NEAL CONAN, host:
There was a media circus at the Albuquerque Isotopes Ballpark last night, when Manny Ramirez of the Los Angeles Dodgers played his first game since being suspended for use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Earlier this year, Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees admitted he used steroids. Earlier this month, reports identified former Chicago Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa as testing positive. A few years ago, so did Rafael Palmeiro, who wagged his finger at a congressional committee and declared he had never juiced. On the basis of their statistics, all four of those players are likely or certain Hall of Famers.
In today's Los Angeles Times, Zev Chafets cautions Cooperstown against prejudice and cultural incomprehension. If the Hall of Fame bans Latinos who used steroids, is it discrimination?
Our phone number: 800-989-8255. Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conservation on our Web site. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Zev Chafets is the author of "Cooperstown Confidential: Heroes, Rogues, and the Inside Story of the Baseball Hall of Fame." He's with us today from his home in Westchester, New York.
Nice to have you on the program.
Mr. ZEV CHAFETS (Author): Nice to be with you.
CONAN: And we have to begin with the fact that Mark McGwire is not in the Hall of Fame today because he's widely believed, though never proved, to be a steroid user. Why should Alex Rodriguez or Manny Rodriguez be treated - or, Manny Ramirez be treated any differently?
Mr. CHAFETS: Well, the Baseball Hall of Fame is a place that celebrates the greatest baseball players. It doesn't necessarily celebrate the world's greatest citizens. Even the gubernatorial mansion in South Carolina doesn't do that.
CONAN: Oh, we were just talking about that. But he may not be there much longer. In any case, there are players who are kept out of Cooperstown. You think of Joe Jackson, banned for gambling; Pete Rose, banned for gambling; and, as we mentioned, Mark McGwire, who's clearly not going to be voted in by the baseball writers.
Mr. CHAFETS: Well, I'm not so sure that that's clear. I think that the baseball writers have a real dilemma now. Once that they posed it as Mark McGwire alone, or McGwire and Sosa and one or two others, that was one thing. But it's very clear that steroids are a part of baseball. They have been a part of baseball going back to the 1950s. And before that, there were other substances. And that was covered up by writers, and it was covered up by the Hall of Fame. They no longer can keep that covered up.
The fact is that many of the greatest players of this generation have used substances, and probably many more will be revealed to have used them. And then the Hall of Fame has to make a decision, and so does baseball: Do they want to go out of business? Do they want to make the point that their players are fakes and phonies, and that the game is fake? Or do they want to admit that, as it did in the - change from the dead ball to the live ball, or after racial integration in 1947, or after the end of the reserve clause, baseball lives in the world? It evolves with the rest of the society.
CONAN: Baseball is also a game that has rules. Among them was rules about testing for drug use. There were rules against drug use, but no testing until 2003.
We know that there was a list of 104 players who tested positive. We know the names of two of those players: Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez. I think you're right. We're going to learn the names of the other 102 pretty soon - or eventually. But nevertheless, we're only going to know for sure about players since 2003.
Mr. CHAFETS: Well, we won't know for sure about players from 2003. I don't think that we know about players right now. There are no foolproof testing regimes in place. It's possible that you could do it if you took blood tests and held them for a long time until there were effective tests. That's a massive constitutional violation. But anybody who thinks that this ended in 2003 is as naive as people who thought it ended in 1998.
CONAN: Well, Manny Ramirez, for one, tested positive considerably after 2003. No, it hasn't ended since 2003. But there is a testing program right now not for HGH, but yes, for steroids, things that can be found in urine and not blood. But nevertheless - again, it goes back to if they're going to - why should Latino players be considered any differently from Mark McGwire or, for that matter, Barry Bonds?
Mr. CHAFETS: Well, I don't think that they should. I think that there is a belief in baseball that some - that since there are some countries in Latin America where various kinds of performance enhancers can be bought over the counter, and because the first person to reveal their use was Jose Canseco, that there is a connection between Latino ballplayers and steroids.
It's also true that a disproportionate number of Latino ballplayers have tested positive for steroids in tests that we know about. But I don't think that that makes any difference. I think that the point of the story here is that no matter who is using steroids, whether it's Bonds or McGwire or Clemens or the next 25 guys who are going to be named, baseball has to make a readjustment.
It's not going to be possible anymore to consider scientific enhancements immoral. It just isn't. The game can't sustain that, and the Hall of Fame certainly can't sustain it.
CONAN: Let's get some listeners in on the conversation. Our guest is Zev Chafets, who wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times called "Can Baseball Avoid an Error on Latino Players?"
And let's start first with Joseph(ph), Joseph calling us from Lansing, Michigan.
