How did the Hall of Fame, and the baseball writers who vote on it, get it so wrong with respect to the stars of the PED era?
That and other critical questions were posed to ESPN MLB national reporter Jeff Passan, who joined Damon & Ratto on 95.7 The Game on Tuesday to discuss the polarizing results of this year's Hall of Fame election voting.
With Red Sox legend David Ortiz getting the call while other suspected PED users such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens fell off the ballot, many fans were more bewildered than ever as to exactly what standard these controversial figures are being held.
According to Passan, MLB itself bears the bulk of responsibility over the confusion, after its mishandling of the PED scandals of the early 2000s.
"You had MLB, initially, that had a choice to make when the players, Bud Selig -- the sport, really -- got called in front of Congress," Passan said. "They could sit there and cower to politicians who were grandstanding and looking for their day in the sun or their clip on "SportsCenter," or you could have an actual substantive conversation about performance-enhancing drugs in sports, and try not to demonize those who were using them, but to understand their place in the modern game. And I don't just mean the game of baseball, I mean football, basketball -- sports altogether. MLB chose instead to demonize, and, through that demonization, it gave the Hall of Fame the ability to punt on this choice, or at least guiding the writers in the right direction."
This unfortunate "demonizing" of suspected PED users, according to Passan, allowed the media to assume a posture as the moral gatekeepers of the Hall, buttressed by a so-called character clause in the voting instructions.
"The Hall of Fame, which relies so much on MLB, saw the standard that MLB had set," Passan said, "and instead of giving writers the choice to go forward and look at PEDs not as something that was a ding on players' resume, but was just part of the game at that point, they really didn't say anything until 2017, when Joe Morgan wrote a letter that the Hall itself blasted out essentially saying 'Do not let the players into our hallowed walls.' Which is absurd on its face, hypocritical considering there are players who have used PEDs already in there, but ultimately gave cover to the writers who are looking at the character clause -- the use of character among the qualifications for the Hall of Fame, and, frankly, hiding behind it. And hiding behind it quite inconsistently, as we can see, considering David Ortiz, who tested positive, got 77.9% of the vote this year, and Barry Bonds got 66%. So, I think everybody there is at fault, and it's just unfortunate that it came down to this, and that the history that the Hall of Fame is telling doesn't include the most seminal figures of a very important part of baseball's legacy."
Ortiz, this year's sole electee, was widely reported to have tested positive for PEDs in the preliminary days of the league's testing policy in 2003, in what was supposed to have been an anonymous testing push to determine what percentage of the league's players were using. Bonds never tested positive but was widely reported to have taken PEDs through his association with the now-shuttered San Francisco sports performance lab Balco.
Having fallen off the regular writers ballot, the last shot at selection for Bonds and Clemens will now be the Eras Committee, formerly known as the Veterans Committee.
Listen to Passan's full appearance with Damon & Ratto above.