Bonds, steroids, and the Hall of Fame

A follow up to my previous post: The Hall of Fame Ballot: returnees

This will be my first and only post about Barry Bonds and/ or steroids issue, barring any new news that happens to come out in the futre.  I’m over this whole decade long discussion that always ends up running around in circles.  However, with the Hall of Fame ballots mailed out earlier this month, and with Bonds being among the names, I have to post on this.
Unlike my last article, where I broke down each candidate on their Hall of Fame merits, this one I will spend more time discussing all the first years as a whole, as with most of them, the debate centers on the steroid issue.  Despite that, each of them have varying stories regarding their career accomplishments and their steroid involvement that obviously could get some in and others out, so let’s look at that:
First of all, the following names are obviously not Hall of Famers and won’t even get the 5% needed to remain on the ballot in 2014, so let’s just get them out of the discussion right away: Sandy Alomar Jr., Jeff Cirillo, Royce Clayton, Jeff Conine, Steve Finley, Julio Franco, Shawn Green, Roberto Hernandez, Ryan Klesko, Kenny Lofton, Jose Mesa, Reggie Sanders, Aaron Sele, Mike Stanton, Todd Walker, David Wells, Rondell White, and Woody Williams.
That leaves six names: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio.  Everyone has their own opinions based on how much steroids affected their performances.
Barry Bonds: Widely believed to have started using in the late 90’s.  At that point, he was already a sure-fire first ballot Hall of Famer, the player of the decade, and one of the all time greats.  Following that, his accomplishments make him arguably the best player ever if you take away the dark cloud.
Roger Clemens: Believed to have been clean during his Red Sox years, only believed to have started using when he went to the Blue Jays and had a career resurgence.  While whether or not he was a Hall of Famer at that point is more debatable than Bonds, in my eyes he was still a Hall of Famer at that point.  His “tarnished” years puts him among the best pitchers ever.
Sammy Sosa: The only guy on this list to have actually tested positive, he’ll have the hardest time getting in.  While a solid 30/30 player, he never would have come close to being a Hall of Famer prior to hitting 332 home runs over six seasons from 1998-2003.
Mike Piazza: The greatest offensive catcher of all time, Piazza’s case may be the most complicated.  He denied using steroid, but has admitted to using androstenedione at the time it was a legal over the counter dietary supplement, although if taken a certain way has the same effect as steroids and is now looked at by the FDA and pretty much all sports organizations (including MLB) and doping agencies as an illegal steroid.  And while there have been no actual evidence compiled on him, circumstantial or otherwise, he has been implicated by others on multiple occasions, included an off the record admission and other players and writers have said that he was an obvious user.
Craig Biggio: One of the greatest second basemen of all time and not having any implications (although it is suspicious that his power numbers peaked at 38/39), he has the best shot of any of these guys.  
Curt Schilling: Schilling shouldn’t be a Hall of Famer, with or without the steroid discussion.  His vocal bashing of anyone involved in steroid use has enabled him to dodge suspicion, despite the fact that he didn’t become a top pitcher until 2001 at the age of 34 and a growth of about 30 pounds during the peak of the steroid era.

I’m not going to get into details about breaking down which years these guys were supposedly clean, which years they were using, or trying to figure out what their accomplishments would be without steroids.  I’m simply going to look at the steroids issue and the Hall of Fame as a whole.

Knowing what we know and what we don’t know, there are only two rational stances to take on the steroid issue regarding the Hall of Fame voting:
1. Ignore the steroids issue and take all the statistics at face value
2. Omit the entire era.

