Baseball - General / Hall of Fame

Drugs and Hall of Fame Voting

Please excuse the interruption of your football frenzy.

But this baseball issue is timely, with today being the deadline for Hall of Fame voting. It’s also controversial, so take your best swing, Nation.

This morning, John Fay, beat writer for the Cincinnati Enquirer, announced that he wouldn’t be casting his vote for the HOF. His reason: drugs.

I’d rather abstain than play judge and jury this year. The two most deserving players statistically of the 37 on the ballot are Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Bonds was the best hitter I’ve seen. Clemens was the most dominant pitcher. Both should be absolute locks to be first-ballot inductees. But Bonds and Clemens also top of the list of players linked to performance-enhancing drugs. I believe both players used PEDs. From the BBWAA Rules for Election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame: “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”

He apparently went back and forth on his vote.

At some point last night, I made up my mind that I would vote Bonds and Clemens on basis that they would have been Hall of Famers if they used PEDs or not. There’s also the argument that steroids in 1990s and 2000s were like the amphetamines in 1970s and 80s. Everybody used them, so just vote based on the stats. But this morning, I was too torn to pull the lever. My gut feeling is that I’m done as a voter. Maybe time will give me clarity on the issue, but, right now, I’d rather not vote than send in a ballot I don’t fully believe in.

I certainly understand Fay’s anguish and respect his thoughtful opinion. (He doesn’t explain why he didn’t vote for any presumably untainted players – Biggio, Raines, Martinez, Schilling, Morris?)

But I disagree with his conclusion. If I were a HOF voter, I’d ignore the question of steroids and other PEDs. Here’s why:

You can certainly make the argument (which almost persuaded Fay) that a few players posted HOF careers even excluding their PED-contaminated seasons. Further, if the Clemens trial was any indication, the “evidence” that the Mitchell Report list was based upon doesn’t hold up well when exposed to the rigors our legal system imposes for determining guilt and innocence. Can a HOF vote be cast for any player of that era, sufficiently confident the accomplishments weren’t drug-aided?

All strong points, but not the most decisive in my view.

And let’s bracket off the angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin question of whether a sportswriter is truly competent to judge the “integrity” and “character” of a baseball player.

PEDs were used league-wide over decades. Hundreds of players took part. Pitchers and hitters. Superstars and bench players. Almost everyone ignored the situation – the Commissioner’s office, owners, front offices, managers, medical staffs, the players union, journalists and certainly other players. PED use became a regular – and essentially accepted – part of what it meant to play MLB. Those used drugs were participating in a sport-wide behavior of keeping up, not simply a few outliers looking for an unfair edge. It’s impossible not to view it as a regrettable, but collective, failure.

Given that, is it appropriate to express our condemnation for what transpired by singling out individuals? One can certainly conclude that PED use was wrong or bad for the sport without punishing individual players. Countless barroom opinions, barrels of ink and megabytes of pixels have and will be spilled criticizing the era and practices. Baseball fans have reached a consensus that that era was tainted.

But HOF ballots aren’t a fitting outlet for expressing that powerful judgement. Admitting specific players to the Hall of Fame signifies individual achievement in comparison to peers. We should vent our legitimate sport-wide outrage other ways.

Happy New Year!

95 thoughts on “Drugs and Hall of Fame Voting

  1. @PRoseFutureHOFer: I believe the constant comparison between the two is due to their inclusion in the same prohibited substances agreement http://mlb.mlb.com/pa/pdf/jda.pdf. Of course, they also have a confidentiality clause :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: Steroids and amphetamines (and pot, and LSD, and on and on) are listed as banned substances. They don’t say which ones are worse. They don’t single out steroids as the kingpin of PEDs or banned substances. They don’t say, “for steroids, and steroids alone, shall a player be rules permanently ineligible for the Hall of Fame.” There is no way to prove what effect any of these drugs had on any one player. We can’t decide what Barry Bonds would have done without steroids any more than we can prove what Hank Aaron would have done without amphetamines. Shoot, there are rumors (probably more than rumors) out there that Mantle used steroids at the end of his career.

