Let me preface this by saying I have nothing against Mr. Red Faber. Because technically speaking he was not a cheater — he was simply playing within the rules of the game. By all accounts, Faber threw a spitball — now an illegal pitch — en route to winning 250-plus games during his career and guess where he ended up? Yep. Cooperstown.
In addition to his compiled statistics, Faber is credited as being the last American League pitcher to legally throw a spitball, which as the name suggests, is a ball lubed with the pitcher’s saliva in order to give it more movement. The pitch was outlawed after 1920, partly because the pitcher was seen to be cheating. The pitch was also banned because the ball often became discolored and presented a risk to batters. A spitball is what killed Ray Chapman, whom I referenced a few weeks ago in this post.
Faber is not a cheater. He was simply playing within the rules of the game and actually was one of two dozen or so known spitball pitchers of his time, which has been dubbed as the “Dead Ball Era.”
Now let’s draw this parallel to modern times.
Many players from the 1980s through late 2000s are now coming up for consideration for election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, an exclusive club to which Mr. Faber was elected in 1964 — a dozen years before his death. A typical discussion nowadays begins and ends with “Yeah, but he played in the Steroid Era.”
Technically, steroids were not added to the banned substance list until 1991, and Major League Baseball didn’t even start testing for any performance enhancing drugs until 2002. So for a good 11 years or so players could have been cheating and there was no real way of telling who was doing what.
Furthermore, the whistleblowers proclaim that a vast number of players were using something to aid their performance, banned or not. So can’t we deduce from that that a good number of baseball players were playing on somewhat of a level playing field?
I understand the argument that some players, particularly superstars like Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Thomas, were never linked to performance enhancing use and that their careers shouldn’t be tainted by the dirty acts of those who have been accused of “cheating.” And I’m not going to sit here and try to justify the use of substances that ultimately can have severe health side effects.
But what I’m saying is there is some precedent on “cheating” and players getting into the Hall of Fame. Whether or not proven to be guilty of using substances to aid their performance, some players from the “Steroid Era” are not unlike those from the early 20th century — they were playing the game within the parameters, or at least were not caught red-handed after said act was deemed illegal. Steroids are steroids, but not all performance enhancing drugs are. And because there was no testing in place to back up anyone’s claims or assertions, how can we seriously make the case that any of these stars suspected of “cheating” from the last two decades should never be in the Hall of Fame?
If a player falls under he umbrella of suspicion and sports writers want to make their opinions known by keeping said player from being elected on the first ballot, that’s fine. But don’t tell me that Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds are not a Hall of Famers. If they don’t get in the first time, they will eventually.