No, You Made It Awkward: On Steroid-Era Players and the Hall of Fame

Curt Schilling’s inevitable Hall of Fame induction speech could be awkward. (via Andrew Malone)

Back in January, in a Facebook group devoted to the Effectively Wild podcast, one post noted how uncomfortable it would be if Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The poster discussed how the day in Cooperstown would be filled with awkward speeches, loud anti-PED rhetoric, and claims the Hall would be debased by their presence. But awkwardness is not an excuse. If the Pro Football Hall of Fame can enshrine Ray Lewis without a hitch, baseball can do something similar.

Baseball’s history is littered with greats who, if they were elected to the Hall of Fame today, would produce equally uncomfortable weekends, speeches and sentiments. Baseball, like America, tends to sanitize its history and mark acts of evil as “unfortunate.” In the social media age, some of the following players would have made Sunday in Cooperstown just as awkward.

Tris Speaker

One could argue Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame based on Tris Speaker’s resume alone. Speaker, along with Ty Cobb and Smokey Joe Wood, was accused by pitcher Dutch Leonard of betting on a game they knew was fixed. Cobb and Speaker were allowed to resign from the sport post-allegations. On top of the resignations, Leonard presented paper documents and letters to Johnson attempting to prove the allegations true. Johnson thought the information contained in said documents would be damaging to the sport and cause an uproar. 

Both Cobb and Speaker vehemently denied any betting took place. And Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis eventually reinstated them due to a lack of outright evidence. After these events, Landis instituted a new rule that any player caught betting on baseball would be suspended for a year and any player caught betting on his own team would receive a lifetime ban. Which leads us to…

Pete Rose

If Speaker has a place in the Hall with the cloud of betting surrounding him, Rose also should have a place. However, there’s another issue holding Rose back that should be more important than the violation of a “sacred” game.

Almost three years ago, an unidentified woman — who testified as part of a defamation suit Rose brought against former federal prosecutor John Dowd — said she began a sexual relationship with the Hit King in the early 1970s, when he was 34 and she was just turning 16. Rose, who was married at the time, said he thought she was already 16 at the start of their relationship. (The age of consent in Ohio is 16. Rose was playing for the Cincinnati Reds at the time.) While the tryst could’ve been legally consensual, it still would be suspect, given the power dynamics at play. 

In a radio interview around the same time period, Dowd indicated it wasn’t the first time Rose messed around with underage girls, with some of them not being legally acceptable. That should be the only thing keeping Rose from Cooperstown, not betting.

Paul Molitor

Molitor, who spoke out a half-decade ago against Alex Rodriguez being inducted into the Hall of Fame, had a little problem with drugs himself. Along with dozens of other players in baseball, Molitor was named in criminal court cases across the country alleging cocaine use. Drug dealers reportedly had access to team clubhouses and/or conducted deals there. Molitor was on a roster of names that included Keith Hernandez, Dave Parker, and Chili Davis

Granted, Molitor did start speaking out against drugs and gave anti-drug speeches to kids, but baseball picks and chooses what it wants to forgive players for. Molitor’s ordeal still gets framed as a man who had a hard time living up to his All-American image and had the drug forced on him by teammates as an escape. Darryl Strawberry eventually found God and is now in ministry with his wife, but people still mock him for his transgressions of 30 years ago. I guess not all players are worthy of sympathy. Shout out to the late Steve Howe.

Cap Anson

Labeled by SABR.org as “baseball first superstar,” Anson stood out above the rest. As the player-manager for the Chicago White Stockings in the late 19th century, Anson became the first player to reach the 3,000-hit mark and was the second manager in baseball history to win 1,000 games. 

He was also a racist who refused to step on the same field as black players.

Baseball’s color barrier can be directly attributed to Anson. In an 1883 exhibition game between the White Stockings and a local team in Toledo, Ohio, Anson refused to play in a game with Moses Fleetwood Walker, the opposing team’s only black player. While he ultimately gave in to pressure and played the game, Anson’s actions set the precedent for not only baseball’s ban of any player who wasn’t white but other sports like basketball and football, as well. Anson emboldened other racists to fight loudly for keeping baseball white, which it would remain for the next 64 years. 

Gaylord Perry

With the current discussion around what kind of cheating is acceptable and what isn’t, many baseball fans would put an asterisk not only on the Houston Astros’ 2017 World Series championship but to the careers of PED users. In the confusion of good and bad cheating lies Gaylord Perry. A notorious deceiver, Perry openly admitted to doctoring baseballs in his autobiography, stating, “I reckon I tried everything on the old apple but salt and pepper and chocolate sauce topping…Of course, I’m reformed now. I’m a pure law-abiding citizen.”

Some writers projected that Perry was just keeping the media and other players on their toes as a little joke. But who would joke like that? That would be the equivalent of Andy Pettitte joking about using PEDs just to keep the public on their toes (and then testing positive for PED use). 

