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Where do PEDs fit in the Hall of Fame debate?

Dec 16, 2010, 3:27 PM EDT

Rafael Palmeiro

I’m pretty sure I’ve written a post along these lines before, but a reader asked me about it in the comments to my imaginary Hall of Fame ballot post — and the issue of PEDs and the Hall of Fame are going to come up again as more and more writers reveal their 2011 ballots — so let’s go back into the breach.

The question presented: why did I not include Rafael Palmiero in my imaginary Hall of Fame ballot.  Was it the PED association or was it a performance-based thing?  The answer: Both. As in, I see the issues as intertwined.

My take on PEDs has long been that they should not automatically disqualify a player from Hall of Fame consideration. We don’t know for sure who did them and who didn’t. For those whom we know did them, we don’t know when they started, when they stopped, how much juice they took or what kind of juice it was.  We don’t know whether the hitters or the pitchers were aided more by it. We can’t ignore all of the numbers posted by PED-associated ballplayer because there are other factors in play — ballpark size, strike zone, etc. — that affect them.

So what do we do with guys like Palmiero? My best answer so far — and if you have a better one, I’m open to it — is to determine whether, roughly speaking, we think the guy was a Hall of Famer even if he never used PEDs. Yes, I know that invites its own form of chaos, but I see it preferable to either assuming his entire record was fraudulent or assuming that PEDs had zero impact because we know neither of those things is the case. Put differently: uncertainty is preferable to being certainly wrong.

I look at Palmeiro and I see a guy who was very good for a very long time in some very friendly hitters parks while playing a good bit of DH. I see a guy who, while crossing over the magic 500 home run and 3000 hit barrier, was never considered the absolute best hitter in the league. And then I have to take a couple of mental ticks off because of the PED association.

Putting those things together, I think he’s a close call. I may change my mind on him one day. But he’ll be eligible for a long time yet. In that time, we may come to learn more about his own history of PED use and the history of PED use in baseball in general. That information may make Palmeiro rise in my estimation. It may make him sink. But I feel like I need to take that time in his case due to that uncertainty.  If our information on Palmiero and PEDs in general remained static for the entire time Palmiero was on the ballot, I’d probably err on the side of not voting for him.

In contrast, I don’t believe that Mark McGwire is as close a call under such an analysis, though I think reasonable people can disagree about him.  I certainly don’t think that Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens is a close call given that they’re so far beyond worthy of election based on their performance that even the most harsh PED-discount would drag them below the line.  The only people who should be voting against them are the hardliners who think no PED-user should ever be elected, and like I said, I’m not one of those.

Palmiero may be as close as we get. Kevin Brown is in that boat as well.  Either way, they’re tough cases. Abd if I had the franchise, I’d hold off on them for a bit.


  1. BC - Dec 16, 2010 at 3:32 PM

    So if Kevin Brown truly is a borderline case, does that mean you HAVE to put Andy Pettite in?

    • hackerjay - Dec 16, 2010 at 3:52 PM

      Kevin Brown was significantly better then Pettitte. A better comp for Brown would be Glavine. On a per inning basis Brown was better then Glavine, but Glavine was a lot more durable. All told there total value was similar.

  2. Chris Fiorentino - Dec 16, 2010 at 3:42 PM

    Mcgwire never gets to 400 Home Runs, let alone 583, without PEDs. He was an injured wreck at the end of 1994…74 games in 2 years. At that point, he had less than 250 Home Runs. He’s a career .263 hitter with 1626 career hits. He certainly doesn’t get in for longevity. Bleh, if he never gets in, it wouldn’t be much of a travesty.

    • Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Dec 16, 2010 at 3:44 PM

      [through gritted teeth] I agree with Chris Fiorentino.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Dec 16, 2010 at 3:52 PM

        Hold on a second…I change my mind. He hit 583 Home Runs for his career. His .392 OBP was amazing and he was the man who brought baseball back from the dead with his incredible 70 home run performance in 1998. He is amazing, and one of the truly great players of all time. He deserves to be in the HoF and if he never gets in, it would be be a travesty.

    • paperlions - Dec 16, 2010 at 3:52 PM

      Except, of course, there is no way to actually know this. You are guessing.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Dec 16, 2010 at 3:55 PM

        I call it educated guessing. Otherwise, it was just a coincidence that he got healthy, put on about 60 pounds of muscle, and went from being a skinny kid in his 1984 USA Baseball picture to being Paul freaking Bunyan. All just a big coincidence.

      • ThatGuy - Dec 16, 2010 at 4:55 PM

        Except he was just a kid in 1984. People thicken out a lot from when they are 20. Not uncommon at all. Although the PEDs definatly turned him into the HULK, he would have thickened out some anyways.

