Juicing the Hall of Fame

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The 2013 Hall of Fame vote was announced Wednesday and to no ones surprise the BBWA (Baseball Writes of America) did not elect anyone to join the annals of baseball’s greats.  This is not the first time the BBWA has come to such a conclusion but it is the first time steroids was injected as a rationale to deny everyone on a ballot that had well over 6 qualified ball players to choose from.  The BBWA will have you believe nobody that played in the “Steroid Era” deserves to be inducted into a Hall of Fame that considers character, morals and respect for the game.  I’m not drinking to Kool Aid, and I feel the writers are doing a great disservice to the game and its fans in their personal quest to rewrite history and keep the greatest players of my generation of the Hall of Fame.  Rather than scream every time I hear one of the many reasons the writers used to omit the greatness of a whole generation from the Hall I’ve decided to use this platform to poke holes in each excuse I’ve heard for keeping the HoF clean.

Character Clause

In 1944 Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Major League Baseball’s commisioner at the time, played a key role in the Baseball Hall of Fame adopting Rule 5 of the Hall’s election requirements: “voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, and character.”  Many writers have relied this clause to justify the decision not to vote for the likes of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemons, and a whole list of other players they think MAY have taken steroids.  They believe that the use of illegal drugs to enhance one’s performance says something about character and displays a lack of sportsmanship.

Newsflash, the Hall of Fame is full of baseball players with sketchy character.  They were elected because they were great baseball players, and their character or lack there of never entered the equation.  Ty Cobb was an open racist that bet on baseball games and bragged about killing a man with his bare hands, Tris Speaker and Rogers Hornsby were members of the Ku Klux Klan, Babe Ruth abused alcohol at a time when it was illegal to drink, Hank Greenberg and Joe DiMaggio had rather close ties with the mob and organized gambling yet each made it into the Hall of Fame without a question of their character.

For the writers to choose to invoke the character clause now in an effort “to keep the Hall clean” is disingenuous as the Hall of Fame will never be clean.  The writers are attempting to write the history of their choice, one without steroids, one where the precious records of their era/childhood still stand.  By not electing anyone into the HoF in 2013, history will say the writers took a hardline stance against steroids.  Unfortunately for the writers, those that pay close attention will ask the question: Why did the writers wait so long to take a stand against steroids?  Where were they when home run records were falling and chicks were digging the long ball?  Answer: They were silent turning a blind eye to steroids all while cozying up to the very players they are condemning today.

They Cheated the Game

In 1991 Commissioner Fay Vincent sent a memo to each team stating that steroids had been added to the league’s banned substance list.  At the time the commissioner did not have the power to arbitrarily add substances to the banned list and invoke league wide steroid testing.  Such things had to be collectively bargained for.  Therefore, steroids were not tested for in MLB until 2004, well after those on the ballot made their claim to the Hall of Fame.  It’s also worth mentioning that nobody on the ballot except for Rafael Palmeiro, ever failed a steroids test.  As for the others, Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, and Mike Piazza, guilty by assumption, for playing in an era that steroids were used.  I wonder how the American public would have felt if Hank Greenberg, a hero in the Jewish community, or Joe DiMaggio had been kept out of the Hall based on their association with the mob (i.e. organized gambling).

Have I mentioned that known cheaters have been voted into the Hall of Fame prior to the steroids dilemma.  In 1923 Babe Ruth was caught using a corked bat, Gaylord Perry and Whitey Ford admitted to throwing spit balls, and numerous Hall Of Famers used amphetamines (an illegal drug), including the beloved Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Mike Schmidt.  The top athletes are good at what they do because of their competitive spirit and desire to be the best.  Therefore, they will look for any advantage to best the competition.  You can argue that amphetamines and corked bats are minor compared to steroids but I would argue the players of the 60’s & 70’s were merely using what they had available to them to get the largest advantage possible.  As Bob Gibson and Mike Schmidt said, if steroids were around when they were playing they might have used them as well.  When it comes to the Hall of Fame many a known cheater has won, now is not the time for the writers to inject their own moral stance against “suspected cheaters” on our Hall of Fame.