JOSEPH (Caller): Hey, how are you doing today?
CONAN: Very well, thanks.
JOSEPH: I think the - just the claim that Latino players are being biased against is patently absurd in that, you know, it's a choice to use steroids. I mean, like you said, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens, Ken Caminiti, Barry Bonds - and the list goes on from there - I mean, have used steroids is the choice they made.
And, I mean, the only connection is that there are so many successful Latino players. I mean, look at Albert Pujols, the best player in the game right now. I mean, there are far many successful. It's just their names are that high up on the list that they make the news headlines. That's the only connection. They are good players. It has nothing to with their race. And to make the connection means you're looking for it. It's not there. That is my belief, at least.
CONAN: Zev, is he right?
Mr. CHAFETS: Well, I'm not quite sure what point he's making. It's true that a great - there are a great many Latino ballplayers who are stars and superstars in baseball, and we know about the ones who have tested positive, and we don't know about the others. The exact same thing is true of Anglo players, of African-American players.
All of the players in baseball are now suspect for using PEDs. And the question is whether baseball wants to continue to insist that this is some sort of a terrible felony or cheating, or whether they're going to come to terms with the reality that in a modern society, people use - the kids use Ritalin and the adults use Prozac, and the lawyers go to trial on beta blockers, and senior citizens like myself use Viagra. So what? That's modernity.
And baseball can't survive. It's not a 19th century game. The Hall of Fame would like it to be - to exist in the 19th century, but it doesn't and it won't. And if the solution is to excommunicate all of the great stars, or many of the great stars, of the last 20 years and the next 20 years, what will be left of the Hall of Fame, and what will be left, in fact, of the game of baseball?
CONAN: I - It's...
JOSEPH: I agree - I'm sorry. I agree there's a lot of - to say about how the Hall of Fame needs to include - I mean, look at Barry Bonds' career, he was in the Hall of Fame before he used it. But it was a shame. I mean, people use competitive edge, and their pride forced them to use a competitive edge that was not legal. And they went ahead with it because their pride showed them that they wanted to be the best and they didn't think about the integrity of the game.
And I believe that choice was based on, you know, one's own upbringing or whatever that might be. It has nothing to do with race. And I don't think that to even bring it up is fair to the game or to the people of baseball. And I just don't understand how it could be made an argument that Latinos versus any other player is singled out.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Joseph.
JOSEPH: All right. Thank you.
CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Scott(ph). Scott with us from Sacramento.
SCOTT (Caller): Hello.
CONAN: Hi, Scott. Go ahead, please.
SCOTT: Yeah. I think there's discrimination because there's other people in the baseball field that did drugs and got away with it. My dad's best friend is Orlando Cepeda, and he got into the Hall of Fame later and called the - you know, the old times.
CONAN: Through the Old Timers Committee. Yeah.
SCOTT: Through the Old Timers Hall of Fame, he got in. But he was discriminated against, and he's not Latin-American but it's the same scenario.
CONAN: He had tested - he had used marijuana, and that's the reason that some of the writers voted against him. There is a character clause, unlike some other sports. There is a character clause that does go to the writers on the ballots for the Hall of Fame.
Mr. CHAFETS: Well, you know, the - strangely enough, the Hall of Fame really only has one major rule and that is rule five, the character clause - of course, you have to have played 10 years, and you have to be retired five. But the main rule is that you have to exhibit integrity and character and sportsmanship, and this was established by the Clark family, which controls the Hall of Fame. And it's an aristocratic family, hasn't had too much of an interest in baseball over the years, but it did want gentlemen in the Hall of Fame.
And it had writers who protected these gentlemen. But if you - when I started working on "Cooperstown Confidential," I was shocked and astonished to find out who's in the Hall of Fame in terms of their characters and behavior. There are two or three Ku Klux Klan members. There's a guy in there who claims to have committed murder.
There are guys who have been - who violated federal laws about drugs going back to the 1920s. The mobbed-up baseball players - I could name Hank Greenberg and Joe DiMaggio.
There are all kinds of people in there. And to pretend that this is some sort of a club of saintly guys who never used any substances, and never committed any kind of behavioral mistakes or had any kind of problems, is nuts. And what it does is it just diminishes the players of today who we happen to know more about because we don't have to rely on baseball writers, who essentially worked for the teams, but we can now find out through the Internet and through more aggressive reporting.
CONAN: Thanks, Scott, very much for the phone call. And we're talking with Zev Chafets about his Los Angeles Times op-ed, "Can Baseball Avoid an Error on Latino Players?" You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And Zev Chafets, you know as well as I do that if this decision were left up to the Old Timers Committee, made up largely of members - living members of the Hall of Fame, none of those who use steroids would ever get in.