      • Detroit Michael - Dec 16, 2010 at 5:25 PM

        McGwire had more than 20% more homers as a rookie than any other MLB rookie had ever done. He was already off the charts as a power hitter from the first year of his career. Unless you think he was taking steroids back then, it’s hard to attribute his historically good power surge to PEDs only.

        If you think steroids add 50% to players’ career homer totals, that seems unrealistically high to me and contrary to every statistical attempt to measure the impact that I’ve seen. Of course it MIGHT be true for any single individual but it just wouldn’t be our best guess because it’s nothing like the group average.

        Also, steroid use might have contributed to McGwire’s over-muscled injury prone body too. Don’t attribute only the positive outcomes to steroid use.

  3. Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Dec 16, 2010 at 3:45 PM

    I vote Palmiero out simply based on that picture. He really annoys me there b/c I know his in the middle of lying about something but acting like it’s true.

  4. WhenMattStairsIsKing - Dec 16, 2010 at 3:55 PM

    I have no defined line anywhere in all of this, but I like Craig’s philosophy more than any of the extremes in these cases.
    Amphetamines were used in the 50’s, pine tar was used and spitballs were thrown back in the day as well, and yet some of those users are in.
    However, I think steroids has a larger overall performance impact, so handling it in a case-by-case basis using as much reason and objectivity as possible may be the way to go.

  5. ngearhart1981 - Dec 16, 2010 at 3:56 PM

    “I certainly don’t think that Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens is a close call given that they’re so far beyond worthy of election based on their performance that even the most harsh PED-discount would drag them below the line.”

    Wait since when doesn’t 500 home runs AND 3,000 hits count as being “so far beyond worthy”? If he had JUST 501 home runs, or JUST 3,002 hits, fine. But he has almost 600 home runs AND almost 3,300 hits. He was never the greatest. But he’s one of a handful to do something and he had a wicked ‘stache. Just like Eddie Murray.

  6. kerberos75 - Dec 16, 2010 at 4:08 PM

    This whole PED deal has ruined the baseball hall of fame. I hate that the greatest players of my generation may not make it in because they look like they juiced. People always say that Junior didn’t use them and Bonds did. But how do we know? If Andy Petitte used them how do we know, beyond all reasonable doubt, that Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson didn’t use them. Their appearance? Maybe they used just enough to put extra spin on their curve or pull through an injury, but its still enhancement either way. Sure that screws the guy who actually didn’t abuse, but I think that’s just the collateral damage in this whole thing.

  7. sdelmonte - Dec 16, 2010 at 4:11 PM

    I don’t have a problem with McGwire vis-a-vis steroids. But I have never been quite sure he had enough going for him beyond the longball. I’ve looked at the traditional stats and find him wanting. I look at the newer metrics, and he looks better, but there is still some element missing. He’s not Dave Kingman with more years. But he continues to seem like a limited player compared to many, including ones I want to see in the Hall (like Keith Hernandez, who I think was a better first baseman).

  8. Jonny 5 - Dec 16, 2010 at 4:18 PM

    My reasoning for not even bringing up the whole steroid issue when it comes to the HOF is close to Craig’s but kinda different. And I change my mind regularly on the issue.

    Steroids have been around since the Model T. They were used in the early Fifties by plenty of different Sports, the most famous was the Russian Weightlifting team of 1954. We have evidence that it was also used by Germany in 1936. No this isn’t my point, My point is they were a very well known drug in the athletic community as far back as the fifties. It is of my opinion that if they were known, and they were available, which they were, Athletes in every sport used them to get better.

    My question is not “Which known steroid abusers should be let in or not?” Mine is, and i will be called names probably…
    ” Which Hall of Famers already in the HOF were the users”? Because they’re in there. I know it.

  9. rockycolavito - Dec 16, 2010 at 4:22 PM

    does anyone realize that apart from his 5 really good years of 1983-1987, tim raines looks a lot more like marquis grissom than he does rickey henderson?? 5 seasons does not make a hall of fame career.

  10. Jonah - Dec 16, 2010 at 4:26 PM

    Tim Raines was, according to Bill James, the best player in MLB from 1983 through 1987.

    Even if he were Marquis Grissom the rest of the time (which he wasn’t), that’s pretty fresh.

  11. Jonah - Dec 16, 2010 at 4:28 PM

    Also, check out if you want to learn more about the player with more times on base in his career than Tony Gwynn, a higher OBP than Willie Mays, the 5th-most SB of all-time and the highest success rate of any basestealer with anywhere near that many attempts.

