Many Questions and Some Answers on PEDs and the Hall of Fame

Yesterday, I put up a poll about some thought experiments regarding performance enhancing drugs and the Hall of Fame. The poll didn’t really function as I had hoped (or have a high turnout), but the purpose was to figure out why people are really for or against voting PED users into the Hall of Fame. I’m curious about what factors and reasons are pulling the threads, and where the limits are for those factors, for both camps.

One such factor is integrity versus performance. Are PEDs bad because they give those who take them an unfair advantage? Or are they bad because it is unethical to take them, and therefore those who do take them violate the “character clause”?

If the former, that PEDs are bad because they affect performance, we must first know the extent to which they affect performance before we can decide whether to vote for a player suspected of PEDs. This is a big task, and one that can’t be accomplished right now given our current knowledge. However, it really doesn’t matter, because it seems clear that most writers (and fans) are against players that took PEDs not because of their effect on performance, but because of their effect on integrity.

Even within the integrity complaint, there are multiple reasons why one might be against voting in the PED guys. One is that PEDs are an attempt to cheat the game of baseball and get an unfair advantage over the rest of the field, which is a “crime” that is unforgivable with regards to the Hall of Fame.

The other option is that taking PEDs is cheating, which is unethical, and players who are sufficiently unethical should not be allowed in the Hall of Fame. This seems a little silly, but one of my examples from the poll might help. Say a player on the ballot, who retired many years ago, was recently convicted of first-degree murder that he committed before he retired. This murder obviously had nothing to do with baseball, but it was horrifically unethical nonetheless. Would you vote him into the Hall of Fame?

If you answer no to that question, then you are admitting that a player’s character, even outside the game of baseball, does in fact matter. Which means that the ethics of taking PEDs is a matter of degree, not kind. Of course, if you claim that taking PEDs is too unethical to be voted into the Hall of Fame, you must either say that Hall of Famers who have done more unethical things should not have been voted in in the first place, or that taking PEDs is a worse offense than any act a current Hall of Famer has committed.

Finally, we must think about certainty. Even if we take for granted that PEDs aid performance significantly and/or those that take PEDs should not be allowed in the Hall of Fame, what degree of certainty that a player in fact took PEDs must we have to make a decision? 95% certainty? 75%? 50%?

Do other factors matter in this case? What if the player is a shoe-in for Hall of Fame otherwise? Do we need to be more certain in that case? If the player is a borderline Hall of Famer, is any shadow of doubt as to his cleanliness enough to not vote for him? What about the potency of the drug? Is less certainty necessary for steroids than for HGH?

Obviously, I asked more questions than I answered today. But that’s the point. The issue of PEDs is not a simple one, not even close. Anyone on either side that tries to claim that is very mistaken. Every assumption, every reason, on one side or the other, raises a plethora of issues and questions, most if not all of which must be answered before one can attempt to justify their decision.

Share your thoughts about any or all of these issues and questions below. And please, don’t resort to hyperbole or oversimplifications, as so many do in these discussions. There are no easy answers, and if we all admit that to ourselves, we can move discussion forward rather than yell over each other’s heads.

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