    The Hall of Fame, and MLB, have provided zero guidance on what to do with use of PEDs by players before they were expressly against the rules. The Hall of Fame has given it up to the democratic process to sort it out. As many people have found out in the past, sometimes the democratic process yields results that you don’t agree with. Bud Selig has decided to kick it down the road until he retires, or at least until the Hall of Fame provides a standard to adhere to.

    Personally, I think the idea of the Hall of Fame as a shrine is ridiculous. There are a ton of rascists, domestic abusers, thieves, cheats, and, yes PED users already in the Hall. The idea that Hank Aaron would have hit more homers with steroids is just as ridiculous as the idea that Babe Ruth or Ty Cobb would have been better (or worse) players if they played in a time when the game was integrated with the best players from around the world, not just the best white dudes from the east coast. It is theoretical, fantastical, and, for all I can figure, completely impossible to prove. The only solution I can think of is to vote based on “these guys were the best at what they did, in the time and context that they did it.” The Hall is a Museum now. If morals come into it, as well as “putting everyone on an even playing field”, then the only thing that will be left will be the building.

    • @Jared Wynne:

      The only solution I can think of is to vote based on “these guys were the best at what they did, in the time and context that they did it.” The Hall is a Museum now. If morals come into it, as well as “putting everyone on an even playing field”, then the only thing that will be left will be the building.

      I don’t think it’s a morals issue, it’s an issue of knowing who was the best. You can say for sure that Bonds and co. have the best numbers, but the PED’s call the numbers into question, right? So that means you can’t rely on the numbers to tell you who was best.

      Once you get to the point that you don’t trust someone’s stats, I don’t know how you can vote for them.

  2. @redsfanman: Believe me, I’m not accusing Maddux of anything. I’m just saying that you can’t tell the users just by looking at them, you can’t *know* that somebody didn’t use, and nobody can “prove” they didn’t use, because… proving a negative and whatnot…

    If you believe the 50% estimate of players who used steroids at their peak, then the names named so far are the tiny tip of a very large iceberg. I don’t think it’s logically defensible to use that incredibly limited information as a basis to determine who’s HoF eligible and who’s not. Some of the players you vote in will inevitibly be the ones who got away with it.

    MLB is depending on voters to police this for them, while they stay above it. Vote Bonds and Clemens in, and force MLB to deal.

  3. On a different note, is anyone here an ESPN insider? They’ve made a list of the top 10 of different positions. I’m curious where the Reds ranked on each. Thanks if anyone can help.

  4. Also on a different topic, anybody ready this article? http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2013/01/minor-moves-indians-reds-brewers-rockies.html

    The Reds signed two (in my opinion) nobody pitchers to minor league contracts, Jeff Marquez and Kevin Whelan. They also signed a guy named Derrick Robinson to a minor league contract. Anybody bother to look him up? Robinson is a 25 year old switch hitting centerfielder who has stolen 50+ bases a few times in his minor league career. He moved to LF in 2012 and won a Gold Glove in the minors.

    If Robinson hits well against RHPs in spring training he could be a real threat to Xavier Paul. If he’s a good CF and/or pinch hitter he could be a threat to Chris Heisey. Otherwise he can join Denis Phipps and Billy Hamilton in AAA. I don’t mean to imply that I expect him to be a great player or anything but he looks like a good pickup worth watching in spring training.

    • The Reds signed two (in my opinion) nobody pitchers to minor league contracts, Jeff Marquez and Kevin Whelan.

      I’m curious about Whelan. His numbers in the minors don’t look bad at all.

      • I’m curious about Whelan.His numbers in the minors don’t look bad at all.

        Kevin Whelan (http://www.milb.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?sid=milb&t=p_pbp&pid=460128 ) had an impressive 2011 season in AAA but his numbers got worse in 2012. His numbers seem to flop between good (2011, 2009, 2007) and bad (2012, 2010, 2008) every other year… although I guess that puts him on course for a good season. Considering the Reds’ depth I really doubt we’ll see him pitch for the Reds.