Mr. CHAFETS: Yeah. And none of those who didn't use steroids will get in either.
CONAN: Well, that's not quite true.
Mr. CHAFETS: Well, they've never elected anybody since the veterans have been the committee of the hall for the - since the members of the hall had been the committee of the hall for the veterans. There's zero for the 21st century. And I think that one of the possible explanations for that is in the course of working on "Cooperstown Confidential," I discovered that it's worth a great deal of money to get elected to the Hall of Fame.
Everything goes up: your memorabilia and your speaking engagements, everything else in that package - sometimes by a factor of three or five or even 10. And that's a lifetime annuity. Many of the guys in the Hall of Fame benefit from that, and they don't necessarily want to add new members to the club and dilute the value of the annuity. And the fact is that nobody has gotten in.
CONAN: Now, let's get Guillermo(ph) on the line. Guillermo with us from Portland, Oregon.
GUILLERMO (Caller): Hi. Thanks for taking my call. I don't think that this is racial or ethnic discrimination. I think it gets to a larger problem with baseball or sports, or any kind of elevation of figures into the position of like, idols or role models. As a young Chicano trying to deal with Americana and trying to figure out my own identity in San Francisco, I became really discouraged at even the idea of baseball and sports as a result of, you know, the amount of pay that people were getting and then further - like, the further corruption of drugs to enhance the sport.
And I feel that as a Latino, you know, I lived in New York for four years, and you've got these young Latino kids in the neighborhood who adore these guys - these guys who are like, pimped out with huge paychecks to hit a ball and then they take drugs.
And what we're saying - we're sending a message to our young Latino youth that it's okay. It's not okay to swing drugs in the streets of New York City, of L.A. and, you know, and in Detroit, but it's okay if you're swinging a baseball - it's okay if you're going to bat that way.
So if you want to deal with the issue of race and ethnicity in baseball, you know, talk about breaking the standards, you know, in the Hall of Fame, talk about including a more diverse board, talk about different standards. But don't use the Latino community, right, to try to, like, infiltrate into an issue about drugs and about sportsmanship, you know? Because I think it's offensive. We're sending the wrong message to our kids, and we're putting way too much emphasis on these figures.
You know, as a result, I was able to look to people like Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta because I finally got the idea that these guys are just hitting a ball, you know? They're hitting a ball, and they're not really good role models.
CONAN: And yet, there were, I gather, a couple of hundred people yesterday in the Albuquerque Isotopes Ballpark with Manny Ramirez wigs on, to welcome him back to professional baseball.
Mr. CHAFETS: I'd like to just - excuse me, I didn't mean to interrupt.
CONAN: No, that's quite all right. Go ahead.
Mr. CHAFETS: I'd just like to make a comment about this drug thing. I mean, I just couldn't really disagree more. Steroids and other kinds of performance-enhancing drugs are not recreational drugs when they're used by professional athletes. These are tools, just like a lawyer using beta blockers against stage fright in a courtroom, or Provigil, which is used by pilots when they take long flights.
These are guys in stressful professions. They are adults. If the medications or the…
CONAN: So, if I'm hearing…
Mr. CHAFETS: …if these are prescribed, then what's the problem? I don't understand how does (unintelligible)…
CONAN: No, what if I wanted - from what I'm hearing is you disagree with the rule and you disagree with the law. You're not saying that it's okay to violate the law and the rules.
Mr. CHAFETS: Absolutely. I think that the Hall of Fame needs to rescind rule five which is...
CONAN: The character law.
Mr. CHAFETS: ...clearly a hypocritical law. If we want to send a message to kids, the first law should be honesty. And if they sit in the stands and they see players on the field and they know that half of them are breaking the rules and they don't know which half, you undermine the credibility of the game. The hall needs to rescind the rule.
And it needs to admit that Mickey Mantle used steroids and amphetamines in 1961. And Koufax pitched with nonanabolic steroids and was high on the mound, he said. We have to get a little bit more real about this.
And then once we have a game that is a level game, that we know what people are doing and we know who's doing it, then we can appreciate the game and the players for what they achieve on the field, and not for these spun-out images that replace reality.
CONAN: Guillermo, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it. And Zev Chafets, thank you for your time today.
Mr. CHAFETS: Thank you very much.
CONAN: Zev Chafets, author of "Cooperstown Confidential: Heroes, Rogues, and the Inside Story of Baseball's Hall of Fame." We have a link to his op-ed in today's Los Angeles Times. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. He was with us today from his home in Westchester.