'Capital Games': How Congress Saved the Baseball Hall of Fame
A two-time MVP outfielder and a United States senator say the congressional hearings on steroids in baseball nearly a decade ago had a direct impact on preventing players tainted by the baseball's steroids era from being considered for the Hall of Fame.
Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., told the ESPN's Perspectives podcast "Capital Games" that while he thought at the time the hearings shouldn't have been a congressional priority, they doomed the candidacies of high-profile players like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, and Sammy Sosa. That, in part, paved the way for this weekend's crop of three clean players from the same era gaining induction in the Hall.
"What I think the hearing helped do was, that the American people looked up and said, 'You know, it's maybe the first time that it really hit us between the eyes that we have a real problem here.' And I think it helped to change things," said Donnelly.
You can listen to the full "Capital Games" podcast HERE.
Former Atlanta Braves outfielder Dale Murphy wasn't a fan of the 2005 hearings, either, and wanted the commissioner to do more and to push for "amnesty" so former players could come clean about past steroid use. Still, he said, the hearings were effective, and helped baseball move beyond a dark period.
"I reluctantly have to say I think they made a difference," said Murphy. He added that Hall voters are "going to remember what you did or what you didn't say and hold you accountable…. I think it directly affects them."
Murphy, who fell short in being elected to the Hall in his final year of voting eligibility last year, added that he would be upset if players who were proven to be cheats from that era were admitted into the Hall of Fame.
"That is a concern for guys that, you know, played in the '70's and '80's most of the time," Murphy said during the podcast. "I guess the best way to say it, is that right now they're not letting the guys in that are associated with those huge inflated numbers and steroids. If it comes to the point eventually - which some people speculate will happen with the turnover of the voters and the age of the voters, which will take a long time - if it does happen eventually where they get in, then I got a real beef…. I got a problem with that."
Murphy doesn't anticipate any of those candidates getting in soon.
"It's going to take such a long time, I think, and I really think the lack of honesty and openness has hurt the guys," said Murphy. "I think eventually it's going to happen, but I think it's going to be decades."
The Baseball Hall of Fame will add six new members to its ranks at this weekend's ceremony in Cooperstown. Three superstar players and three brilliant managers - all of whom were active and clean of drug allegations during some of baseball's darkest days - will get their plaques.
Though the now-famous congressional hearings drew criticism at the time, it's quite possible baseball wouldn't see a moment like this if not for Congress. The March 2005 session on steroids in baseball served as a wake-up call for baseball to clean itself up, ultimately opening the doors for the players who were clean during a tainted era to gain election to the Hall, according to ESPN baseball analyst Tim Kurkjian.
"It was really important at the time, and looking back it's probably even more important today," Kurkjian said.
"It showed that baseball needed congressional help to get to the bottom of this. We still haven't gotten to the bottom of it," said Kurkjian. "It was the start of cleaning up the game - which still isn't completely clean I'm sure. But it was a giant step in the right direction."
This year's Hall of Fame class includes pitchers Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, slugger Frank Thomas, plus managers Bobby Cox, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa. The star-studded class comes a year after no former player won election to the Hall. All three of 2013's inductees, in fact, died before the U.S. entered World War II.
The Hall notably still doesn't include players implicated for using performance-enhancing drugs - men including McGwire, Bonds, Sosa, Clemens, and Palmeiro - whose conduct received the now-famous congressional scrutiny nine years ago.
Donnelly, a Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees fan, said he was skeptical of Congress' involvement in a baseball matter. But time has proven the value of that scrutiny, culminating with his son's childhood hero, Frank Thomas, gaining entry on Sunday - an important moment for fans of his generation, he said.
"Frank [Thomas] was doing it the right way. Frank's kind of numbers were the numbers that people who just work hard every day would be able to achieve. And so, I think we're in a different place now. I think the game is better for having that passed. And I think as we look, baseball is in a good place right now," he added.
Murphy was a seven-time all-star who was a teammate of Glavine's and played for Cox and Torre with the Atlanta Braves.
"It's a good time for baseball," Murphy said of the current Hall of Fame class. "I think we can maybe have an opportunity to show what guys can do, that you don't really need that stuff… You need to have some talent, you need to have some brains, and you need to work hard."
Murphy said the steroids era also had an impact on some of the players - including himself - who preceded it, since their statistics aren't as gaudy as those who dominated the late 1990s and early 2000s.
He said he'd like to see an "adjustment" in statistics to take that into consideration. But for now, Murphy said he's satisfied that players with tainted numbers aren't getting in.
Kurkjian, who is among the writers who vote for the Hall every year, said he and other voters need more clarity on how to handle the steroids era. He suggested a commission made of representatives of Major League Baseball, baseball writers, Hall officials, and even Hall-of-Famers themselves to chart a path forward.
"I still don't know what the right answer is any more with all the steroid people. I think we need a nationwide discussion over what we're supposed to do here. Should we be voting for steroid guys or not?" he said.
"The responsibility is enormous. It should be taken seriously, and yet at the same time I think we need somebody to clarify what we should be doing here. Because I, for one, am not sure what to do anymore."
"Capital Games with Andy Katz and Rick Klein," part of the ESPN Perspectives audio series, explores the intersection of sports and politics, with ESPN's Andy Katz and ABC News' Rick Klein. It can be downloaded HERE or on iTunes, by searching for ESPN Perspectives.