Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Steroids and the Hall of Fame

There is no joy at writing another post about the steroid situation in baseball. Of all the buzz kill conversations concerning baseball of the last decade, the steroid conversation has to be the most debilitating. Nothing has sucked the juice out of being a fan more. And yet, the topic completely overshadows the entire Hall of Fame vote this year. To this point, the only "known" user trying to gain entrance to the HOF was Mark McGwire. His candidacy hasn't gone well. But this year the issue stains Rafael Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez and still Mark McGwire. Fingers have pointed to Jeff Bagwell, though those closest to him have vehemently denied he ever used. The entire voting process has become not about the player's performance, but about what the steroid accusations say about the players' character. It is a debate which will rage for years.

The Fan has gone on record several times. Frankly, the Fan doesn't give a crap who used, for how long and when. The entire mess was a forfeiture of responsibility from teams, their managers, their owners, the league, Bud Selig, the players union, team doctors and team trainers. It was a mess in which we can never and will never know the scope and depth. Some estimates are that seventy percent of players used. Other estimates say fifty percent. We have a supposed list somewhere that's top secret that has over 100 names listed of those who tested positive. That's a lot of names. And yet, only a small handful of those names have been "leaked." The Fan doesn't care because we can never know the depth of the problem. All baseball can do is go on from where George Mitchell left them and make baseball as clean as possible from here on out.

The Fan's personal guess is that those that were called to Congress that fateful week that Mark McGwire refused to talk about the past and Rafael Palmeiro pointed his finger at the camera and said he didn't use, were all players that were on that imfamous and unknown list of those who tested positive. Why else would they be called to testify? Congress had to have stacked its deck with some of the biggest stars in the game because that would make the most impact. But what about all the players that didn't testify? What about all the players that used and were never caught or outed? They get a pass. When their names come up for election to the Hall of Fame, only their stats will be considered. Some think that a steroid user is already in the Hall of Fame. So how fair is it, then to make examples of only those that have been outed? It isn't.

This Fan understands that the question is polarizing. Blog buddy, Josh Borenstein, will never cut the "users" any slack. Understandable. But the Fan's question for Josh and for all the writers who have declared they will NEVER vote for McGwire or Palmeiro or Clemens or Bonds is this: How do you know who the others are and how do you know those that get your vote weren't just as "dirty?" People have actually pointed fingers at Bagwell. Do they understand that such claims are libelous without proof? Most have avoided the libel problem by stating someone is "suspicious." But isn't that guilt by association anyway? If this writer ever ran for Congress, a paper could write its suspicion that the Fan was a communist. Would that be any less of an attack of character?

Which again leads us back to the question of the Hall of Fame. Palmeiro has a failed test. He says that he didn't know there were steroid derivatives in the B-12 shot Miguel Tejada gave him. Do we give him a lie detector? Will we believe the results anyway? In this entire issue, we have allowed evidence to become the verdict. There is no "shadow of a doubt." These players have already been judged in the court of public opinion. Very few, namely Bonds and Clemens will actually have a legal case involving their public stances on whether they used or not. So again, Palmeiro tested positive. We now know that the evidence against him has become the verdict. So that discounts everything he ever did in baseball? Does it?

Can anyone give the Fan any scientific percentage boost steroids gave these players? Could they hit the ball five feet further? Ten? Two? If you say that the steroids that Palmeiro supposedly took improved his performance by ten percent, then he would still have 524 homers instead of 583. The Fan has heard people say that McGwire only did one thing well in baseball (homers) and the steroids helped him with that one thing. Forgetting all those walks he also took and his on base percentage, is that kind of "cheating" much different than Gaylord Perry who only did one thing well and used Vaseline or whatever to help him do that one thing much better?

The question leaves us only two options. Either we vote for nobody from this era or we vote based on statistics relative to the era the player played. You can't cherry pick. Roberto Alomar will get elected this year. Does anyone know he never used? Can you say that for sure? We can think or believe he didn't. But is that any more fair or accurate? We just don't know. And because we don't know, then all players from Alomar's era are suspect and shouldn't get in. Or, we can reverse that same thought. Since we can't be sure, then we will have to vote for a player only based on the criteria of if the player was one of the best of his era. You can't have it both ways. For another view of the same type of dilemma in thinking, click here.

You know of course, where the Fan stands. Rafael Palmeiro is a Hall of Fame player and so is Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and whomever else is whispered about. Juan Gonzalez is not a Hall of Fame player; not because he used steroids (and it is alleged that he did) but because he did not sustain his statistics long enough.

We have to get past this issue. We can't let it sit and fester here forever. It robs and shames those who grew up becoming fans during this era of their favorite players. It colors all players in a suspicious light no matter how clean that player might be. There was a hole in baseball's armor and that was a lack of commitment to testing and investigation. That hole should be smaller now and the MLB should do everything possible to make that hole as small as possible. The game goes on, but it needs to throw all this stuff up. We can't be having this debate forever.

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