Bob Ryan’s Solution to Addressing PED Users and the Hall of Fame is Wrong

Bob Ryan, a very well-regarded columnist for the Boston Globe, wrote an interesting article last week regarding voting for the 2015 Baseball Hall of Fame inductees.  The major thrust of his article – and a point I generally agree with – is that there is no reason for certain players, such as Randy Johnson or Pedro Martinez, to not be unanimous inductees.  It is somewhat bewildering to think that there has never been a unanimous selection.

The most intriguing aspect of the article, however, is buried within the last few paragraphs where Ryan suggests that the Hall of Fame should instruct the writers to not consider a player’s use of PEDs:

I offer a solution.

I believe the Hall of Fame should take complete charge of the issue. The Hall should instruct voters to do so strictly on the numbers and accomplishments. Voters should factor out the possible intrusion of PEDs.

The Hall should create a committee whose function is to draft a disclaimer that will hang prominently in the Hall and it should . . .

. . . say there was a time when baseball was known to have been infiltrated with PEDs.

. . . say many people accumulated numbers and awards while under suspicion of using PEDs, but that since it is impossible for anyone to be judge and jury and determine which juiced pitchers pitched to which juiced batters, how many home runs would have been warning-track fly balls and how many whiffs would have been batted balls, it is fruitless to make an accurate appraisal of the PED effect.

. . . say that every fan is free to feel however he or she does about the individuals in question. Utter a silent epithet as you stand in front of the plaque. Vent internally. Then go have a beer.

Do that, and I’d vote for all of them.

I find great fault with this logic for two reasons.

First, Ryan’s purported solution is to shirk any responsibility as a Hall of Famer voter.  He advocates shifting responsibility to a third party to make the judgment for him.  Essentially, Ryan does not like the fact that others have questioned his decision to omit known PED users from his Hall of Fame ballot, so he wants the Hall of Fame to make this decision for him.  This way, when questioned about his choices in the future, Ryan can presumably respond by shrugging his shoulders and saying, “Don’t blame me, the decision is out of my hands.”

Second, I guess I just don’t see why the PED issue is really all that hard.  Either you are going to consider a player’s PED use in your decision or you are not.  If you don’t factor PED use into your decision, then you are basing your Hall of Fame voting solely on the “numbers and accomplishments” anyway and do not need an edict to this effect from the Hall of Fame.

If you do factor PED use into your decision, then I still don’t see the major dilemma.  If there is evidence that a player used performance enhancing drugs – whether through confession, overwhelming circumstances, the Mitchell Report, or otherwise – then you do not cast a vote for him.

As I see it, the problem are the voters who refuse to vote for players because they looked like they may have used steroids (Jeff Bagwell) or because PED use may provide an explanation for why the player’s career accomplishments far exceeded his original draft slot (Mike Piazza) even though there is no tangible evidence to support such positions.  This approach is irrational, irresponsible, and entirely unfair to the players.  These writers are the ones who are, for lack of a better phrase, gumming up the works.

Instead of writing an article to ask the Hall of Fame to divest voters of the freedom to think for themselves on the issue of PEDs and the Hall of Fame, Bob Ryan should be writing articles denouncing the writers who refuse to vote for players based upon what amounts to less than insinuations and innuendo.

If Bagwell and Piazza, two players whose numbers clearly warrant enshrinement, were voted into the Hall of Fame, I truly believe that the debate regarding how to address PED users and Hall of Fame voting would simmer down a bit.  While many people will still believe that PED users belong in the Hall, most people can understand why someone would choose not to vote for a player like Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds.  However, there is no justification for refusing to vote for an obviously worthy player based on nothing more than personal suspicion.

Hall of Fame voters should want to take their responsibility seriously, which means making an informed decision based upon the facts, data, and information available at the time the decision is made.  That is all anyone can ever ask of a decision maker in any field and under any circumstances.