Monday, December 3, 2012
Steroids and the Hall of Fame
McGwire and Bonds talking in 2001
In a month, one of the most interesting Hall of Fame elections is going to be annnounced. There are some holdovers on the ballot with no steroid connections like Jack Morris, Lee Smith, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, Don Mattingly, and Dale Murphy. Morris got almost 67% of the vote last year and will only be on the ballot one more time if he don't get in this year. Raines has been gaining support, and considering he was one of the game's best players in the 80's, may eventually get in. Smith is around 50%, and since he's no longer the alltime saves leader, his case isn't as strong as it once was.
More recent retirees like Bernie Williams, Larry Walker, Edgar Martinez, and Fred McGriff are also returning on this year's ballot. Martinez got the highest support last year with 36.5%, and there has never been any steroid/PED connection to any of these players. This is the third time on the ballot for Jeff Bagwell, who I thought was a surefire Hall of Famer when he retired. Bagwell only got 41% his first year, and jumped up to 56% last year. There is no evidence of Bagwell juicing, but is he being punished for his big build and the generation he played in? I don't know for sure if Bagwell didn't juice, but its also unfair to punish him without any evidence of it considering most of his career there wasn't rules against it.
Also returning to the ballot this year is Mark McGwire and Rafeal Palmeiro, two 500 home run hitters. McGwire admitted to using steroids almost 3 years ago after declining to discuss it in front of Congress years before that. Palmeiro failed a PED test soon after obtaining his 3000th hit. While these guys both put up unbelievable numbers, their steroid use has clearly hurt them with the HOF voters. Raffy is on the ballot for the third time, and only got 12.6% last year. Big Mac will be on the ballot for the 7th time, and the best showing he did was in 2010 when he got 23.7%. Palmeiro was always considered to be a second tier star when he played despite his impressive career numbers, and only made 4 All Star teams in 20 seasons. McGwire was also considered to be a one dimensional slugger who walked alot during much of his career. That been said, 10 years ago they both were considered to be likely Hall of Famers when they were eligible.
This year, there are many big name first time eligible players on the ballot. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio, Sammy Sosa, Curt Schilling, David Wells, Kenny Lofton, and Steve Finley will all appear on the ballot for the first time this year. Finley and Wells were very good players, but not HOF worthy in my opinion. Lofton is a notch below the Hall of Fame as well. That still leaves six players that have very impressive career resumes. Schilling isn't likely to be a first ballot guy, but his postseason heroics could put him over the hump someday. Biggio has no connection to PED's and is in the 3000 hit club. I would say Biggio is the most likely candidate to get in from that bunch this year.
Piazza has never been connected to steroids, but some writers seem to think he might of used them. I wouldn't be surprised either way, but with no evidence against him, it's similar to what's happening to Bagwell. Piazza is clearly the best offensive catcher in baseball history and should be a slam dunk choice. I've heard a lot of people in baseball call Ivan Rodriguez a future Hall of Famer, and there is more steroid innuendo to Rodriguez than Piazza. Rodriguez was named in Jose Canseco's book and there are rumors he failed a test in 2003. There was no punishment in 2003, and baseball agreed to only start punishing people for PED's if over 5% of the players failed those tests. Obviously, they did. However, Rodriguez never failed any tests since then, and its not certain if he did in 2003. Piazza never failed any tests either, and should get treated the same in my opinion.
That leaves Bonds, Clemens, and Sosa. None of these three players have admitted to steroid use, nor did they fail any tests after baseball started testing. That been said, I think all three of them used steroids during their careers. Clemens flat out denied using, and Bonds said he never knowlingly used steroids. When they played all kinds of players were using steroids, even bench players like FP Santangelo and Manny Alexander were named on the Mitchell Report.
Sosa has the weakest case of the three, although he did hit over 600 home runs during his career and won the 1998 MVP. I'm not sure when he started taking steroids, but I'm pretty sure it happened before the 1998 home run chase. Would Sosa of put up HOF numbers without using steroids? That's a question that's impossible to answer.
Clemens and Bonds both put up Hall of Fame resumes before their alleged juicing started. Most people think these guys started using PED's in the late 90's to extend their careers and compete with the many other players who were using. Still, Bonds was considered the best player in the game and Clemens the best pitcher long before they used a syringe. Bonds won 3 out of 4 MVP's in the early 90's and was a five tool player back then. Clemens won at least 3 Cy Young Awards before any PED allegations happened. While both of these guys were jerks during their careers, it's impossible to deny their greatness. Bonds is the only 7 time MVP, and Clemens is the only 7 time Cy Young winner in baseball history.
Cooperstown isn't a church though. There are racists, drunks, cheaters, drug users, and violent people in the Hall of Fame now. I know many of the writers want to keep the Hall pure of steroid users, but someday that line will be crossed. If a steroid user gets in, should Pete Rose and Joe Jackson get in? I've always thought both players should get in despite their breaking of the gambling rules. I also think there are some steroid users that should get in someday as well. There is no dispute that steroids helped players out, but leaving great players out of the Hall of Fame from the steroid era leaves a hole in the history.
In the next few years, there will be many impressive candidates on the ballot. In 2014, Frank Thomas, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Mike Mussina, Jeff Kent, and Luis Gonzalez will be on the ballot. In 2015, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, and Gary Sheffield will join them. in 2016, Ken Griffey Jr., Jim Edmonds, Trevor Hoffman, and Billy Wagner will be on the ballot for the first time. Someday in the future admitted steroid users like Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez will be on the ballot.
I also think getting steroids out of the game is a good thing. It's a different style of game than it was 10 years ago, and the power numbers aren't as ridiculous as they once were.Instead of relying on rumors and innuendo, there is a testing program that proves rather players used or not. However, I do think its unfair to punish players of the past who may or may not of used in a different time in baseball history. Some guys like Piazza and Bagwell are being punished by voters who have no proof of PED usage.
There is little chance that Bonds or Clemens make the Hall this year. The Associated Press polled 112 HOF voters, which is about one-fifth of the overall voters. Bonds only got around 45%, Clemens 43%, and Sosa 18%. There are many voters who will flat out refuse to vote for any player who has steroid connections. What are they going to do when someone who did use steroids at some point during their career makes the Hall of Fame? It will happen someday, if it hasn't already happened. Is it fair to punish players for something that wasn't against the rules for most of their careers? Should there be a seperate wing or a asterisk on their Hall of Fame plaques if they make it? It will be interesting to see what happens in the next 5-10 years.
Clemens/Piazza bat throwing incident during the 2000 World Series