Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson ’86 calls steroids an ‘ugly part’ of baseball

Jeff Idelson '86, president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, was recently in New York City to discuss steroids in baseball with members of the College community.
Jeff Idelson '86, president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, was recently in New York City to discuss steroids in baseball with members of the College community.

Barry Bonds is the greatest home run hitter in baseball history.

Roger Clemens recorded over 4,000 strikeouts and earned seven Cy Young Awards as the best pitcher in his league.

But Bonds and Clemens — and several other legendary big-leaguers from their generation — have not gained entry to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and probably never will. Their legacies are tarnished by the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), alleged or proven.

As president of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., Jeff Idelson ’86 oversees the process of determining the fate of players’ legacies: whether their careers will be immortalized in the hallowed halls of baseball’s largest shrine — or not.

On Oct. 2, Idelson was in New York City as part of Connecticut College’s Distinguished Speaker program to discuss how the Hall of Fame has navigated the challenges of PEDs in baseball. He spoke to a crowd of roughly 40 alumni, parents and friends of the College.

“It’s an ugly part of the sport; it’s a societal issue that’s made its way into baseball,” Idelson said. “The average fan doesn’t care if an everyday player uses PEDs because it doesn’t affect their life, but people don’t like players who cheat to achieve fame and break records.”

Idelson, who has been with the Hall of Fame for 20 years and has served as president since 2008, said Major League Baseball has reacted to PEDs by imposing the strongest drug-testing program among the four major U.S. sports leagues. As a result, he said, fewer players are using PEDs, based on the number of suspensions.

But there is still the issue of what to do with players who have tested positive for — or are assumed to have used — PEDs. Players like Derek Jeter and Pedro Martinez are considered locks for Cooperstown, but what about players who have the credentials but might not be clean?

Baseball writers make up the majority of voters for the Hall of Fame, and they have spoken loudly through their ballots that PED use has no place in the Hall, Idelson said. “Part of what qualifies a candidate is their character, integrity and sportsmanship on and off the field.”

The Hall of Fame has found a place for PEDs in baseball as an educational tool, however. Recent exhibits, including one that highlighted record-breaking moments, have included players like Bonds and Mark McGwire but mentioned PEDs. Idelson said confronting the issue promotes positive discussion.

The Hall of Fame also sponsors programs that encourage young players to commit to a healthy lifestyle, free of PED use. The Hall enlists the help of current players and Hall of Famers, and Idelson said the program has been a success.

Idelson, who majored in economics at Connecticut College, has lived a life that’s revolved around baseball. As a teenager, he sold popcorn and hot dogs at Boston’s Fenway Park. After graduating from the College, he returned to Fenway to work in media relations for the Red Sox. In 1989, Idelson switched to other side of the rivalry, serving as director of media relations and publicity for the New York Yankees.

He joined the Hall of Fame in 1994 as director of public relations and promotions, and was promoted to vice president of communications and education in 1999. As vice president, he oversaw the Hall of Fame elections and awards, external communications, community relations, advertising, artifact acquisition, visitor services and the Hall of Fame’s museum website.

In addition to his Hall of Fame work, Idelson also serves on the advisory council of the Harlem, N.Y., branch of Reviving Baseball in the Inner City (RBI), the Board of Directors of the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation, and the Otsego County, N.Y., chapter of Girls on the Run, a nonprofit running program for young girls.

October 7, 2014