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Steroids and the Hall of Fame

            With the steroid revelations now increasing at a rapid pace, the question of the Hall of Fame and players who used performance-enhancing drugs becomes more important. It’s not an easy question to answer. There are no fixed guidelines. Ross Douthat writes: “If you think a player wouldn’t have reached Hall-worthy numbers without cheating, then don’t vote him in.” I agree. Let’s take a look at several  players whose names have been linked to steroid use, and see whether or not they should be voted in based on this premise.

Mark McGwire- McGwire was the first of the steroid-associated players to come up for HOF voting. And the Baseball Writers Association overwhelmingly voted against him. He garnered 25 percent ‘yes’ votes in his first year of eligibility, far below the 75 percent threshold needed for admission. Why did he receive so few votes? I suspect part of it was because McGwire’s value as a player was so one-dimensional: He was a long-ball hitter, pure and simple. Without his massive homer totals, especially late in his career, he was not an exceptional player. No steroids, no dingers. After returning from injuries, Big Mac put up 52, 58, 70 and 65 homers at an age when most players are fading.  It’s pretty suspicious. His congressional testimony didn’t convince of his innocence either.

Verdict: Should not be voted into the Hall

Rafael Palmeiro- Palmeiro is one of the few elite players caught by Major League Baseball for a banned substance. Had he not been caught, Raffy would have easily been voted in: 569 homers, 585 doubles, 1835 RBIs, .288 career batting average, over 3,000 hits. Ironically, he was caught cheating shortly after he testified to Congress that he never had taken steroids in 2005. We don’t know when Raffy started using the illegal substance. But his numbers dramatically changed early on his career. Raffy had been known as a high-average, low-power guy. Then his power numbers went up very quickly: From 8 homers in 1989 to 14 and 26. He would go on to hit 47 twice. He also never came clear about when he took steroids, claiming he took them not knowing what they were, fingering his teammate Miguel Tejada for giving him what he thought were vitamins.  Based on his early career, I don’t think he would have made the Hall without cheating.

Verdict: Should not be voted into the Hall

Sammy Sosa- There is no evidence Sosa ever took steroids. He never tested positive and no former team mates have claimed he used the drugs. But Sosa’s career numbers are too suspicious to overlook: After hitting .251 with 26 homers in 1997, he hit .308 with 66 homers the following year. He would go on to his 63, 50, and 64 homers the following years and finished with 609 career homers. All for a man who had never hit more than 40 home runs until he was 29 years, when he suddenly became one the greatest home run hitters off all time. Without the juice, I doubt he would have had the numbers for the Hall.

Verdict: Should not be voted into the Hall

Barry Bonds- The evidence about Barry Bonds and steroids seems clearer than with most players. Bonds, apparently jealous of Mark McGwire’s popularity in 1998, began using performance enhancers shortly thereafter. The numbers seem to correlate with his alleged use. After never hitting more than 46 home runs in a single season, Bonds smashed every record in baseball beginning at age 35. He holds the single-season record for most home runs and in the all-time home run leader. The irony is that Bonds was already a great player before 1999. He had won 3 MVP awards, and finished a close second another time. He was seen as the best all-around player in the game, hitting for average and power, as well as stealing  bases. He was also a good fielder. Based on Bonds’ stats up to 1999, I believe he should be in the Hall. However, I would not vote for him on his first ballot, as a punishment for having cheated. Should he be denied forever? He certainly did cheat the game. The single-season and all-time record no longer mean anything, although that was not his doing alone. The way I see it you can’t deny the man’s achievements up until 1999.

Verdict: Second ballot Hall of Famer

Roger Clemens- Almost the exact same story as Bonds. Apparently, Clemens began using performance-enhancers in the late 1990’s. Still, his achievements up to that point would be enough to place him in Cooperstown.  But we now must look at Greg Maddux, not the Rocket, as the greatest pitcher of that era, and possibly all-time.

Verdict: Second ballot Hall of Famer

Alex Rodriguez- It has now been revealed that A-Rod was caught juicing in 2003. He claims that he began in 2001, and stopped after he was caught. His numbers since 2004 have been stellar, however. And he wasn’t bad before 2001 either. Like Clemens and Bonds, I would still vote for him on the strength of his non-steroid years.

Verdict: Second ballot Hall of Famer

Jason Giambi- Even with the apology to the Yankee fans, Giambi’s numbers aren’t good enough: 396 career home runs in an age where 500 dingers is commonplace.

Verdict: No Way!

The steroid era has also cast a different light on Pete Rose. Rose was caught betting on the game while managing the Cincinnati Reds. Unethical to be sure, but he didn’t cheat the game the way steroid-users did. He should be allowed in the Hall, but banned from participating in the game. They are two separate issues, and steroids has made that clear.

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