The Hall of Fame (with an asterisk!)

The Society was once again politely kicked out of its room but this time was given the prestigious Riggs Library. This Thursday, we broke from the typical literary and political debates to discuss Resolved: Barry Bonds Should be in the Hall of Fame. Affirming the resolution was Mr. Michael Mouch (SFS ’15) of Texas and negating the resolution was Mr. Patrick Musgrave (COL ’16) of Indiana. In a serendipitous coincidence, their parents were visiting and were able to see them keynote!

The main premise of the debate was to judge whether Bonds should be inducted into the Hall of Fame based on their six criteria: record, playing ability, contributions to the team (and sport), sportsmanship, integrity, and character. How these criteria were interpreted was up to the floor .

Mr. Mouch began the night with some of Barry Bonds’ impressive statistics: 3 MVP awards, 8 All-Star appearances, and 8 Golden Glove awards before 1999, the year he allegedly began using steroids. However, in 1998, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa smashed the home run record and the media intensely focused on their statistics—perhaps all of that attention is what drove Bonds to start using steroids. It was merely an effort to compete. But let’s look at Bonds on the whole: pitchers deliberately walked him three times more than any other player—mind you, pitchers that also took steroids and were therefore on Bonds’ level! But let’s be honest…steroids (including monkey testosterone…interesting…) were in use since 1949 and Bonds took them knowing full well that he could be sacrificing the rest of his life. After all, since when are 20 injections of any drug considered safe? But it wasn’t even all Bonds’ fault. The MLB didn’t ban steroids until 1990, and didn’t implement testing until later. It permitted and even perpetuated steroid usage. Judging Bonds by the Hall of Fame’s criteria, well, he definitely qualifies under the first three, and if racists like Ty Cobb were inducted (as low as you can go in character), well, doesn’t Bonds deserve to be as well?

Mr. Musgrave kept the negation short and sweet, saying that there is no denying that Bonds was one of the greatest players in regards to sheer ability. Yet the debate is on whether he deserves to be honored because he nonetheless broke the rules of the game. Steroids gave Bonds an unfair advantage, keeping him at his peak longer than most players and letting him recover faster. To vote Bonds into the Hall of Fame is to say that he not only had the athletic ability of a Hall of Famer, but that he has the requisite integrity and character; an All-Star must meet all-criteria. Cheating first and foremost increases an athlete’s longevity, making the athlete more fit at 35 than some athletes at 25. Not only is that unfair, but it’s also very unsportsmanlike. And we cannot overlook that Bonds didn’t just take steroids, but that he subsequently was “willing to lie to a federal grand jury.” Simple playing ability, argued Mr. Musgrave, doth not a Hall of Famer make. It is more than that.

Ms. Burke took the first chance to speak, notwithstanding her lack of baseball knowledge. She posited that the least ethical part of steroids is that it destroys your life and that Bonds knew that and was among many athletes that took steroids. Yet Mr. Greco immediately disagreed, asserting that Bonds didn’t just cheat his health, but “he cheated the fans”, without even becoming a better athlete. Mr. Mellon, on the other hand, acknowledged that Bonds could have “practiced on Christmas” instead of taking steroids, but that we should make an example of him by putting him in the Hall with an asterisk. Mr. Schafer interjected a deep question into our midst soon thereafter: what does it say about humanity, that we are willing to inject ourselves with sheep testicles to “improve.”

Our resident biology major, Ms. Egan, checked some of our information though, saying that athletes do a lot of unnatural things to their bodies to achieve athletic perfection; athletes must use their bodies as tools. However, Ms. Coccia kindly disagreed with Ms. Egan by saying that these people are paid to be so great and that when such great athletes take steroids, they create an enormous sense of “disillusionment” among fans. But Mr. Eisen was quick to remark that we love sports because we love glory, and “there’s a touch of greatness that you can’t take away from a man” regardless of what he does—it’s really not the same to award Lance Armstrong’s medal to the 23rd man on the Tour. Mr. Whelan ended the spotlight Armstrong though, by saying that baseball is a team sport. When a star is formed by steroids, team cohesion breaks down.

Mr. Naft tried to bring the debate back to the six criteria, and discussed how Bonds was a class act on and off the field, remarking that his steroid use was merely a product of the times. All the same, Ms. Hernick asserted that group immorality doesn’t justify personal immorality, and in fact, the worst part of Bonds’ ordeal was that he didn’t need to take steroids to be good. Ms. Aleman rebutted this point, clarifying that sport culture doesn’t have our values—it just pressures all athletes to take that next step in enhancing their bodies. At this point, I felt obliged to stand up and declare that if we want to put Bonds in the Hall with an asterisk, that in and of itself means that he doesn’t deserve to be in there. Mr. Mitchell Tu (SFS ’17) took this early chance to speak, saying that the MLB encouraged steroids and that it’s hypocritical to keep Bonds from the Hall of Fame.

