I’m not a Hall of Fame voter, and most of the time, I’m glad that’s the case. It would be an honor to vote, but it would also be a massive responsibility. I know how much time I put into an MVP or Cy Young ballot, and there’s far more weight attached to a Hall of Fame ballot. Not having a vote has kept me from forming my own hard opinion about the issue of steroids in the Hall of Fame.
At times, I think I would absolutely vote for Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds. Other times, I decide I absolutely would not.
With that in mind, I honestly don’t know whether I agree or disagree with the central premise of this morning’s Pinch Hitter post. What I know for certain is that Brendan took a hard stance on an issue that I don’t find quite so black and white. I think it’s more complicated than a definite right or wrong answer.
A few thoughts on some of the points that Brendan made in his post:
Actually, I think this is one of the issues that make PEDs difficult for Hall of Fame voters. The responsibility is to determine a player’s worthiness in comparison to the great players throughout the game’s long and documented history. One generation of voters decided Roger Maris wasn’t a Hall of Famer, and it’s now been left to this generation to decide whether Rafael Palmeiro better fit the standard. Context matters. A 20 home run season in 1935 was different than a 20 home run season in 2005. The problem with PEDs is they’ve clouded the truth and disrupted the comparison. It’s not always about sending a message of right and wrong; it’s about trying to determine what a player was capable of doing with an even playing field. That’s an even playing field through history and within certain time frame. It’s complicated.
2. “In my opinion the three buffoons who didn’t put Griffey on their ballots should have their vision checked while losing their vote forever.”
There were 440 ballots cast this year. Of those 440, 437 voted for Ken Griffey Jr. That’s a remarkable level of agreement. I have no idea why three people decided against voting for him, but I know that 99.3 percent is about as universal as you can get in a sample size that large. I also know this: More than 45 percent of voters cast a vote for Roger Clemens and more than 44 percent voted for Bonds. If there weren’t a 10-person limit on the ballot, each of those two could easily have gotten 50 percent. That means, the BBWAA electorate is basically split on this matter. The writers as a whole have not taken a stand for or against Clemens, Bonds and the rest of the steroid guys. They’ve made a statement of uncertainty, making clear the complication that comes from performance enhancing drugs. To me, that’s an honest appraisal of the situation. Individual voters go one way or the other. The group as a whole, though, is torn.
3. “A Hall of Fame is supposed to award the best of the best. It shouldn’t be a popularity contest based on hard feelings a reporter has over being stiffed for an interview.”
Being stiffed for an interview isn’t the issue. I know it’s a popular criticism, but there are plenty of players in the Hall of Fame who weren’t particularly popular with writers. Randy Johnson got in on the first ballot. So did Eddie Murray. Mike Mussina was incredibly popular with writers I know, and he finished below Clemens and Bonds this year. The Hall’s voting instructions say that voting should be based upon “the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.” Half of those have nothing to do with on-the-field success. If the Hall is meant to award the best of the best, that’s what makes the steroid question tricky. Does being the best simply mean putting up the best numbers, or does it mean the most talented? Because those are two different things. And why should voters totally disregard half of the guidelines placed in front of them?
Former players absolutely should take it personally. If an illegally juiced player stayed a little healthier and hit a few more home runs, that surely cost another player at-bats, and money, and opportunity. I believe the players’ union should have done more to stop PEDs, so the players are partially at fault for this problem, but I still have no problem with players who take the issue personally. I think the should. And I don’t mind fans who do the same. Athletes become icons and role models, and fans become personally invested. As Brendan wrote, for Yankees fans there was nothing better from 1996 to 2000. I understand if fans feel cheated by a player putting up artificial numbers. This is a game people have played for generations, and millions of kids pick up a bat and ball to dream about the big leagues. When someone achieves that dream through other means, it feels dirty. It feels like a shortcut. As for media, most writers have lost most of their emotional attachment to issues like this. If they’re outraged, it’s because they’re trying to speak on behalf of those who don’t have such a voice. And again, even those writers are torn on the issue.
5. “I mean, a guy gets caught for PED’s in the NFL, all his team’s fans are worried about is when that guy will be back playing.”
I’m not a huge NFL fan, so this is not coming from an area of expertise, but I do think the NFL is more of an an “at-all-costs” league than Major League Baseball. And I’m not sure MLB wants to follow that model. Before Brendan made this statement about the NFL, he brought up the story of Jhonny Peralta, who was caught up in the Biogensis scandal and served a 50-game suspension. Peralta was vilified and then accepted again. In that way, MLB fans aren’t all that unlike NFL fans. There is disappointment when it’s discovered a player cheated, but baseball has also shown a willingness to forgive those players who try to learn from a mistake. I think there is extra disappointment for great players who took things to another level — were Bonds and Clemens not satisfied simply being Hall of Fame players; they had to cheat to become all-time greats? — but the game is also filled with examples of players who were caught cheating, owned the mistake, and became accepted again. Andy Pettitte is a terrific example. Alex Rodriguez’s multiple transgressions and lies have kept him from that level of forgiveness (though he seemed pretty forgiven through much of last season). I think there’s a level of PED forgiveness in baseball. The Hall of Fame, though, is a different standard.
