The question of "Do alleged steroid users belong in Cooperstown?" is still being debated ad nauseam across radio airwaves, TV signals, and all manner of Internet connections, and will continue to be even after any resolution is found. The question that all baseball fans need to ask themselves is how much this concept bothers them. In my last post, one of the links took us to a rather thoughtful essay by Sportales' Peter Cimino, asking us why exactly Gaylord Perry lubricating and mutilating the balls he threw (which is, was, and long has been illegal) is written off as lovable eccentricity, while guys getting needles stuck in their ass cheeks (which was not specifically illegal when Hans McGwire and Franz Sosa were bringing baseball back from the brink) heralds the apocalypse. It's a fair question. Those who would have never voted Gaylord Perry into the Hall and now cry foul over Barry, Mark, and Sammy...well, at least they're CONSISTENTLY moral. But if you chuckle at and glorify Perry and rage against and vilify Clemens, then quite honestly, that's hypocrisy writ large.
Baseball's long been built on guys trying to get an edge. Stealing signs, spitballs, pine tar, big tits in and out of the stands, it's all been done. It's for this reason that I don't care whether or not a guy shot up, popped pills, bent over and welcomed suppositories, whatever. My criteria are simple: do I think a player would have played at a Hall of Fame level without using anything? As there's no way to know when a player would have started taking anything if he did, we have to look for dramatic production spikes. (See 1998.) If a guy wasn't Hall of Fame material before his stats went through the roof, then he shouldn't be held up as Hall of Fame material now.
Of these men, who have been held up as the faces of the Steroid Era:
which ones would you put into the Hall of Fame? Why or why not? Which clause on the ballot ("Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the team(s) on which the player played.") is more important to you than any of the others?
For me, and I'll be honest here, "character" is lagging pretty far behind the rest. Even though some of his more notorious actions can be defended today, many of them would have gotten Ty Cobb arrested and jailed for hate crimes in today's PC climate. And yet, no one's clamored for his removal. Nor the aforementioned Perry, nor Mike Schmidt, who has all but admitted to the use of amphetamines. Nor Willie Mays, who was linked to them in his final days as a Met. Nor Willie Stargell, who was said to be the hookup for the "We Are Fam-a-lee" Pirates. So what exactly would send up that kind of a red flag? Let's discuss:
Yes, this picture is here for a reason other than ogling Debbie Clemens...although if that's not a good enough reason for you, then why are you reading this and neglecting your subscription to The Advocate?
This is one of the pictures that Roger threw his wife under the bus for, admitting that SHE had used steroids to get in this kind of shape, but he'd never touch the stuff. The fact that he said all of this in Congress, of all places, takes much more balls than brains...which appears to be Roger's recurring MO. Guys who try to bluster and stare down Congress don't usually succeed, and it's a very misguided sense of John Wayne-on-PCP kind of bravado that keeps Clemens as defiant as he is. The fact that he needed to come on Mike and Mike to run down a book that many people didn't know existed, in effect doing little but providing free pub for the authors, gives us a clue that the man's actions really aren't governed by any interior sense of quality control. If his mistakes were centered around chasing poon, we'd say he was thinking with the wrong head, but for this, who knows what's making his decisions for him?
