What Joe Morgan is really trying to say to Hall of Fame voters

Former Miami Marlins hitting coach Barry Bonds. (Luis M. Alvarez/AP)

Joe Morgan wrote a letter to myself and other members of the voting pool for the National Baseball Museum and Hall of Fame. I’ve deconstructed it for you. Note: Yeah, the name William is right. Jeff is my middle name. It’s a family thing … don’t ask.

Dear William,

This going out through the Hall of Fame itself makes it almost an order, no?

Over the years, I have been approached by many Hall of Fame members telling me we needed to do something to speak out about the possibility of steroid users entering the Hall of Fame. This issue has been bubbling below the surface for quite a while.

I’m bored. I need something to do. So, let’s talk steroids, because it’s easier and takes less balls than asking why my peers – those on one of our various subcommittees – haven’t yet put Marvin Miller in the Hall of Fame, considering he did more for ballplayers than any human to walk the earth.

I hope you don’t mind if I bring to your attention what I’m hearing.

More and more people seem open to considering the candidacies of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and unlike Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and other steroid guys, it’s hard to make any statistical argument they don’t belong. A-Rod’s not that far away and he’s already rehabilitating his image. This crap’s getting real, you know?

Please keep in mind I don’t speak for every single member of the Hall of Fame. I don’t know how everyone feels, but I do know how many of the Hall of Famers feel.

I’ll leave it you to decide whether this is a missive from the Hall.

I, along with other Hall of Fame Baseball players, have the deepest respect for you and all the writers who vote to decide who enters Baseball’s most hallowed shrine, the National Baseball Hall of Fame. For some 80 years, the men and women of the BBWAA have cast ballots that have made the Hall into the wonderful place it is.

Myself and the rest of the Hall of Famers are really, really, really happy you put us in, even though we spend a lot of time talking behind your back about how dopey you are and how you don’t understand the game. The guys you didn’t put in still think you’re idiots. But who cares about them; they’re not Hall of Famers!

I think the Hall of Fame is special. There is a sanctity to being elected to the Hall. It is revered. It is the hardest Hall of Fame to enter, of any sport in America.

I’m just so happy none of you want to remember the greenies you used to see some of us pop before Sunday afternoon games, and the “special” coffee laced with amphetamines we all laughed about when you’d hang around the clubhouse. Hell, some of us couldn’t take the field without those things. But in no way were they performance enhancers. At least, not in the “pump you up” kind of way. We love our sanctity; even the racists, drunks and philanderers among us love it. Oh, and since there was no drug testing in our day, you wouldn’t be able to tell what we took.

But times change, and a day we all knew was coming has now arrived. Players who played during the steroid era have become eligible for entry into the Hall of Fame.

OK, OK: I know McGwire was on the ballot for awhile and, yeah, “acne-on-the-back” guys like Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell and Pudge Rodriguez all got in. So, it’s been seven or eight years since steroid guys actually started popping up on the ballot. “The day we knew was coming” arrived almost a decade ago, it just didn’t include Bonds and Clemens which … did I mention how much sanctity there is in being elected to Cooperstown?

The more we Hall of Famers talk about this – and we talk about it a lot – we realize we can no longer sit silent. Many of us have come to think that silence will be considered complicity. Or that fans might think we are ok if the standards of election to the Hall of Fame are relaxed, at least relaxed enough for steroid users to enter and become members of the most sacred place in Baseball. We don’t want fans ever to think that.

Will nobody think of the kids?

We hope the day never comes when known steroid users are voted into the Hall of Fame. They cheated. Steroid users don’t belong here.

We’re terrified that guys such as Bonds and Clemens might hang around long enough to actually get voted in; terrified that as the Hall voting pool changes the new breed of voter might be more inclined to overlook the evidence – real, imagined or suggestive. Even worse, what if they don’t get voted in and it lands in the laps of one of those veterans committees or some such thing that we’re on and then we have to deal with the mess. This is all about Bonds and Clemens, Clemens and Bonds, and the closer we get to this situation the greater the likelihood we’ll have to answer our own uncomfortable questions. So help us make it go away.

Players who failed drug tests, admitted using steroids, or were identified as users in Major League Baseball’s investigation into steroid abuse, known as the Mitchell Report, should not get in. Those are the three criteria that many of the players and I think are right.

Never mind that we’ll never know the identities of all the players who failed tests.

Now, I recognize there are players identified as users on the Mitchell Report who deny they were users. That’s why this is a tricky issue. Not everything is black and white – there are shades of gray here. It’s why your job as a voter is and has always been a difficult and important job. I have faith in your judgment and know that ultimately, this is your call.

There are a whole lot of players in the Mitchell Report who wouldn’t make it into their own family’s Hall of Fame, and forget for a minute that it was a whitewashing conducted by a Senator who was a director of the Boston Red Sox, and one that was designed to spread around the blame – except for the Red Sox, who had not one player named. No, not even THAT guy. Or HIM.

