The Hall of Shame?

December 12, 2012

 

 

The Hall of Fame voting will be revealed in January, but the internet is rife with discussion about who belongs from this voting class.This class isnít particularly unique Ė there have been others with steroid users, others with plenty of deserving candidates Ė but statistically this is one of the more impressive groups.In it youíll find the all-time home runs leader (BarryBonds), a 7-time Cy Young award winner (Roger Clemens), a 3000-hit second baseman (Craig Biggio), the all-time home run leader for catchers (Mike Piazza), one of the best post-season pitchers ever (Curt Schilling), one of the greatest base-stealers ever (Kenny Lofton), and one of the players often credited with bringing baseballís popularity back in 1998 with his chase of Roger Marisí single-season home run record (Sammy Sosa).And thatís just listing the players who are eligible for the first time.They are being added to a group of candidates that include the winningest pitcher of the 1980s (Jack Morris), a 2-time MVP and one of the best position players of the 1980s (Dale Murphy), one of the best lead-off men ever (Tim Raines) and one of the best first basemen ever (Jeff Bagwell).Thereís certainly is no shortage of qualified choices, at least statistically speaking.†† Voters are allowed to choose up to 10 players to vote for so the only way to fail in my view is if those who have votes donít use all of them.

 

That said, the discussion has been mostly about the steroid users.So letís break down the argument.

 

First there is the argument that steroid use wasnít illegal.In fact, it was illegal.In 1991, Commissioner Fay Vincent sent a memorandum to all MLB clubs regarding the use of steroids forbidding their use.He stated explicitly, "There is no place for illegal drugs in baseball (editorís note: anabolic steroids were a controlled substance at that time). Their use by players and others in baseball can neither be condoned nor tolerated. Baseball players and personnel cannot be permitted to give even the slightest suggestion that illegal drug use is either acceptable or safe. It is the responsibility of all baseball players and personnel to see to it that the use of illegal drugs does not occur, and if it does, to put a stop to it."The memorandum went on to state that the possession, sale, or use of any illegal drug or controlled substance by major league players and personnel is strictly prohibited. Those who were involved in the possession, sale, or use of any illegal drug or controlled substance are subject to discipline by the commissioner and risk permanent expulsion from the game.It also gave the individual clubs authority to act in this regard.It also stated that any club failing to act on information could be fined up to $250,000 by MLB for doing so and that MLB had the power to permanently remove from the game any person involved.How testing would be pursued had not been collectively bargained yet, but the notion that the activity was not illegal is only true if you do not accept the proposition that words have definitions.

 

Secondly, thereís the argument that players like Bonds and Clemens were never caught.
For those who say Bonds never tested positive:

He tested positive for amphetamines - 1/11/2007

He tested positive for clomid and THG - 6/4/2003

He tested positive for nandrolone - 2/19/2001

He tested positive for nandrolone - 11/28/2000

He tested positive for methenelone - 2/5/2001

He tested positive for methenelone - 11/28/2000

 

Maybe seven times isn't enough.The reason these have not been widely publicized (except the positive test for amphetamines) is that they were dismissed in court due to a chain of custody claim.However, that is largely a legal technicality since the only other person to handle the samples was Bondsí personal trainer, Greg Anderson, and he has little to gain from framing his sole client and getting him banned from his primary source of income.For his troubles, Anderson spent more than a year in jail on contempt of court charges for refusing to testify about his involvement.But all that is irrelevant anyway because Bonds testified under oath during the BALCO trial that he had used steroids.What he denied was knowingly using them, which goes back to Anderson: why would a trainer sneak steroids to his client without his knowledge and risk forfeiting both of their incomes?Clemensí use was detailed in the Mitchell Report but he was acquitted in court because his accuser, Brian McNamee, was seen by the jury as an unreliable witness, and rightfully so.Of course, there was the DNA evidenceÖ but I guess sometimes juries can be fickle.

 

Then thereís the most absurd argument that PEDs (Performance Enhancing Drugs) donít aid performance.There are countless studies that prove without question that anabolic steroids increase physical performance even without the benefit of training.It is also frequently argued that todayís players are the best ever because they are bigger, faster and stronger.Could someone explain to me how players who are bigger, stronger and faster donít get any benefit from drugs that make them bigger, stronger and faster?Iíve even heard the argument that players didnít get bigger, stronger and faster in a way that would help them on the field, that taking the PEDs actually hurt their performance.Two questions come to mind: 1) why would a player continue to take them if that were the case, particularly given the penalties for being caught, and 2) could it be that the way they were training is why their performance suffered and not because of the PEDs?The primary benefit of PED use is to make muscles more responsive to the training.

 

Nevertheless, letís look at where Bonds and Clemens ranked before their steroid use.The consensus story is that Bonds began using PEDs as early as 1998 and experimented until he connected with BALCO before the 2001 season.From 1986 - 1997, his average season was 30 doubles, 31 homers, 35 steals, 104 runs, 91 RBI, a .288/.408/.551 slashline and OPS+ of 162.Great numbers, but certainly not greatest of all time numbers.And all those years are pre-peak and peak seasons.There are none of the decline years included in that sample.Just FYI, over that same age span (up through his age 32 year), Jeff Bagwell's average numbers were 35 doubles, 31 homers, 17 steals, 107 runs, 109 RBI and a .305/.417/.552 slashline and OPS+ of 159 mostly in one of the toughest ballparks for hitters in history yet, unlike Bonds, Bagwell is never mentioned as being the greatest hitter ever.Iíll include Frank Thomasí numbers from the same age span because heís due for his first ballot in 2014.

