diego ahead of the winter meetings.

They will be joined by former Toronto CEO Paul Beeston, former Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs executive Theo Epstein, Anaheim Angels owner Arte Moreno, Miami Marlins general manager Kim Ng, Minnesota Twins president Dave St. Peter and Chicago White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams.

Three media members/historians are on the committee: longtime statistical analyst Steve Hirdt of Stats Perform, La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. Neal and Slusser are past presidents of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

Hall Chairman Jane Forbes Clark will be the committee’s non-voting chair.

The ballot also includes Albert Belle, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Dale Murphy and Curt Schilling. The committee considers candidates whose careers were primarily from 1980 on. A candidate needs 75% to be elected and anyone who does will be inducted on July 23, along with anyone chosen in the BBWAA vote, announced on Jan. 24.

Bonds, Clemens and Schilling fell short in January in their 10th and final appearances on the BBWAA ballot. Bonds received 260 of 394 votes (66%), Clemens 257 (65.2%) and Schilling 231 (58.6%).

Palmeiro was dropped from the BBWAA ballot after receiving 25 votes (4.4%) in his fourth appearance in 2014, falling below the 5% minimum needed to stay on. His high was 72 votes (12.6%) in 2012.

Bonds denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs and Clemens maintains he never used PEDs. Palmeiro was suspended for 10 days in August 2005 following a positive test under the major league drug program, just over two weeks after getting his 3,000th hit.

A seven-time NL MVP, Bonds set the career home run record with 762 and the season record with 73 in 2001. A seven-time Cy Young Award winner, Clemens went 354-184 with a 3.12 ERA and 4,672 strikeouts, third behind Nolan Ryan (5,714) and Randy Johnson (4,875). Palmeiro had 3,020 hits and 568 homers.

Schilling fell 16 votes shy with 285 (71.1%) in 2021. Support dropped after hateful remarks he made in retirement toward Muslims, transgender people, reporters and others.

McGriff got 169 votes (39.8%) in his final year on the BBWAA ballot in 2019. Murphy was on the BBWAA ballot 15 times and received a high of 116 votes (23.2%) in 2000. Mattingly received a high of 145 votes (28.2%) in the first of 15 appearances on the BBWAA ballot in 2001, and Belle appeared on two BBWAA ballots, receiving 40 votes (7.7%) in 2006 and 19 (3.5%) in 2007.

Players on Major League Baseball’s ineligible list cannot be considered, a rule that excludes Pete Rose.

This year’s BBWAA ballot includes Carlos Beltran, John Lackey and Jered Weaver among 14 newcomers and Scott Rolen, Todd Helton and Billy Wagner among holdovers.