Mr. Fletcher then reminded us that we can’t always judge character historically, but instead we must make the Hall a place of glory based on maintaining your performance. Bonds had the odds with him, and even so cheated. Mr. Willis fundamentally disagreed, stressing that we cannot judge character without knowing the context. Then began the formal non-member speaking time with Mr. Connor Sakati (SFS ’18), who pointed out that Bonds also had a laundry list of accusations against him off the field, including kicking his pregnant wife. That being said, Ms. Margaret Crownever (SFS ’18) saw most of Bonds’ mistakes were short lapses in judgment. Despite this, Ms. Anneke Von Seeger (COL ’17) acutely pointed out that Bonds also knew steroids were wrong, judging by his reluctance to use them for so long and how he lied about it.

Mr. Adam Gonzalez (SFS ’18) suggested that we have to look at Bonds’ contributions to the game independently, considering that everyone enhances their performances. Just because Bonds isn’t the best of humanity, doesn’t mean he’s not worthy of the Hall of Fame. Bonds, however, destroyed Mr. Jack Musgrave’s (COL ’18) view of baseball, as well as its integrity as a game—in that case he definitely destroyed his own integrity as well. On the flip side, Mr. Zachary Scharf (COL ’17) reminded us that it’s so hard to know character behind closed doors, and that everyone from Bonds’ era used steroids. President DiMisa then talked about precedent, adding that the Hall of Fame isn’t run by the MLB, and so we can’t just look at athletic ability.

President DiMisa’s speech momentarily stunned the members, and so Mr. Jonathon Marrow (COL ’18) asked whether the Hall of Fame was following precedent, or just being consistently immoral. Mr. Perez-Reyes harkened back to the idea of what steroids do though: they are “breaking a bond” with your family, teammates, and self. Ms. Grace, countering her mentee, said that Bonds was flawed, but the MLB is the true culprit here and should be held accountable as such. Mr. Wang refuted Ms. Grace by clarifying that the MLB should be held responsible, but the Hall of Fame as a separate entity should be an example for all ages.

Then, with members left pensively scratching their heads, a long string of non-member speeches carried the debate to the end (with the exception of Ms. Thanki!). Ms. Mattie Haag (COL ’18) compared Bonds’ steroids use to Michael Phelps’ flaws and said that regardless they both remain great. Ms. Thanki, as a long-standing baseball fan, was quick to combat that idea by positing that Bonds just crumbled under his obstacles and cannot even be deemed a credible “expert” in his field (badumch). Mr. Garrett Hinck (SFS ’18) reluctantly agreed except that seeing as baseball is a billion dollar business, “honor and idealism don’t really apply.”

And then Mr. Navneet Vishwanathan (SFS ’18) brought up sabermetrics, extrapolating Bonds’ homerun total without steroids, and asserting that he dragged baseball through horrors. Mr. Alex Barnes (SFS ‘16) didn’t tackle sabermetrics (I wouldn’t have either…), and instead returned to the asterisk idea, declaring that the Hall of Fame should dedicate an entire museum wing for the steroid users. Being a star athlete doesn’t mean much to Mr. Christopher Grocki (MSB ’17) if it isn’t in the spirit of the game; it isn’t in how good you are, but how you play. Finally, Ms. Xinlan Hu (COL ’18) closed by noticing that just the fact that we’re discussing Bonds means that he has made a big contribution to baseball.

Mr. Musgrave kept his keynote pithy, contradicting two big points during the debate. First, he said that if we want to admit Bonds on the grounds that the Hall of Fame has already admitted steroid users, then we should also keep admitting huge racists since Ty Cobb is already in the Hall. Second, if we want to blame the environment Bonds was in, we should look at honest players like Derek Jeter who never stooped to taking steroids. Lastly, Mr. Musgrave called it against the American spirit to honor cheaters and liars.

Mr. Mouch started by declaring that Derek Jeter has been slipping a lot lately—isn’t it better to try to keep playing in your peak than to stay on a team while you age and start dragging them down? And yet, despite the obvious answer, Jeter will probably still be inducted. The most important criteria for the Hall of Fame is naturally playing ability! Most importantly, Mr. Mouch pleaded with the Society to not believe that the Hall of Fame is an idealistic institution; if it were, then the Hall would have at most ten players. Before 1999, Bonds was a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame, and with a nuanced approach, it is easy to see that he still is.

The time flew by and the debate ended with a vote of 36-3-18, negating the resolution.

HAPPY COLUMBUS (and indigenous people’s!) DAY! ELD,

Rosa Cuppari

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