On the last Sunday in July, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., inducted its latest class of hall of famers. Typically, the sportswriters who vote on those Major League Baseball players who are eligible give at least one player a nod into the Hall. This year, no player got enough votes. Three people did get inducted -- a team owner, an umpire, a 19th-century catcher -- but they came via the veterans committee. All three were inducted posthumously.
It's not the first time sportswriters dunned the eligible crowd. The last time was 1996. But this year was different. It seemed to be a message that the sportswriters were closing the doors to the Hall of Fame to those who either admitted using performance-enhancing drugs while playing the game or are alleged to have used them.
The New York Times reported that Ozzie Smith, the Hall of Fame former shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals, said that "being rejected by voters 'is one of the things you have to weigh when you decide to do something wrong. ... You have to realize you won't get in'."
Dennis McNamara, the nephew of Hank O'Day, the umpire elected into the Hall, told the crowd assembled in Cooperstown that the lesson of his uncle "is do your best with honesty and integrity -- a lesson that might be in the minds of some players not elected."
Perhaps Smith and McNamara are correct -- that if you get caught or suspected of using steroids to boost your performance, you don't deserve a place among the baseball immortals in the Hall. But do some of these players still deserve to be considered given their overall contribution to the game?
Some sportswriters obviously think so given the healthy percentage of votes some of the higher profile players suspected of steroid use received. Sports bars and baseball stadiums are littered with vocal supporters of these players.
Still others believe a spot in the Hall of Fame should be reserved for those players whose prowess was based on skills not amplified by steroids.
One former major league player told me that he thinks that, eventually, some of the players who had a storied career before their steroid use was obvious might find their way into the Hall, essentially arguing to discount their statistics after the steroid use began. If they juiced up from the get-go, he felt they had no place being honored.
This year's vote may have been meant as a symbolic message that steroid use will keep you out of the Hall. If that was the intent, then it's important that from now on the veterans committee holds true to this stance and restrains from letting in the biggest culprits. Otherwise, it's a hollow gesture.
The right thing falls back on assessing how people choose to behave when they decide to be together. If no one cares about steroid use in the league or among the fans, then there's no reason not to vote for players suspected of steroid use. But if the decision is made to base the votes to the best of their knowledge on letting in players whose performance was not enhanced by steroids, then the sportswriters sent the right message this year.
(Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of "The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business," is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of http://www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing(at)comcast.net.)