 

Putting them next to each other:
Bonds††† - 30 doubles, 31 homers, 35 steals, 104 runs, 91 RBI, a .288/.408/.551 slashline and OPS+ of 162
Bagwell - 35 doubles, 31 homers, 17 steals, 107 runs, 109 RBI, a .305/.417/.552 slashline and OPS+ of 159

Thomas Ė 33 doubles, 31 homers, 3 steals, 98 runs, 108 RBI, a .321/.440/.579 slashline and OPS+ of 169

 

Clemens is a similar story.His use of PEDs allegedly began in Toronto in 1997 at age 34.Up to that point in his career he has posted an ERA+ of 144 with 100 complete games, 38 shutouts and 2590 strikeouts and 1.158 WHIP.Greg Maddux, who no one has ever accused of bulking up or juicing, through his age 33 season, posted an ERA+ of 144 with 93 complete games and 28 shutouts and 2150 strikeouts and 1.125 WHIP.Another slightly built dominant right-hander, Pedro Martinez, through his age 33 season, posted an ERA+ of 166, with 46 complete games, 17 shutouts, 2861 strikeouts and a 1.021 WHIP.†† Honestly, there isnít much difference between them except what happened after Clemens reputed PED use began.

 

Again, next to each other:
Clemens Ė ERA+ of 144 with 100 complete games, 38 shutouts, 2590 strikeouts and 1.158 WHIP

MadduxĖ ERA+ of 144 with 93 complete games, 28 shutouts, 2150 strikeouts and 1.125 WHIP

Martinez Ė ERA+ of 166 with 46 complete games, 17 shutouts, 2861 strikeouts and a 1.021 WHIP

 

I know both players in question were acquitted in court of perjury but thatís the legal system.Just because someone wasnít convicted in court does not mean something bad did not happen.Al Capone and OJ Simpson were never convicted of murder in court either, yet I doubt there are too many people who donít believe they committed murderous crimes.In an interesting twist, Al Caponeís conviction for tax evasion was largely based on evidence that had passed the statute of limitations, so had he had competent legal representation, he would have never served any hard time.But I digressÖ Even though all of the Black Sox were acquitted in court for throwing the 1919 World Series, Commissioner Landis kicked them all out of baseball, including Buck Weaver who only had knowledge of the conspiracy and was not personally involved.So there is precedent for keeping Bonds and Clemens out if the voters choose to do so.

 

Allow me to frame this discussion another way... legally speaking, the investment bankers at Goldman Sachs, Citicorp, etc. did nothing wrong leading up to the 2008 financial meltdown: sub-prime mortgages were legal, mortgage-backed securities were legal as were most of the off-shoot investing instruments.Morally what they did was wrong but the only legal question is did they commit fraud.To date, as far as any potential government prosecution is concerned, the answer is no.So the question you have to ask is if you were the President, would you give a White House Cabinet-level advisory position to one of those guys even though they were responsible for such widespread economic devastation?On another level of consideration, Goldman Sachs manages assets nearly as large as Standard Oil held at its peak.Do these guys belong in the same pantheon with financial empire builders like Rockefeller, Carnegie and Vanderbilt? Food for thought.

 

For dessert, I wanted to talk about another future Hall of Fame choice, Alex Rodriguez.Yes, heís another player who has PED use on his resume, but his statistical destiny has been as the guy who will eventually top Bonds as the gameís all-time home run leader.However, his recent operation to repair damage in his hip has some in the sports media questioning whether or not he will even ever play again.Given that he had a similar surgery in 2009, I would think the chances are good that heíll return.But what then?Will he be able to compete at a high level given his age?Is he finished?If not, does he still have a chance to top Bonds?I think yes.

 

Looking at the players at the top of the all-time home run list itís not surprising that many played into their late 30s and early 40s.Excluding Bonds for obvious reasons, of the guys in ARodís home run neighborhood, Hank Aaron tops the list of players who hit the most home runs after age 36 with 163 homers.Scrolling down the list, Jim Thome has hit 105 homers, Babe Ruth hit 103, Willie Mays hit 96, and Ken Griffey Jr hit 85.Other notables who have hit a ton of homers after turning 37 are Darrell Evans (152), Carlton Fisk (146), Ted Williams (127), Carl Yastrzemski (114), Edgar Martinez (111), Dave Winfield (108), Steve Finley (102) and Reggie Jackson (99).ARod is currently 115 home runs behind Bonds, so if he returns to baseball this season and stays relatively injury-free, then he certainly has a chance to finish as the all-time home run leaderÖ not a great chance, mind you, but of the players on that list only Ruth and Thome have hit home runs with greater frequency for their careers.†††