The new Hall of Fame ballot is out, and it’s not very impressive. There are no new superstars on it; the best candidates are holdovers in their next to last year: Curt Schilling, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens.

While all their numbers warrant inclusion, they all have problems.

Schilling is an unmitigated jerk, and hasn’t shown any signs of moderating his comments. Bonds and Clemens have been accused of using performance enhancing drugs, and have yet to come clean about it.

Whenever their cases come up, Bonds and Clemens are always accused of being “cheaters”; and, according to their detractors, that should automatically disqualify them from Hall of Fame consideration.

But what is “cheating”, and should it be an automatic disqualifier?

Obviously, it must be something that is specifically forbidden in the rules. There was a long time when PEDs weren’t considered something to be banned. You used mysterious “liniments” or took amphetamines (with or without a doctor’s approval), and no one particularly cared. They may or may not have helped. But when steroids came into prominence in the 1980s, it became clear that they would produce noticeable physical changes – at the risk of one’s long-term health. Baseball, and other professional sports, eventually laid down the law.

In the online discussions about Bonds and Clemens, one often sees references to other “cheaters” in the Hall of Fame, usually Gaylord Perry. But “doctoring” a baseball is something very different – it puts no one’s health at risk, and it still takes quite a bit of skill to use a doctored ball properly.

In fact, there’s quite a bit of “cheating” already going on.

Pitchers may not doctor baseballs anymore, but they still know how to dab a bit of something on them to improve their grip. Fielders will often attempt to decoy a runner into thinking a play is being made or going to be made when the opposite is true. Catchers are praised for their “pitch framing” ability – which is nothing more than a blatant attempt at deceiving the umpire about the location of a pitch. And when was the last time you saw someone running to first get called out for not staying in that little track?

There’s plenty of dodging or ignoring of the rules going on in baseball. It’s selective enforcement – only the most obvious cheating gets called out and penalized. You can’t stop every single violation.

With PEDs, it’s another story. The physical damage from even moderate use makes them too risky to be allowed. Allowing it is practically the same as encouraging it. And one does not want to see so many young people taking them and potentially ruining their long term health just so they can keep up.

If I actually had a vote, I don’t think I’d vote for any of Schilling, Bonds, or Clemens. Though I very much want to because their stats more than warrant inclusion, I don’t want to be seen as rewarding or even condoning their actions. It would be a heck of a lot easier if the latter two would either give a verifiable denial, or an apology.

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