Zev Chafets, author of an upcoming book about the Hall of Fame, reminds us that baseball players have been using performance-enhancing drugs for a long time.
In 1961, during his home run race with Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle developed a sudden abscess that kept him on the bench. It came from an infected needle used by Max Jacobson, a quack who injected Mantle with a home-brew containing steroids and speed. In his autobiography, Hank Aaron admitted once taking an amphetamine tablet during a game. The Pirates' John Milner testified at a drug dealer's trial that his teammate, Willie Mays, kept "red juice," a liquid form of speed, in his locker. (Mays denied it.) After he retired, Sandy Koufax admitted the he was often "half high" on the mound from the drugs he took for his ailing left arm.So right there you've got Mantle, Aaron, Mays and Koufax all connected to some sort of performance-enhancing chemical. Maybe their stuff didn't work as well as the stuff the players of the 21st century have at their disposal, but does that make them innocent and today's players guilty?
For decades, baseball beat writers - the Hall of Fame's designated electoral college - shielded the players from scrutiny. When the Internet (and exposés by two former ballplayers, Jim Bouton and Jose Canseco) allowed fans to see what was really happening, the baseball writers were revealed as dupes or stooges. In a rage, they formed a posse to drive the drug users out of the game.
You can also argue that we have only snippets of alleged "one-time" use when it comes to these old-timers. Of course, what would we say if a current player said he used steroids "only once"? Also, the evidence against the old-timers is flimsy because back then no one was looking for it.
What that tells me that baseball players have been trained since the dawn of time to do whatever they could get away with if they thought it would help them perform
Let's not forget what Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt told Bob Costas in 2005:
"Let me go out on a limb and say that if I had played during that era I would have taken steroids. ... We all have these things we deal with in life, and I'm surely not going to sit here and say to you guys, 'I wouldn't have done that.'(Schmidt wrote later in his autobiography that he thinks he wouldn't have taken steroids, but he understood why players did.)
The point to all of this is not to excuse the steroid users. What they did was wrong. The point is just to keep a little perspective on the atmosphere in which they did it. Let's put away the torches and pitchforks.