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Perry eventually would be ejected from a game in 1982 for getting caught doctoring baseballs, which he neither confirmed nor denied. But having this infraction on a player’s resume would make his Hall of Fame candidacy shaky at best. Yet, Perry got into Cooperstown on his third try. If we’re going to accept that behavior into the Hall, we can accept it when the time comes to let Jose Altuve and Carlos Beltran in as well. Just bang the (trash can) slowly in their honor when they approach the mic.

Curt Schilling

Dear Lord, where do we start? The transphobia? The Islamophobia? All the phobias? The anti-journalist rhetoric? His recent tweets about his desire to disable 911 service for anti-fascist protestors? All of it?

Schilling hasn’t been on his best behavior post-retirement, comparing Muslims to Nazis, arguing with then-ESPN writer Keith Law about evolution, and supporting North Carolina’s ant-LGBT bill. His outspoken and extreme conservative views ring differently in our current era of political vitriol. One easily could dismiss his extremism as harmless if it wasn’t for the fact that people who think like him are in power, causing great pain to much of the population. That can’t be disputed. But beyond that, one would think writers would object to a player expressing blatant anti-media views. None of it matters to them, however, with Schilling expected to join the greats in Cooperstown in 2021. 

If you’re going to protest the potential awkwardness of Bonds and Clemens being enshrined, note that speeches from the players above would be just as awkward in 2020.


Stephon Johnson is a staff writer at the New York Amsterdam News. His work has appeared in The Classical, The Sports Fan Journal, Polygon and The Cauldron at Sports Illustrated. He would like hitters to emphasize making contact again. Doubles and triples are OK. Visit his website and follow him on Twitter @StephonJohnson8.
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Alby
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Alby

I have a problem with the false equivalency between Speaker and Rose. Betting gets you banned, and always has. Who someone sleeps with, especially if the girl was of legal age, is not.

Marc Schneider
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Marc Schneider

Probably correct and, as with Schilling, being a sleazebag, by itself, shouldn’t keep someone out of the Hall.

But, you know, I can accept Schilling and Rose being in the HOF. I don’t have to celebrate them, though. I mean, is it such a high standard to expect simple decency from baseball players?

The Stranger
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Member

I think that if you expect “good at baseball” to be highly correlated with “good human being” you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Yes, we should expect simple decency from everybody (ymmv on what that entails), but we know that some people will fail to meet that standard. Others will be generally decent people but make mistakes. At best, elite baseball players will fall into those categories as often as anyone else. Which, given my understanding of the culture of professional sports over the years, might be optimistic. But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. How to handle… Read more »

Marc Schneider
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Marc Schneider

No disagreement that being good at baseball does not necessarily correlate with being a good person, which is why I think Schilling (and others) should be in the HOF. Once you start trying to make character a prerequisite for recognizing baseball greatness, it’s a pandora’s box.

Nats Fan
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Member
Nats Fan

They are paid enough that simple decency should be required.

Morland
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Member
Morland

Why stop at these few players? Many of the early 20th century players were racist by current standards. Some made it clear they were e members in the Klan. Why not include all of them on the list of awkward entries? Then let’s include the players who in the 50’s and 60’s used amphetamines to enhance their ability to play the game. You know, some of the same players on their high horse about not letting players in to the Hall of Fame who used PED’s. Then let’s try and guess at what current legal drugs will be illegal in… Read more »

hombremomento
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hombremomento

How are we supposed to find out things like that?

Famous Mortimer
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What a stupid argument. Look at the way the world is going. We’re more likely to have a Klan wing of the Hall of Fame than we are a requirement that players be “woke”. Also, the only people who use “woke” in 2020 are those who think it’s an insult, so please stop. Substitute it for “treating people with respect” if it’s just the word itself that’s bothering you.

Marc Schneider
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Marc Schneider

What are you talking about? The article is about players whose HOF speeches might be awkward. How does that apply to people who are already dead? No one is trying to apply current social views to past players. It’s current players who should know better. And no oneis saying they have to be “woke”, just that we would prefer they not be total assholes.

J. T.
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J. T.

We’ll all have differing opinions on HOF eligibility, both with how we believed the player performed (thank you WAR for existing in my life) and how they carried themselves. I for one am in favor of Schilling getting-in…..we know he probably will, he’s trending in that direction. I understand he’s said some really heinous things, things that go over the line of an opinion to downright hatred. But I’ve never been in favor of making one’s character part of the process…character can be a very subjective matter, just as morals can be. For me, it’s the baseball hall of fame,… Read more »

Famous Mortimer
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While he should be in the Hall of Fame, probably, we (viewers of the ceremony, and people who may want to actually attend) should be able to make the choice to criticise the things he says, or just not attend any ceremony designed to honor him. Ultimately, the Hall of Fame is not a great thing. Reprehensible racists like Kenesaw Mountain Landis and Cap Anson are in. People who treated the players as little better than slaves are in, like Charles Comiskey. Klan members. Criminals. Let’s talk about all of it – Schilling is just a modern example of the… Read more »