  5. @al: But can you take Babe Ruth’s numbers seriously while he played against non integrated competition? Personally, I can’t. Can you take Koufax’s numbers seriously when he pitched off of a mound that was way higher than normal? I’m just advocating that you take the best players of each generation and stick ‘em in there. I don’t think that baseball numbers are comparable across generations. Not one bit. Stephen Strasburg from today would blow away hitters from Ruth’s time. Of course, he would blow out his elbow and never be able to pitch again.

    • @Jared Wynne:

      @al: But can you take Babe Ruth’s numbers seriously while he played against non integrated competition? Personally, I can’t. Can you take Koufax’s numbers seriously when he pitched off of a mound that was way higher than normal? I’m just advocating that you take the best players of each generation and stick ‘em in there. I don’t think that baseball numbers are comparable across generations. Not one bit. Stephen Strasburg from today would blow away hitters from Ruth’s time. Of course, he would blow out his elbow and never be able to pitch again.

      The important difference between the past examples that you cite and the steroid era is that steroids weren’t used by everyone, or for the same amount of time.

      I think it’s total BS that baseball wasn’t integrated from the start. However, everyone who played in Ruth’s era played against only whites, so can you believe Ruth’s numbers compared to his peers? I would say yes.

      Ditto that with the example of the mound in Koufax’s day. Clearly the two eras are not comparable, but everyone in that era had the same mounds, for the same times. So can you believe Koufax’s numbers against his peers? I would say yes again.

      The issue I have with PEDs isn’t moral, it’s that it makes the validity of statistics uncertain. Sure, every hitter was facing a bunch of pitchers that were juicing, and vice versa, but only some of those hitters were countering that with juice of their own.

      So if there is evidence that someone was juicing, can you believe his numbers compared to his peers? I would say no in that case, and thus I wouldn’t vote for them.

  6. @rhayex:

    Line Ups
    1. Angels
    2. Brewers
    3. Cardinals
    4. Rangers
    5. Nationals
    6. Red Sox
    7. Rockies
    8. Blue Jays
    9. Reds
    10. Yankees

  7. Basically, it seems that we are supported by the masses in our excitement. Of the ranked teams, only the Reds and the Nats are ranked in the top 10 in every category. This team looks like a balanced, talented, and good team going into the season :-)

  8. @Jared Wynne: Eh, I disagree about the masses sharing our excitement. The Reds are only in the top three for one of the lists (infield?). To me the Reds look like a good team that are being largely overlooked.

    On the other hand those lists aren’t very kind to the Giants or Cardinals. HA. Point and laugh at Cardinals fans.

  9. Over time I have heard enough different folks whose opinions I value say that Barry Bonds was one of the greatest hitters they have ever seen, period, to believe that is the case.

    The mitigating effect of PED’s on his reputation is only at the margin as when trying to compare him to greats from other eras. As has been pointed out here, in one way or another most of those guys probably had their numbers enhanced in one fashion or another by advantages not enjoyed by Bonds.

    During Bonds’ own era for much of the time PEDs were not even banned or regulated by MLB. When the “enforcement” began it was hit and miss. Bonds’ himself never failed an MLB administered or sanctioned drug test. We don’t know with certainty who was using or who was not during those years. So, I think Bonds’ numbers have to stand as what they are versus his peers.

    To me what would be interesting is on what basis Bonds’ and say, for example, Joey Votto, are compared 15 years from now (assuming Votto has regained his health, stays healthy, is never PED tainted, and plays out his contract putting up numbers like he has over the last 4 to 5 years).

    The only really big offensive advantage Bonds would figure to have over Votto when both careers are history is in home runs. I can imagine that being laid off on PEDs. And if Votto seemingly declines at an earlier age and more precipitously than Bonds, the PED issue could be raised there.

    I was also going to throw out Albert (the Great) Pujols but then the early part of his career was in the unenforced era plus any number of folks believe that at least one time he was a PED user, although again, he never failed a test; and, his production has continued into this era of enforcement.

  10. @OhioJim: Not that anyone needs to tell you this, but image a player that has Joey Votto’s ability to hit, with Prince Fielder’s power, with Jason Bourn’s ability to steal, and Jay Bruce’s defense. That player’s name would be Barry Bonds.

    I would be VERY disappointed if Pujols was ever found out to be a user. He’s a player I will tell the young whipper snappers when I am 105 years old that I watched play.