What is completely hypocritical, is to vote no to some players because they are known/ implicated users while to vote yes on others.  What we do know is that steroid use was widespread during the era, and even accepted within baseballs inner circles, both in the clubhouses and front offices, until the public and media became more aware of it’s use.  It’s pretty obvious that there are many stones that have been unturned, and that there are many of these players that haven’t been implicated that were also users.
In the upcoming ballots, there are over a dozen players that have never been implicated, busted, or accused that are likely or definitely headed to Cooperstown.  You’d be downright stupid to believe that many, if not most of them, were using.  The problem is, we don’t know which ones were and won’t.  So if you vote all of them in, while leaving out those that are known/ implicated, you will obviously be voting in some steroid users while leaving others out.
Don’t forget that, at one point, everyone believed guys like Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, David Ortiz, Ivan Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, and many other now-known users were clean.  So how many other users out there do most people still were clean?  I already mentioned my suspicions with Biggio and Schilling, but what about others?  Ken Griffey had a series of injuries known to be caused by steroid use.  Pedro Martinez’ career dwindled after they started testing when he was at an age many players reach their prime.  Is it too farfetched that Albert Pujols suddenly went from being a non-prospect in the minor leagues to one of baseball’s elite players in a little over a year because of steroids?  And who knows, maybe steroids helped Cal Ripken break Lou Gehrig’s record.
The thing that really irks me are those that concede (as anybody else that isn’t completely blinded by their biases) that Bonds would be a definite Hall of Famer without steroids, but aren’t voting for him because of the character clause.  This is the same Hall of Fame that has included Ty Cobb, the biggest scumbag in baseball history, known racists who caused the blacklisting of black players in the 19th century and those that were openly against integration in the 1940’s and 1950’s.  It includes Mickey Mantle and Jimmie Foxx, whose performance at times was hampered because they were too drunk or hungover to play.  It includes Babe Ruth, who took illegal drugs and drank during prohibition.  It includes pitchers such as Gaylord Perry, Don Sutton, Whitey Ford, and others who have doctored baseballs in various ways (which is more cheating than steroids since it actually was against the rules).  The character clause is basically an excuse for the writers to say “I didn’t like this player, so I’m not going to vote for them, regardless of whether or not they deserve it”.
And if you want to get into the hypocrisy, what about all the known amphetamine users, including Willie Mays, Willie Stargell, and Hank Aaron, who took them in an attempt to enhance their performance, even after they were banned by the FDA in 1965?  Can someone explain to me how they are any different from steroids?  Both are illegal, potentially harmful substances that players took to make them play better on the field.  Another example of the hypocrisy.
Where do you draw the line?  Do you only leave out those that tested positive and/ or have admitted to steroid use?  Under that criteria, all these guys, except for Sosa get in.  Do you vote based on circumstantial evidences?  Well the truth is, that is subjective, and no matter how damning it may be, who are you to play judge, jury, and executioner?  Do you leave off anyone where there is anything about them, being their body mass over the years, their career trajectory, or any other factor?  Well in that case, I could make an argument about anyone that would make them look suspicious, so let’s just leave them all out.
Perhaps you can leave a borderline Hall of Famer off the ballot because of steroid suspicion.  Perhaps you can single out Rafael Palmeiro and Manny Ramirez because they were actually suspended after testing positive.  But as a whole, you have to lump the entire era together.  Yeah, it may not be fair to the few guys who were clean to be punished for the sins of others.  But it’s not as unfair as leaving some users off when others get in.  But considering how it was such an integral part of baseball culture at the time, the best thing to do is to take everything at face value and ignore the steroid issue altogether.
Which is why Bonds, Clemens, Piazza, Biggio, and Sosa all belong in the Hall of Fame.  Schilling isn’t a Hall of Famer just because his numbers aren’t good enough.  This should be one of the greatest Hall of Fame classes of all time.  Instead, there is a good chance that none of these guys will be inducted.
That is the greatest injustice of all.

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2 comments

  1. moskomedia

    Excellent analysis. My only minor point of disagreement is Schilling, who according to the Sabermetric show Clubhouse Confidential does belong in the HOF. His postseason #'s are the greatest ever for a pitcher. This, in my mind, makes up for his falling a little short on his career win total.

  2. Joe K.

    The main problem with using the post-season numbers is that it's such a small sample size. He had 19 career starts, which pretty much accounts for a really strong first half. As Ubaldo Jimenez can attest, that is not nearly enough of a sample size.In my opinion, someone needs enough post-season appearances to at least equal a full season for the sample size to be relevant.And as for greatest post-season pitcher, that award has to go to Mariano Rivera. For a reliever, he's pitched enough to account for two full seasons, and his career numbers in the post-season are better than any reliever has had in a particular season (at least until prior to the season Kimbrel had this year).

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