The Star Chamber (Latin: Camera stellata) was an English court of law that sat at the royal Palace of Westminster until 1641. It was made up of Privy Counsellors, as well as common-law judges and supplemented the activities of the common-law and equity courts in both civil and criminal matters. The court was set up to ensure the fair enforcement of laws against prominent people, those so powerful that ordinary courts could never convict them of their crimes. Court sessions were held in secret, with no indictments, no right of appeal, no juries, and no witnesses. Evidence was presented in writing. Over time it evolved into a political weapon, a symbol of the misuse and abuse of power by the English monarchy and courts.
In modern usage, legal or administrative bodies with strict, arbitrary rulings and secretive proceedings are sometimes called, metaphorically or poetically, star chambers. This is a pejorative term and intended to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the proceedings.
Hall Voting a Modern-Day Star Chamber
Congratulations are in order for Barry Larkin, Cooperstown’s latest inductee who was undoubtedly a Hall of Fame talent.
As for the writers that voted him in? They’re collectively more of a minor league talent.
All joking aside, it’s unbelievable how self-righteous and blissfully ignorant the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America have become. You can see it in their selectivity and arbitrariness with regard to their Hall of Fame voting–specifically of suspected steroid users.
Take Jeff Bagwell for instance.
Bagwell was never, NEVER proven, implicated, or even suspected of taking steroids. If you are cocking your head to the side thinking that I couldn’t possibly be right, I promise you, I am. And at this point it seems highly unlikely that evidence will suddenly materialize that does implicate Bagwell.
So what exactly is the Hall of Fame voters’ rationale for only giving 56% of their vote to one of the top hitters of his decade?
Phillip Hersh from the Chicago Tribune shed some light on the Bagwell debacle by opining that he was “just too suspicious about Jeff Bagwell to include him” among this year’s selections. And what exactly were those suspicions based on? Nothing more than unsubstantiated gossip … the sort of rumors that have the same credibility as the tabloid magazines that claim President Obama’s body and mind are being controlled by Aliens on Mars, or that Khloe Kardashian is as hot as her sisters.
And Hersh isn’t alone.
Fellow Hall voter Scott Gregor of the Daily Herald recently admitted that “[s]uspicions of using ‘performance enhancing drugs’ weigh[ed] heavily on my decision to leave off productive players such as Bagwell, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Juan Gonzalez.”
An old Seseme Street song rang “one of these things is not like the other one,” and that logic couldn’t be more appropriate here.
Gregor grouped Bagwell along with:
- A player who has admitted past steroid use (McGwire).
- A player who tested positive for steroids (Palmeiro).
- A player who was included in the Mitchell report and was therefore implicated for taking Steroids (Gonzalez).
So why exactly is Bagwell on this list? Because he has big muscles? Because he played on a team that included Ken Caminiti?
But Gregor is right about one thing: the four of those guys should be grouped together–in the Hall of Fame.
If I had a vote, I would vote in McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, Clemens, Sheffield, Palmeiro, and all the other deserving stars of the 1990s and early 2000s who have been implicated or proven to take Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs). Why? Because frankly, it’s just too hard to tell who actually took PEDs and who didn’t.
Sure, there are some guys who are proven PED users, but what about guys like Bagwell, Ivan Rodriguez, and Mike Piazza–guys that people assume took PEDs. Should they be punished because they “had big muscles” (Bagwell), were implicated by Jose Conseco (Pudge), or were accused by a NY Times writer due, in large part, to his “back acne” (Mike Piazza)?
And here’s the problem: what about the guys who haven’t been implicated?
Where Is The Line?
What about the Carlos Delgados, Frank Thomases, or Jim Thomes of the world? I personally don’t think any of them used PEDs, but who’s to say they didn’t? All three of those guys peaked at the height of the steroid era. Thomas and Delgado came back from injuries to have 35+ HR seasons in their late 30s. That’s a lot more easily accomplished with HGH.
And then there’s all the guys in the Hall of Fame already who cheated just as much, if not more than these guys.
Mike Schmidt consistently took speed (“greenies”), as did just about every other MLB star in the 70s and 80s.
Sandy Koufax and a bunch of other pitchers in his era took a little-known anti-inflammatory drug called “Butazolidine.” You can’t find it anymore because it’s unbelievably unsafe–it’s meant for Horses, not humans. The drug is a miracle-worker though if you’re trying to pitch through an injury. Koufax did just that for the last two years of his career–his best 2 years I might add.
And how about the spitball–a pitch that can turn a mediocre fastball into a 90 mile per hour forkball?
Let me pose you this fun hypothetical: would you rather face a pitcher who’s taken steroids or a pitcher allowed to throw the spitter? Don Drysdale (a Hall of Fame pitcher from the 50s) was notorious for his use of the spitball. Gaylord Perry (another hall of famer) was such a notorious user of the pitch that he later named his autobiography “Me and the Spitter.”
The list goes on and on.
Yet another Hall of Fame pitcher, Whitey Ford, used to cut the ball with his wedding ring and put a mixture of baby oil, turpentine, and resin on the ball–a mixture he would prepare before games. It was called the “gunk ball.”
It’s a well known fact that the Hall of Fame is littered with players who are proven cheaters. And as far as anyone knows, it may be littered with other players that cheated but got away with it.
And what about the current players who have been suspected or proven to have taken steroids?
Is Alex Rodriguez not going to make it to the Hall despite being destined to become only the second member of the 3000-700 club?
What about Ryan Braun, who’s on pace for over 45 home runs this year? I think it’s safe to say that he’s definitely not on steroids now, and yet an ominous shadow of suspicion looms over him.
If Braun ends up playing a Hall of Fame caliber career and stays a model citizen off the field, will the Phillip Hersh’s of the world remain just too “suspicious” to ever give him a plaque in Cooperstown?
My point is that I just don’t see PED use as the place you draw the line — because PED use is cheating, yet clearly cheating doesn’t preclude a player from Cooperstown.
The Only Fair Solution
Ultimately, the Hall of Fame should be more about a player’s contributions on the field and their ultimate contribution towards the sport. It needs to take the entire scope of a player’s actions into perspective.
In the case of Sammy Sosa, that means he needs to be recognized for helping to expand the popularity of the major leagues to the Latin Americas. It means he has to be appreciated for being the face of baseball in the late 90s and early 2000s. And yes, it means he has to be condemned for his likely steroid use.
But keeping him out of the Hall because he used steroids is simply not the right answer.
It’s not fair to the guys like Bagwell, who get caught in the crossfire of suspicion, and its not fair to guys like Alex Rodriguez, whose Hall of Fame credentials are simply too great not to outweigh the specter of past transgressions.
Ultimately, the only way you do right by the Bagwells of the world is to simply lower the bar of entry to the point where unfounded suspicion will never be an impediment to a player’s Hall of Fame candidacy.
And it’s not like this is such a radical thing to ask. Guys like Bonds, Clemens, and Palmeiro all substantively deserve to be in the Hall of Fame–certainly as much as Whitey Ford and his gunk ball or Gaylord Perry and his spitter.
My grandmother has a saying that “you can’t put a sheet over a couch and pretend it’s not there.” Well, you can’t keep these guys out of the Hall and pretend that every player in it now, and everyone who will be in it 100 years from now, are clean.