  11. More on Barry Bonds…. The most impressive stat for me that judges he pure talent was when he was 39 years old in 2004. In 617 Plate Appearances, he struck out 41 times. That has NOTHING to do with PEDs. That is raw talent.

    • More on Barry Bonds…. The most impressive stat for me that judges he pure talent was when he was 39 years old in 2004. In 617 Plate Appearances, he struck out 41 times. That has NOTHING to do with PEDs. That is raw talent.

      That’s speculation, TC. Maybe PED’s (if he took them – which I think most believe he did) gave him a quicker bat, which might make it a little easier to make contact?

      My point is, for all of this, the best we can honestly say is, we don’t know how PED’s helped them. We just don’t. It’s a complicated and messy issue, and a messy era.

      One other thing I wonder (also unknowable) is how much the fact that Bonds was a complete a-hole affects his HOF voting. I’m sure that’s a significant factor too. The voters are only human.

      • That’s speculation, TC. Maybe PED’s (if he took them – which I think most believe he did) gave him a quicker bat, which might make it a little easier to make contact?

        I think you’ve watched too many Rocky movies.

        I don’t think PEDs would have improved Bond’s hand eye coordination but at age 39 they could have made the difference in him being able to handle the grind of getting his body to the plate 617 times.

        This I agree with.

    • More on Barry Bonds…. The most impressive stat for me that judges he pure talent was when he was 39 years old in 2004.In 617 Plate Appearances, he struck out 41 times.That has NOTHING to do with PEDs.That is raw talent.

      I don’t think PEDs would have improved Bond’s hand eye coordination but at age 39 they could have made the difference in him being able to handle the grind of getting his body to the plate 617 times.

  12. “The only thing we could possibly need is another left-handed reliever, but it’s not critical,” Jocketty said Wednesday from his winter home in Phoenix. “Our right-handed relievers have done well versus left-handed hitters.”

    That statement gives me warm and fuzzy feelings.

  13. @Jared Wynne:

    Top TEAMS:

    1. Giants
    2. Nationals
    3. Tigers
    4. Reds
    5. A’s
    6. Dodgers
    7. Cardinals
    8. Jays
    9. Braves
    10. Rays

    The Giants are only there because they got lucky and won the World Series. I still don’t think they are as good of a team as the Reds. We’re looking at a top 3 team here!

  14. The strongest cases that I’ve heard for voting for Bonds and Clemens is that if you take the time period where there is evidence they were juicing and just eliminate it from their careers, they’re both pretty close to being HOFers anyway.

    Those are the numbers I feel comfortable with.

  15. @JaredWynne: Comparing steroids with amphetamines solely on the basis that they are both “banned substances” only works if you’re using a black and white criteria of “he broke the rules, so he shouldn’t be in the HoF.” I don’t go by that thinking, and I know a lot of voters don’t either. The question I ask (as others here have mentioned) is “Are this player’s stats legitimate?” I don’t think any amount of amphetamine usage would make me doubt whether a player’s stats were legitimate.

  16. @PRoseFutureHOFer: That’s my point though. The agreement drafted and accepted by Major League Baseball, the owners’ group, and the players’ union does not say “steroids are a worse offense than pot, amphetamines, ADHD medication (without prescription) etc. I’m not saying I agree with it, but it seems unfair to judge these players differently when they wouldn’t be treated differently in the legally punitive sense.

    It is difficult for me to hear that amphetamines and ADHD medication abuse isn’t significant PED material. Anecdotal tirade number 1: As a person with ADHD myself, I can tell you, Adderall is STRONG stuff. Ritilin is STRONG stuff. It makes time slow down. It made me so focused that I stopped taking it. I can’t imagine how that wouldn’t be an advantage. Not only that, but an advantage that didn’t offer potentially significant physical repercussions like joint deterioration or muscle brittleness (among other…more personal issues.)

  17. Well the results are in and they appear to be consistent and pointed. No one goes into the HOF this year from the BBWAA ballots. None of the documented or highly suspect steroid users garnered any significant support from the BBWAA. Biggio had a good 1st year eligible showing and should make it in soon.

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