As far as his numbers go, if he doesn't deserve entry into Cooperstown, they should just close the place now. Third all-time in strikeouts, sure to be one of the last 350-game winners, seven Cy Youngs, two Triple Crowns...seriously. The same oversized grapefruits that are getting him in so much trouble now are the very things that made him a pitcher feared like few others not named Nolan Ryan or Walter Johnson. His production always seemed like a roller-coaster ride, dizzying heights followed by "off years" that most pitchers would still give a glove-hand finger for. He suffered a couple of injury-shortened years in his final Boston seasons, problems which never seemed to recur as one might expect. His years in New York were nowhere near as dominant as his pair in Toronto, but with the way the Yankees were built, did they really have to be? Bottom line, Clemens may be a complete idiot for trying to tilt with this windmill, and it will cost him the votes that really matter in the end, but I'll still give him mine. APPROVED
For eight years, Giambi was most certainly on a Hall of Fame pace. .304-32-109 as an average while being almost dead even on strikeouts and walks indicates a man with dominating skill at the plate. But, in 2004, a benign tumor and the first stirrings of the BALCO investigation may have caused it all to fall off the table. And while his power numbers have gamely struggled back to something close to his glory years, and he still has a very discriminating eye for a slugger, the steroid witch-hunt years have been suspiciously unkind to Giambi. We can blame the combination of sudden change in habits and advancing age, for sure, but the guy who's creaked through these last six years didn't QUITE have enough body of work to get him enshrined. Some people might give him the sympathy vote for actually standing up and apologizing, but the fact that he still hasn't gone all the way with the whos, whats, whens, etc. will even keep that wave from carrying him in. DENIED
I'll confess, once Bonds broke Hank Aaron's record, I jumped on the "let's go, A-Rod!" bandwagon. It galls me to see a guy like Hank shoved aside for an obnoxious prick like Bonds, but time marches on. And I wanted A-Rod to march right on past 800 and beyond. Then came Peter Gammons, who indirectly helped bring Yuri Sucart and Selena Roberts and a big pile of other odious people into the public eye. Now that Alex is back cranking them out of Coors Field East (aka New Yankee Stadium, aka The House That 'Roids Built), we'll probably be seeing ESPN tracking every one of his at-bats sometime in 2014. At the rate ESPN's stepped up the "depth" of their reporting, Pedro Gomez will probably be cutting into SportsCenter with a live report on every one of A-Rod's bowel movements by that time, but I digress.
Like Roger Clemens, A-Rod has been very dominant for a very long time, without even the fluctuations that Rocket had that seemed to signal age getting the better of him. Worst average? .285. Seasons with less than 35 HR? One. Less than 100 RBI? Once. His resume's already on point, so it's up to you whether you subscribe to his character. Me? I think his "only for three years" confession is straight out the north end of a south-bound walking hamburger, but honestly, if he's ever stopped at any point, then he's just that fucking good. No matter how much of a moron he might be...APPROVED
Manny's been getting grilled (yes, pun intended...why the hell you think I used that picture?) over the fact that his drug of choice is one that habitual 'roid users use to come down. Honestly, this may be a case of "even the perfect plan finds a flaw eventually." See, Manny's never been one that you'd suspect of juice because he's never had that retarded, where-the-hell-did-THAT-come-from power outburst season, like Bonds, Sosa, and McGwire. The guy's just been a hitting metronome, consistent beyond belief. He slotted in between 33 and 45 home runs from '98 to '06 and hasn't batted under .290 in 15 years. This is another guy who would be absolutely first-ballot if not for chemical testing. And honestly, while the "I didn't know what it was" defense seems like a crock coming from body-obsessives like Bonds and A-Rod, I can almost see it as plausible coming from Manny, who's cultivated an airhead persona roughly akin to Jessica Simpson's. Still, the fact that Manny is one of only two guys on this list who actually DID get officially nailed is the only factor that I automatically reward with a...DENIED
This one pains me. A great career with no real age-related nosedives, all undone by what's become the most famous finger since Johnny Cash gave the ol' California Howdy to Jim Marshall at San Quentin in 1969. Getting suspended for doing steroids after this kind of career is sad. Getting suspended for doing steroids after giving Congress this finger wag...well, to be honest, it's pretty fucking hilarious. Fact remains, much as I love Raffy, my criteria is that I'll consider you as long as you didn't get suspended. Well, Raffy did. DENIED
Sammy was a tough one...well, until yesterday. I want to come down on him for not being a big banger pre-1998 Maris chase...but he'd hit 170 jacks his previous five seasons, supplementing that with 132 steals. However, pre-1998, he'd tended to wear down late in the season.