6. “(The baseball community has) this entitled romantic type of perception of baseball as a sport regarding the ‘sanctity’ of the game.”
Competition vs. entertainment is another difficult issue that has supporters on each side. The Home Run Derby is entertainment, but it’s not something I’d follow for 162 games. Yes, baseball is entertainment. That’s an indisputable fact. If it weren’t entertaining, it would serve no purpose and certainly wouldn’t bring in billions of dollars. But I think the value of that entertainment shifts from person to person. Some simply want to see guys who throw harder and hit the ball farther, and they certainly want to see the superstars on the field. Others want to follow player development, witness a well executed hit and run, and bite their nails over a late-inning call to the bullpen. There’s entertainment in believing Player A and Player B were given a level playing field on which to determine who’s better in a given situation. For some, but not all, the steroid question actually takes away that entertainment. Home runs are impressive, but for many fans, they’re less impressive when hit by someone who’s been artificially enhanced.
7. “I simply believe that guys like Clemens, Bonds, McGwire, and Palmeiro deserve to be in the Hall of Fame based on the fact that they put up record breaking numbers and entertained fans throughout their careers.”
Singled this one out partly because I didn’t expect to see Palmeiro’s entertainment value put right in line with Clemens, Bonds and Mark McGwire. The guy hit a ton of home runs, but were people regularly flocking to the stadium to see him play? Really good hitter, but in a different class I think. The bigger point is this: Entertainment value doesn’t make a player Hall of Fame worthy. Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry were about as entertaining as it gets, but their Hall of Fame credentials aren’t great. It’s incredibly entertaining to watch Brendan Ryan field grounders and make insane plays during batting practice, but he’s barely a big league bench player. It’s entertaining to see Dellin Betances strike out the side, but he’s not going into the Hall. Comes down to the same question about what makes a Hall of Famer, and that definition is different from person to person. That’s why we have such a large group of people voting.
8. “Piazza was associated with steroids, but he got in because he was perceived as a good guy by the media.”
Piazza’s election might change some things, opening the door for several players suspected — but never proven — to have used performance enhancing drugs. That’s been a difficult thing for a lot of voters who feel a responsibility to keep cheaters out of the Hall while also recognizing that they don’t know who used and who didn’t. With Piazza, I wonder if that door has opened for a guy like Jeff Bagwell, but also for guys like Bonds and Clemens. Piazza is in. If a voters is convinced Piazza was a steroid user, then the barrier is broken, the Hall includes at least one enhanced player, and what’s the point of blocking entrance for the other steroid guys? I don’t know how this will play out, but Piazza’s election could be a turning point for at least some voters. And his election is further evidence that many writers are not looking to take some sort of stand against the Steroid Era. There’s an honest attempt to do the right thing, but a disagreement about what that is.
In those moments when I decide — if given a vote — I would check the boxes next to Bonds and Clemens, this is the argument that I find most compelling. Baseball wasn’t testing. Baseball allowed this behavior. Baseball did not say these achievements and these players were wrong or illegal. They had a provision against illegal drugs, but I don’t think we’re going to eliminate players who used cocaine in the ’80s, and baseball basically treated steroids as if they were no different. If baseball let these players play, who am I to say their accomplishments don’t count? Even those players who were caught, if baseball said their punishment was a 50-game suspension, who am I to say that’s not enough? I just wish the game had done a better job regulating itself, but I suppose the league also wishes it had done more. For whatever it’s worth, I’ve made that case to current players, and most have disagreed with me. Their point: if a player needed PEDs, he clearly wasn’t a Hall of Fame talent, and he did more to harm the game than help it.
10. “Until that line of thinking changes, I will never fully respect the process or museum.”
One good thing about this entire process is that the writers have never been told what to think or how to vote. The Hall of Fame gives its guidelines, and the writers are allowed to form their own opinions and standards. If there’s a large enough agreement, a player is determined to be a Hall of Famer. That’s the process. I’ve never been to a BBWAA meeting in which writers have been told what’s right or wrong in the Hall of Fame voting process. Choosing Hall of Famers is all about a large group of individual voices. There are many, many voters who feel exactly the way Brendan feels. There are others who disagree. Individuals form their opinions and vote accordingly, but the group as a whole remains conflicted about the issue.
Associated Press photos