Looking at the Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot (Part One): The PED Question
With that context, I can say that this is easily the most difficult ballot I’ve ever dealt since I started looking at the Hall of Fame voting closely. Between the sheer size of the ballot and the controversy surrounding many of the candidates make the 2013 ballot quite the monster to tackle. This year there are 37 players on the ballot, 24 of which are appearing for the first time. You can vote on 32 of those players here (sorry, Royce Clayton).
On Tuesday and Wednesday, I'll have my thoughts on the new players on the ballot, and the returning players on Thursday. Today, however, I feel I must begin by addressing the PED question. The specter of PEDs cast its pall over almost the entire ballot, and almost all of the major players who have joined the ballot this year. Everyone knows the stories behind the names in question: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and even more. I certainly speak for no one but myself on this matter. Everyone has their own individual opinion on what to do with this, and all opinions are welcome to be shared.
There are many that feel that any player connected to steroids or other PEDs from this era should never be allowed into the Hall of Fame. I do not share this view. The way I see it, the vast majority of players from the mid-90s to the mid-2000s likely used steroids. The exact number is not known and will never be known, but I believe that users were all over the spectrum of Major League players: from the sluggers and the power pitchers to the average guys to the utility men and relievers just trying to hang on.
The reason for this was the lack of testing and oversight by Major League Baseball (and yes, in conjunction with the Major League Baseball Players Association). It’s basic human nature. If the temptation to use is there, and there were no obvious consequences, what’s stopping a player? Alex Rodriguez once called the era “loosey goosey,” and while that is a crude and juvenile way to put it, it’s true. No one was watching the hen house.
At the same time, no one is 100% sure of the true impact of PEDs. Obviously, the Steroid Era was a heavily offensive era, and drugs almost certainly played a role. The exact role though is unknown, as there is no conclusive science pointing to the true enhancement steroids and other drugs bring. There were other factors to the increase in offense, primarily the ballparks that were built, as well as expansion and alleged juiced balls. Certainly a deflation of the numbers of the era are necessary when evaluating these players, but no one can say with any certainty that “Player X would’ve hit Y less home runs if he had not been on drugs.”
The other issue I have is the different levels of suspicion, so to speak. At one end of the spectrum there is Rafael Palmeiro, who did fail a test, and McGwire, who admitted to steroid use a few years ago. Then there are those like Bonds and Clemens where evidence is there and no one believes they did not use, but not the smoking gun of a positive test. Then there’s someone like Mike Piazza, who gets tarred because Murray Chass once saw him with bacne, or Jeff Bagwell, who gets accused because he had big muscles and hit home runs. Further still are players who appear to be future Hall of Famers that no one accuses. Guys like Greg Maddux or Ken Griffey, Jr. come to mind. You can’t prove that most of these guys used steroids, but at the same time you can’t ever know for sure if guys everyone thinks were “clean” actually were. Thus, I don’t believe in picking and choosing. The way I see it, if one player is being kept out solely on suspicion of use, then it’s essentially saying the entire era is tainted and *anyone* from that era should be kept out. Obviously that has not happened.
As such, I can’t justify ignoring an entire era of baseball when it comes to the Hall of Fame. In the end, the Hall of Fame is primarily a museum dedicated to the history of baseball. Can you tell the history of baseball without Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens? Of course not, that’s absurd. In addition, I can’t see how a player with Hall of Fame numbers could be kept out given the uncertainty of it all. I don’t see the point in denying players like Piazza and Bagwell, where there’s no concrete evidence, induction because certain sportswriters have to take out their frustrations about getting snowed for years on *someone*.
The truth of this era of baseball is not great, but if the alternative is whitewashing it like it never happened, then I’d rather have it this way. The best players of the Steroid Era should be in the Hall of Fame regardless of what we know, and more importantly, because of what we don’t know.
Coming tomorrow: A look at the 1st half of the new players on this 2013 ballot.