Hall of Fame or Hall of Shame? My current votes on Steroid Era stars
Voters face many tough decisions on Bonds, Clemens, Manny, Sosa and more
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Hall of Fame voting is a tricky thing.
It's always been a tricky thing, and it's gotten trickier since new statistics (or even new ways to look at statistics) can suggest that different values be placed on different players. I saw Bert Blyleven in the press dining area Sunday at Yankee Stadium, and it reminded me how tricky it is. I haven't voted for Blyleven yet, and have explained my position a couple times. A few folks with blogs didn't like me not voting for Blyleven, or didn't like the way I explained it. I have been called names over this decision, and I won't detail my reasoning again here, as I don't want to incite anyone.
Blyleven has become the greatest example of a tough Hall call that has become emotional and even gotten nasty in some cases. Generally speaking, at the heart of Blyleven's case is the value one places on statistics. Those who favor him admire all his statistical achievements, which are admittedly many, and they believe that his numbers are proof of his greatness. Those who do not vote for him make more of a qualitative judgment about his impact, and place his standing below the line for enshrinement. I don't want to get too deep into all the pros and cons regarding Blyleven now. I just mention him as an example of a tough call.
In any case, the Hall calls are about to get much trickier and much tougher than Blyleven. In fact, there is a whole era of tough calls coming. There are so many tough ones ahead that Blyleven may come to be seen as mere child's play.
There is a lot to think about when considering players in the Steroid Era. These calls won't only be about numbers. There are value judgments to be made about cheating, and possibly about how much the cheating helped particular players.
Some voters will eliminate all the steroid guys. Others will take it case by case. There's a lot of guilt to go around (even the writers, myself included, may feel some guilt for being so slow to uncover the widespread steroid usage). But there are also levels of guilt.
Just like everyone has different stats, everyone has a different story. We have a lot to think about here.
We have a couple great players who have failed a drug test and were suspended: Manny Ramirez and Rafael Palmeiro. We have one player who failed the survey test for steroids in 2003: Alex Rodriguez. We have players who stonewalled Congress over steroid usage.
We have one player whose English got a lot worse when he was quizzed by Congress. We have players who wound up in the Mitchell Report. We have a lot of players who were only suspected of steroid use but who were never proven to have used.
We have players who admitted usage, others who denied usage and others still who denied usage "knowingly.''
Seeing A-Rod playing in a game live Sunday for the first time this season made me think about how hard all our calls will be. And watching everything going on with Manny lately (he apologized to his teammates this weekend in Miami) in the wake of his 50-game suspension reminds me of how difficult these calls will be.
There are no right answers here. But a lot of folks will view any answer as wrong. These are simply personal choices based on a series of judgments.
Unless something changes -- and I'm glad we have years to think about these players (and more than a decade in the case of A-Rod) -- I am going to take them case by case. I know there are going to be a significant number of voters who refuse to vote for anyone who is proven (at least in their minds) to have used steroids. And I have no problem with this hard-line stance. But I'm at the point where I would put Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame. He broke a sacred rule, and I would still put him in. And we already have Gaylord Perry, a confessed cheater, in the Hall.
I am not comfortable eliminating a vast majority of players from this era. Maybe I am too much of a softie, but I just don't think I can do it. What would the Hall be like without an entire era, or most of an era? It is to the point where a vast majority of stars, and certainly sluggers, in an entire era, quite likely took steroids. And I am not prepared to blackball them all.
I (and many other writers) didn't make a great effort to track down the cheaters while all this was going on. Would voting them down now be a way to make amends? Or would it be a case of overcompensation?
The vote is all about judgments, and generally speaking, to withhold my vote from players with Hall of Fame credentials, I am going to think about these two basic questions: 1) Did a player take steroids or other PEDs?; and 2) Did the PEDs he took quite likely turn him into a Hall of Fame-caliber player?
So I am not going to vote "no'' on players merely suspected of steroid usage. And I am not going to vote "no" on players whom I believe had Hall of Fame credentials without the steroids. In some cases both questions are difficult. But question No. 2 is especially difficult. Here's the really tough question: How can one ever know for sure what effect the steroids had? One thing I can say is that a player who is way better than borderline has a much better chance with me. I have trouble voting against players whom I consider all-time great. I don't know how others will feel, but in my opinion several of these players didn't need the drugs.
Mark McGwire was the first case, and I come down in the majority by not voting for McGwire. My reasoning on McGwire is based on those two questions and two beliefs.
I believe he took steroids (while the proof isn't absolute, there is no other reasonable explanation for him refusing "to talk about the past.'') I also believe that his steroid usage quite likely put him over the top in terms of Hall of Fame achievements. Some may see this as unfair, arbitrary or just plain dumb (though not that many, judging by his low vote totals).
But the Hall call is about judgments. These are just tougher judgments. The gray area is the whole area.
Here is my current thinking on the other stars from the Steroid Era:
Barry Bonds: Thanks to the superb reporting of Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, I am convinced Bonds did take steroids. And while he claimed in grand jury testimony (again, thanks to their reporting) that he didn't take them knowingly, I don't believe that testimony. I do, however, believe that the majority of Bonds' career was played steroid-free, that he likely only got involved after seeing lesser players such as McGwire and Sammy Sosa surpass him, and I do believe that he was a Hall of Famer long before he took his first steroid.
Roger Clemens: I believe he is the creep of the Steroid Era since he is willing to drag down anyone in his path. What kind of person would sue someone for telling the truth under oath? Well, the Rocket, of course. His steroid usage began way back in the late '90s in Toronto, according to trainer Brian McNamee's testimony. But his Hall of Fame credentials were there before he ever got to Toronto. Side note: I wouldn't vote his lawyer Rusty Hardin into the legal Hall of Fame.
Sammy Sosa: I loved the way he ran to the outfield and the way he played to the camera. He was great for baseball at the time. And while it hasn't absolutely been proven that he took steroids, his expanded size and outrageous productivity suggest that he did. His lack of a clear message before Congress didn't help, either. This is the closest call for me, but the corked-bat incident showed the lengths he was willing to go to increase his power. His claim that he intended to use the corked bat only for power exhibitions was not believable in my estimation. The power is what made him, so with regret I am leaning against him.
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