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An Open Letter to Commissioner Selig

An open letter to MLB Commissioner Selig about the Hall of Fame voting process and its impact on the reputation of Major League Baseball with respect to the PED Era.

Dear Commissioner Selig,

This open letter is intended with utmost respect and seriousness, so I beg that you suspend any preconceived opinions about the hard-earned snarky reputation of the blogging community as you read.

Major League Baseball should be past the so-called "steroid era".  Under your watch, it has laudably enacted a testing and consequences regimen that is the envy even of the professional cycling world.  I feel confident in assuming that the most grievous offenders of the ‘90’s and ‘00’s have either retired, been marginalized, will soon be caught, or are on the downswings of a tarnished careers.

Unfortunately, the increasingly contentious Hall of Fame voting process prevents this stain upon baseball’s integrity from being forgotten, and this looks to be the case for the next twenty years or more.  For the sake of making my point, I hope you will indulge me as I rehash a bit of recent history:

  • The current problem has its roots in 2007, though it went largely unrecognized at the time due to the more headline-worthy release of the Mitchell Report. That year, Mark McGwire became eligible for HOF election, and every conversation revolved not around his worthiness of inclusion based on his career, but rather began and ended with his use of Performance Enhancing Drugs.
  • In 2008 and 2009, much the same story. The PED argument did not intensify, due to McGwire’s already-borderline HOF case, but it still remained the lead story when discussing baseball during those off-seasons.
  • In 2010, the debate resurfaced as McGwire admitted his steroid use, already an open secret as far as everybody else cared. The Hall of Fame again merited mention in every story on the subject.
  • In 2011, it begins to get stickier. Jeff Bagwell is on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time. Despite there being no more evidence against him than against others recently added to the ballot, including Hall of Famers Roberto Alomar, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, and Barry Larkin, writers yet took fingers to keyboard to invent reasons to keep him out. Why? Because he was physically strong and shared a friendship with Ken Caminiti, a known PED user. Bagwell was the one of the first players whose career would have merited him no-doubt first-ballot entry to the Hall of Fame had he played at any other time. And it became personal with the fans.
  • I overlooked something. While Bagwell was held out due to unfounded rumor, he debuted the same year as Rafael Palmiero, he of the 3,020 hits and 569 home runs. He got caught though, and again steroids were the lead story of the off-season.
  • The issue elevated and really started to present itself as a problem in 2013, when arguably the greatest hitter and the greatest right-handed pitcher of all time entered the Hall of Fame discussion. Both prominently mentioned on the Mitchell Report, their eligibility returned the PED issue to the forefront of baseball conversation in a way that had not been seen since the 2010 report release.
  • These past two seasons, with the entry of PED-era players Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina, Jeff Kent, Sammy Sosa, Luis Gonzalez, and Moises Alou on the ballot, the conversation intensified. A search for "2014 Hall of Fame PED" returns 557,000 results from Google. That’s five hundred fifty-seven thousand online articles that contain the phrases "hall of fame" and "PED" for the 2014 vote alone.

Commissioner, the process considered so sacrosanct by the Baseball Writers Association of America is the very problem that prevents the Steroid Era from going away.  Even now, the legacy of your tenure is defined by what occurred in the 1990’s instead of what was enacted to correct it in the 2000’s.  With all sincerity, it is not fair to judge your body of work by its unfortunate aspects alone.  Despite your repeated assertions that baseball has cleaned up its act—and it has­­­—, still writers and fans are unable to let go of that PED stain.  To cite an easy parallel, the reputations of Major League Baseball and your tenure as commissioner are analogous to the careers of these Hall-of-Fame rejects whose positive contributions to the game and historical performance would otherwise merit enshrinement.

As long as MLB and the Hall of Fame allow self-aggrandizing and hypocritical moralists to hold the keys to baseball’s biggest honor, the PED issue of the past will not die.

Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker bet on baseball.  Cap Anson and Speaker were both bigots.  Gaylord Perry threw a spitball.  Mickey Mantle took injections of amphetamines and steroids and he corked his bat.  Willie Mays admitted to trying greenies once.  While a small men’s club within the larger club of the BBWAA, within the larger club of baseball writers, within the larger club of baseball fans wax eloquent about the sacredness of the Hall of Fame voting process, they ignore their own hypocrisy in the face of those historical facts.  Why, Tom Glavine represented the players in the union during the height of the PED era, and yet he sailed into the Hall of Fame with nary a mention of the fact that there is no credible way he could have been unaware of the rampant drug use among MLB players at the time.  Compounding the problem, the Hall of Fame voters themselves repeatedly and intentionally make a mockery of the process.

These are the people who hold the keys to baseball’s most important historical museum?  This problem has a direct impact on the PED issue.  As long as MLB and the Hall of Fame allow self-aggrandizing and hypocritical moralists to hold the keys to baseball’s biggest honor, the PED issue of the past will not die.

The solution is to revamp the voting process – appoint a different committee every year.  Give the vote to the fans.  Open the vote to a broader pool of MLB-covering media outlets so that a handful of kooks can’t have meaningful impact on the outcome.  Take the vote away from voters who no longer cover the sport.  The solutions are easy, and the arguments against taking these actions sound very weak.

Until something is done about the Hall of Fame voting that will allow players to enter the Hall of Fame who impacted the game as enormously as did Bonds, Clemens, Bagwell, Biggio, Palmiero, and McGwire, the PED issue will resurface every year indefinitely, and it will absolutely impact not only your reputation as an effective and long-serving commissioner, but that of MLB as a whole.

The mistake is in believing that enshrinement of PED users somehow validates breaking the rules.  It doesn’t.  Just ask Cap Anson, whose reputation has been justly ruined by written history.  In reality, preventing these players from entry into the Hall of Fame is what prevents the full repair of Major League Baseball’s reputation.   Fix the voting system.  It would serve the game well.

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Readers:  Please share this open letter.  Not for my sake, but rather because every time this is shared, it increases the odds that somebody will read it who can actually impact this problem.