Few who were alive in the late-1990s will ever forget the epic home run chase between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. America's pastime, still reeling from the ill-effects of the 1994 player's strike, was once again captivating audiences with visions of glory and historical triumph. These goliaths, herculean in size and stature, made Americans proud to be baseball fans yet again. At the time, it did not matter whether or not these heroes were using performance-enhancing drugs. Everyone looked the other way for the good of the game: the fans, the media, and most significantly Major League Baseball itself.
After all, the league was still searching for a way to bring fans back to the ballpark. In 1993, over 70 million fans attended games. At the time, this was a record for American sports. Then, a year later, greed took over. For the first time since the creation of the league, there was no Fall Classic. Millions of fans would watch with disdain as their idols, their American legends, turned their backs on the game. Children, reared by the crack of the bat, the echo of an organ, and the nightly hiss of a transistor radio, would go to sleep wondering if the ballgame they loved would ever return to them. When their hopes were realized a year later, attendance was down dramatically to 50 million in 1995 and 60 million in 1996. It was not until McGwire and Sosa's marathon battle in 1998 that attendance once again crept above 70 million. With this newfound fan support, baseball chose the route of obliviousness, turning their cheek to the obvious steroids epidemic evolving in clubhouses across the sport. It was a grand fraud perpetrated against the public. A scheme developed to keep the game on top and the league's cash registers full. A game meant for children and built on the foundation of fairness was playing a dangerous game with itself. Now, fifteen years later, baseball is still reeling from the repercussions of its actions.
People should be skeptical about the ballplayers that are up for induction into the Hall of Fame. They played in an era where PEDs were not only available, but welcomed. However, the duplicitousness that baseball, the media, and yes, the fans expressed in the 1990s is still clearly evident concerning the heroes that they worshipped when the sport was recovering from its self-inflicted wounds. After all, it's not as though no players from that era have been enshrined in Cooperstown. Superstars like Cal Ripken, Tony Gwynn, Roberto Alomar, and Rickey Henderson have all been inducted into the Hall of Fame within the last six years. They also all played during the 1990s, where steroids were as available as aftershave in clubhouses throughout the league. Now, I am by no means accusing these men of anything. But, inducting these ballplayers with no asterisk or notion of wrongdoing but preventing anyone else from reaching the same peak is, at its core, the height of hypocrisy.
In 2012, Barry Larkin was inducted into the Hall of Fame with 86.4% of the vote. A year later, Craig Biggio failed to reach the required 75%. The uninformed opinion would argue that Larkin was merely the better player. The 1995 National League MVP, Larkin played 19 seasons, all with the Cincinnati Reds. His final career batting line (.295-198-960) and paltry hit total for a Hall of Famer (2340) were burdened by the fact that Larkin played more than 150 games in a season just four times in his 19-year career. By contrast, Biggio played 150 or more games in 11 of his 20 seasons. A versatile talent, the Seton Hall alumnus eclipsed Larkin in hits (3060), home runs (291), RBI (1175), runs (1844), and Gold Glove Awards (four compared to three for Larkin). The mind is confounded then by the fact that Larkin is a Hall of Famer and Biggio is not.
Is it because Larkin was more versatile? No, Biggio played three positions: second base, outfield, and catcher. Perhaps it's the fact that Larkin has been a member of the media since 2008, and is conceivably more well-liked by writers than Biggio or any of the other potential Hall of Famers in this year's class. That is certainly possible. In the end, it may just be the writers' boisterous and bloviating egos punishing the players who made them look like fools fifteen years prior.
If a voter is going to support any player from the steroid era, they must support every player from that era. It can never be proven that certain players did or did not take steroids. Yes, we have the few who have admitted their guilt. But, Craig Biggio and Mike Piazza were not among them. These two superstars, these heroes to many and villains to none, should be writing their induction speeches in preparation for the greatest moment of their lives. Instead, they're enduring the ramifications of other's actions at the hands of the two-faced Baseball Writers Association of America. Baseball is America's pastime and this nation was built on the foundation that every man or woman is innocent until proven guilty. Today is a dreary time for baseball, but, also a dark day for America. One can only hope that the future will hold brighter and better days for the BBWAA and worthy Hall of Famers like Biggio and Piazza.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.