September '93: 101 AB, .248 avg., 4 HR
September '95: 108 AB, .231 avg., 6 HR
August '96: 69 AB, .217 avg., 4 HR (sat out September with injury)
June-August '97: 340 AB, .226 avg., 17 HR
He also tailed off badly in 1999, batting only .229 in September and once again falling short of McGwire in the home run race. The overall point, though, was that a pattern began forming of a guy who could have really good seasons, but seemed to wear down at some point every year. The biggest selling point I've ever seen for steroids isn't so much that everything gets so much stronger, it's that the muscles you're working recuperate so much quicker and maintain greater endurance...which is just as important as pure power over the course of the six-month daily slog we call the baseball season. When Sammy started to really bomb was the year that he finally kept it all together for a full season. A guy struggling until the age of 25 or 26, I can understand. A guy struggling until 29, and then putting up numbers that would have you kicking the AI level up a notch on your PlayStation, makes me scratch my head. All that said, I'd be pretty tempted to go ahead and vote Sammy in. But I can't really do that. He wasn't a Hall of Famer before his explosion, and his "no hablo ingles" performance in Congress was the biggest insult to the fans' collective intelligence since Latrell Sprewell's inflated grocery budget. And now, the news of his positive test makes it quite, quite easy to say...DENIED
Barry's the big fish. The government has slit its own throat trying to nail Barry Bonds to the cross. Books have noted conversations between Bonds and good friend Junior Griffey where Bonds looks at Mark and Sammy and says, "Hey, I want some of that." But, dear God almighty, if there was ever a guy who didn't need anything extra to go down as a legendary player, it was Barry. He'd already had a 40-40 season. He was already in the 400 HR-400 SB club...by himself. And no one's joined him since. There was absolutely nothing to keep Barry out of the Hall of Fame even if he had RETIRED after 1998. But, instead, he turned into the Incredible Hulk and became the official symbol for the Era of Enhancement. Still, like I said before, if you looked like a Hall of Famer before the juice appeared to enter your system, you should still be one afterward. APPROVED
I first began paying close attention to baseball in 1988, when I was nine years old. I'd heard about the Bash Brothers, and seriously dug the Oakland lineup, not just Canseco and McGwire, but also guys like Carney Lansford, Dave Henderson, Luis Polonia, and that killer pitching staff of Welch, Stewart, the Eck, Storm Davis, et al. But a funny thing happened in 1989...Mark McGwire couldn't even hit his weight. Sure, he was getting on base and jacking long balls, but a .231 average? Ick. 1990, same thing. 1991, again, this time the average dropping to .201. Over that three-year stretch, Big Mac's average was .223. 31 HR and 92 RBI were nice, but he was a very feast-or-famine hitter. Kind of like another, more extreme case who was staring to become a punchline about this time. When McGwire started breaking down in '93 and '94, it seemed like he was all but done. Then, at 32, the man just went bananas. .312-52-113 bananas. Two years later, he and Sammy saved baseball. But while everyone else was marveling at these Ruthian swats that Mark was sending home with fans nationwide, I was still remembering the guy who had seemed like a rich man's Rob Deer less than a decade prior. Wondering how the hell a guy just explodes like that at his age, when a hitter is supposed to be slowing down a notch or two. It didn't seem right then, and after his stonewalling performance in Congress, it DAMN sure doesn't seem right now. At 30, it was wasted potential. At 36, it was shady immortality. At 41, he pissed it all away to avoid perjury charges. DENIED
When I was getting into baseball, there was a video being advertised on TV and in magazines called "The 500 Home Run Club." At the time, said club had amassed 13 members in over 100 years of baseball. (Maybe 12, Schmidt might not have been there when the video was produced.) We now have 25, doubling the club's membership in the last 20 years. In the 18 years before the video's production, only Frank Robinson, Harmon Killebrew, and Reggie Jackson had reached 500. Of the ten guys who've joined since Eddie Murray in 1996, only Ken Griffey, Jim Thome, and Frank Thomas have escaped suspicion...so far. Many within baseball are prepared to simply stick their heads in the sand and move along with life, and there's naught wrong with that, if you so choose. It's just made life more difficult for the writers who make these decisions that will be derided for generations to come, one way or the other. Eventually, all these men may very well join the Hall of Fame, but if they do, they should all be segregated into their own special room. We'll call it "The Juice Bar." Please observe all necessary safety precautions when entering.