But it still occurs to me that anyone who took body-altering chemicals in a deliberate effort to cheat the game we love, not to mention they cheated current and former players, and fans too, doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame. By cheating, they put up huge numbers, and they made great players who didn’t cheat look smaller by comparison, taking away from their achievements and consideration for the Hall of Fame. That’s not right.

We have a list of guys who didn’t get in because they were on a ballot with steroid users. I have it right here … uh … where’d I put it? It was around here some place. “Guys with no acne on their backs and who didn’t have big muscles.” I swear I saw it here. Oh, and try to forget that steroids mostly aid in the recovery process, and that players of every body type have been suspended.

And that’s why I, and other Hall of Famers, feel so strongly about this.

Fans are too dumb to put these things in context. So help us do it for them, yeah?

It’s gotten to the point where Hall of Famers are saying that if steroid users get in, they’ll no longer come to Cooperstown for Induction Ceremonies or other events. Some feel they can’t share a stage with players who did steroids. The cheating that tainted an era now risks tainting the Hall of Fame too. The Hall of Fame means too much to us to ever see that happen. If steroid users get in, it will divide and diminish the Hall, something we couldn’t bear.

Our moral transgressions were OK. ‘Cause it was good, clean fun and didn’t cheat the game. Don’t mix up our transgressions with these other transgressions. The Hall survived the game’s unforgivable history of racism without splintering. It’s got members who were coked up for parts of their careers. I know you can make a case they cheated paying customers more than guys who stuck needles in their butts to hit the ball farther and throw it faster, but holy mother of God: steroids will be the ruin of it. I mean … STEROIDS!

Section 5 of the Rules for Election states, “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”

I know none of you ever read Section 5 and, thank goodness for that! Speaking of: why is there no Section 5 for voters?

I care about how good a player was or what kind of numbers he put up; but if a player did steroids, his integrity is suspect; he lacks sportsmanship; his character is flawed; and, whatever contribution he made to his team is now dwarfed by his selfishness.

I can’t tell you for certain who did what and when they did it. But I – no, we – hate them anyhow. And as for that selfishness? You’ll help us get those World Series rings back from players who won them in the steroid era, right? And after that, we can get the owners who built ballparks on the pimpled back of steroid sluggers to give all that revenue back. Selfish buggers.

Steroid use put Baseball through a tainted era where records were shattered. “It was a steroidal farce,” wrote Michael Powell in the New York Times. It is no accident that those records held up for decades until the steroid era began, and they haven’t been broken since the steroid era ended. Sadly, steroids worked.

We have loads of guys in the Hall who never had to face African-American pitchers or African-American players as good as me. They put up records; some of them still stand. But that’s OK: WE’RE ALREADY IN THE HALL!

Dan Naulty was a journeyman pitcher in the late 1990s who admitted he took steroids, noting that his fastball went from 87 to 96. He told Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci in 2012, “I was a full-blown cheater, and I knew it. You didn’t need a written rule. I was violating clear principles that were laid down within the rules. I understood I was violating implicit principles.”

Dan Naulty? You thought he was a character in “The Wire” right? Me, too.

The Hall of Fame has always had its share of colorful characters, some of whom broke or bent society’s rules in their era. By today’s standards, some might not have gotten in. Times change and society improves. What once was accepted no longer is.

But steroid users don’t belong here. What they did shouldn’t be accepted. Times shouldn’t change for the worse.

Steroid users knew they were taking a drug that physically improved how they played. Taking steroids is a decision. It’s the deliberate act of using chemistry to change how hard you hit and throw by changing what your body is made of.

Guys took stuff to improve their performance, knowing the game didn’t care if they did it or not. But that’s different than what we did. We did stuff to get an edge, not cheat. Or something like that.

I and other Hall of Famers played hard all our lives to achieve what we did. I love this game and am proud of it. I hope the Hall of Fame’s standards won’t be lowered with the passage of time.

Did I mention this is all about Bonds, Clemens and A-Rod? Forget about the fact you have voted to put players in the Hall of Fame you suspect of steroid use as much as Bonds and Clemens.

For over eighty years, the Hall of Fame has been a place to look up to, where the hallowed halls honor those who played the game hard and right. I hope it will always remain that way.

Sincerely,

Joe Morgan
Hall of Fame Class of 1990
Vice Chairman

P.S. Families come to Cooperstown because they know it’s special. To parents, it’s a place they can take their kids for an uplifting, feel-good visit. It’s a place where kids can see what true greatness is all about. It’s a place where youngsters can dream that one day they too might get in. This place is special. I hope it stays that way.

Make sure your kids get their picture taken in front of Ty Cobb’s plaque. The ol’ Georgia Peach was quite a Cracker.