Lanidrac
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Lanidrac

I wouldn’t have much of an issue with the character clause if it weren’t for the fact that it was a complete joke and never enforced by many of the voters as a whole until the 2006 election (the first for McGwire). As long as all the previous known cheats (save for those specifically banned), amphetamine users, and huge jerks (racist or otherwise) remain in the Hall, then we should just ignore the character clause completely and maybe even change the voting rules to drop it. On the other hand, as long as the other otherwise deserving PED-connected candidates can’t… Read more »

Johnnie T
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Johnnie T

Maybe I am stupid, but I am having a hard time figuring out just what this article is saying other than that there are folks in the HOF with issues. I can’t tell if the author is in favor or opposed to Bonds and Clemens (and others in PED HOF exile) being inducted. Was he arguing that those who oppose enshrining Clemens and Bonds because it would cause awkwardness are wrong to do so because there were players in the past who would have been awkward if they were making their speeches now? I really don’t think there are a… Read more »

Spa City
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Spa City

I think the author is not so much making a viable argument… He seems to be signaling his virtuous wokeness.

Fangraphs has become a political site the past few years.

csw117
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csw117

And you’re signaling your virtuous unwokeness. Aren’t you as guilty as you find he author to be?

Spa City
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Spa City

I never thought of it as unwokeness. But I suppose you are right.

Marc Schneider
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Marc Schneider

Most of the examples cited in the article are about gambling or cheating. How is that “wokeness”? I guess by your standard if there was an article about Jackie Robinson, that would be political?

fordhamflash
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fordhamflash

Kind of ridiculous to include Moliter here but not Fergie Jenkins, who was actually suspended for cocaine abuse

Spa City
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Spa City

But don’t forget it is more woke to trash a white guy.

csw117
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csw117

More importantly, don’t forget to read the article properly before impugning writers’ motivation.

“ Molitor, who spoke out a half-decade ago against Alex Rodriguez being inducted into the Hall of Fame…” That’s the reason he chose Molitor over Perry. Have you found any comments from Perry about Rodriguez’ candidacy. I couldn’t.

Of course, if you feel the need to cite a jokey baseball article as evidence of a PC plot to undermine ‘decent, white Americans’ then I can’t stop you. Just seems a little ill thought out, is all.

Spa City
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Spa City

Racist.

Lanidrac
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Lanidrac

The article would be too long if he bothered to highlight every single drug abuser and huge jerk in the Hall.

Lanidrac
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Lanidrac

As you said, they couldn’t prove Speaker was betting on the games. They certainly could in Rose’s case.

abgb123
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abgb123

I don’t think this is the only consideration with Rose, perhaps if he had been honest at any point during the investigation or the 2 decades after it before finally telling the worst kept secret in his less then tell all book we might be having a different conversation. Furthermore MLB is very clear about the rules of betting and the consequences of it, since the White Sox scandal it has been posted in every MLB clubhouse, they are not shy about this. Pete Rose’s accomplishments should be acknowledged in The Hall (which I’m sure they are) but as far… Read more »

Nats Fan
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Member
Nats Fan

I don’t get how being a decent person is now considered political. That’s just not true. Being an ass is being an ass. Politics is something entirely different.

MikeS
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Member
MikeS

I agree with you, but everything is political these days.

Marc Schneider
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Marc Schneider

How is it political? First, it’s not going to keep him out of the Hall. Second, all people are saying is that Schilling is an asshole. How is that political?

chrlud64
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chrlud64

If Curt Schilling’s so-called “extreme conservative views” should disqualify him from the HOF, then Stephon Johnson’s extreme liberal views should disqualify him from writing on this blog. (No they shouldn’t). And what the hell is “anti-journalist?” One isn’t allowed to criticize a journalist? Disagree with one? Not approve of how they do their job? When did that become disqualifying? Isn’t that what know-it-all journalists like Mr. Johnson do to ballplayers? Maybe he should be disqualified from any honors in his profession because he is “anti-ballplayer.” How juvenile! Hardball Times! Can we please get back to the days on this blog… Read more »

Marc Schneider
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Marc Schneider

I don’t understand your comment at all. How is Johnson exhibiting “extreme liberal views?” And he isn’t even saying Schilling should not be in the Hall. Most of the article was about guys who had been accused of gambling/throwing games/using drugs, etc.

And I guess by your standards, anyone that thinks saying nasty things about groups of people is bad is one of “life’s losers”, huh?

William Rubinstein
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Member
William Rubinstein

Cap Anson played his whole career in the National League. Moses Fleetwood Walker played in the rival American Association, over which Anson had no control. He was a player, not a club owner or League President. There were no blacks in Major League baseball before Walker and none after him and maybe two others until 1947, long after Anson died. There was nothing to stop Branch Rickey from hiring Josh Gibson or Satchel Paige in 1937, but he didn’t. There was nothing to stop John McGraw or Connie Mack from hiring blacks in 1910, but they didn’t. Don’t blame Anson… Read more »

Marc Schneider
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Marc Schneider

Those are good points. Although Anson is generally given credit for starting the color barrier, it’s hard to see how one guy not playing in a game could have that much influence over everyone else for 50 years. But he is still a jerk.