Their Bodies Changed & Produced Crazy Numbers

The baseball writers would have you believe that steroids are the worst of the performance enhancing drugs (PED’s) because they changed players body type and helped the likes of Bonds and Clemens produce insane numbers.  This has become the company line and a way for the baseball writers to differentiate steroid users from the amphetamine users already in the Hall.  Earlier in the week, Joe Sheehan wrote a phenomenal article where he examined the numbers produced during the amphetamines era of baseball.  He argues that amphetamines did have an impact on performance and the statistics produced during the era.

For those that are unaware, amphetamines are a performance enhancing drug that supply its user with a hyperactive sense of energy and was commonly used by baseball players from the 1960’s – 2000’s.  At a time when afternoon games were plentiful and drinking into the night was common place, amphetamines helped ball players perform at peak performance after a long night on the town.  Sheehan found that since 1920 stolen bases reached an all time peak during the amphetamine era.  Gone are the days when players stole over 100 bases as Rickey Henderson  and Vince Coleman in the early 80’s.  Gone are the days where players played all 162 games, and amassed impressive consecutive games played streaks a la Cal Ripken.  Pitchers throwing complete games?  Not in today’s game, not since amphetamines were taken out of the game.  Now baseball writers I ask you, if a player aided by an illegal drug was able to play in more games thus having more opportunities to produce greater statistics, does he belong in the Hall of Fame?  Too late, they are already there and still revered as pillars of the game.

Since it is assumed that steroids (rather than skills, training, diet, and talent), were the cause for the increase in  home runs totals during the steroids era lets look at some of the players that have tested positive for steroids and their home run rate per game in the year they were caught.

2005: Alex Sanchez (2HR/62G); Rafael Palmiero (18HR/110G); Mike Morse (3HR/72G)

2007: Nefi Perez (1HR/33G); Jose Guillen (23HR/153G); Jay Gibbons (6HR/84G)

2008: Eliezer Alfonzo (0HR/5G)

2009: Manny Ramirez (19HR/104G)

2011: Manny Ramirez (0HR/5G);

2012: Freddy Galvis (3HR/58G); Melky Cabrera (11HR/113G)

Not the eye-popping home run totals you were expecting?  Perhaps steroids didn’t have the effect of turning marginal players into modern-day Babe Ruth’s.  In fact, there is no actual proof that steroids, or other PED’s, improve baseball performance in a way that enables players to hit more home runs.  Perhaps Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Jeff Bagwell were just supreme talents that benefited from the smaller ball parks of their time, mediocre pitching, and a meticulous diet/work out regime.  You know, doing the things that Hall of Famers do.

How Do You Deal With the Steroids Era

Some writers are hoping that time will help them figure out how to deal with players of the Steroids era and the Hall of Fame.  To them I say baseball has always had era’s and for the most part the best players of that era were voted into the HoF.  The writers should not be on a crusade to erase a whole era of great players from the Hall as if their greatness never happened.  The Dead Ball era of the 1900’s saw few home runs and miniscule batting averages.  The writers adjusted their standards and voted the best players of the era into the Hall of Fame.  Major League Baseball did not integrate until 1947.  Some of the greats from this era, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, and Walter Johnson, never played an official game against some of the top talent of the time because black players were kept out of the League.  The writers responded but putting the best players of the era in the Hall of Fame.  In the 60’s the pitcher’s mound was raised and pitchers gained a supreme advantage.  The writers responded by putting the best players of the era in the Hall.  How did the writers respond to the amphetamine and cocaine era of baseball?  You guessed it.  They voted the best players into the Hall.  Including the first player permanently suspended from baseball for cocaine use.

So what do you do with players of the from the steroids era BBWA writers?  You vote the best players in and let history determine how we remember the era.

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