  12. rockycolavito - Dec 16, 2010 at 4:31 PM

    apart from those best player in baseball 5 years, his war was 2.01 for his career while grissom was 1.5 for his career.

    • rockycolavito - Dec 16, 2010 at 4:33 PM

      if your putting in guys with 5 years of greatness, start lining up albert belle/bernie williams/dale murphy/don mattingly……..

      • rockycolavito - Dec 16, 2010 at 4:42 PM

        .384 for mays, .385 for raines, guess all them homers mays hit really brought down is obp….and no, andre dawson, jim rice, jack morris are not hall of famers, palmeiro is if one disregards is PED issue, which i do not.

  13. jamie54 - Dec 16, 2010 at 4:44 PM

    Dude, nailed it. Clemens and Bonds may be distasteful and I’ll love to hear their induction speeches, but HOF’s nonetheless. Palmeiro, very close but the PED issue comes into play. Same with Mark M. Thinking exactly along your lines. Kevin Brown, eeesh, think PED’s really got in his way, but not enough there as a HOFer.

  14. rockycolavito - Dec 16, 2010 at 4:48 PM

    oh, and does kenny lofton get in too?? 3.84 war for lofton, 2.93 for raines entire career. lofton .372 obp

    • plivengood - Dec 19, 2010 at 11:10 PM


      Be careful about selective end points, and remember – you don’t get to make an entire 5-year peak disappear so that you can drive down yearly averages in order to make a guy you are arguing against look like guys he doesn’t much resemble.

      But that said, the Raines-Lofton comparison works to some degree. I suspect Kenny Lofton has a better HoF case to be made than you care to admit, but in many ways the comparison to Raines works on a yearly WAR total level mostly because Lofton gets the benefit of a more generous positional adjustment as a CF than Raines does as a LF. Raines was pretty clearly the superior offensive player, and it may be debatable whether Lofton was as superior to Raines defensively as the WAR numbers make it appear. The level of confidence one has in the defensive metrics attached to WAR probably goes a long way to explaining whether you think Lofton and Raines are comparable, or not. I wouldn’t argue that they are *roughly* comparable, during their peaks. But Raines was always a bit better at everything, offensively.

      You throw around a lot of low yearly WAR totals for Raines that make no sense to me. You can really divide his career into four stages: 1980-82, 1.8 WAR/year, 3.7 WAR/162 games; 1983-1987, 6.1 WAR/year, 6.4 WAR/162 games (5.9 oWAR, 0.7 dWAR); 1988-1993, 3.7 WAR/year, 4.7 WAR/162 games, and 1994-2002, 0.8 WAR/year, 2.2 WAR/162 games. Of course, the last period (and to a lesser extent, the first) is just filler for Raines’ career and doesn’t tell you anything about his quality you didn’t learn in that middle section; the question is whether he did enough in those middle 11 years to warrant serious HoF consideration. I think he did.

      During that ’83-’87 five-year peak, Raines hit .318/.406/.467, with a 142 OPS+, with 274 XBH (55/year) and 355 SB at bit more than an 88% success rate, with 813 runs produced (R+RBI-HR). The next six seasons (’88-’93), he hit .284/.377/.407, with a 120 OPS+, with 212 XBH (35/year), and 240 SB at an 80% success rate.

      Now, Kenny Lofton is defined by an 8-year period from 1992-1999 as much as Raines is by the ’83-’87 period. During that eight-year stretch, Lofton had 46.0 WAR (34.7 oWAR, 11.3 dWAR), at a rate of 5.8 WAR/year. He hit .311/.387/.432 during this period, with a 114 OPS+, with 334 XBH (42/year) and 431 SB at an 80% success rate, while producing 1192 runs.

      For a fair comparison, though, look at Lofton’s best 11 years (1992-2002) versus Raines’ best 11 (1983-1993):

      Raines, 1983-1993: 53.0 WAR (49.9 oWAR, 3.1 dWAR) at 4.8 WAR/year, hitting .301/.391/.437, with a 131 OPS+, with 486 XBH (44/year), and 595 SB at an 85% success rate, with 1569 runs produced.

      Lofton, 1992-2002; 54.2 WAR (41.8 oWAR, 12.4 dWAR) at 4.9 WAR/year, hitting .299/.376/.427 with a 110 OPS+, with 466 XBH (42/year), and 506 SB at a 79% success rate, with 1638 runs produced.

      Pretty damn close. I’d give the edge to Raines because his peak, though arguably shorter, was higher, because he achieved that peak it in a much more depressed run environment, and I have more confidence in the offensive measurements that favor Raines than I do in the defensive metrics that favor Lofton. But when Kenny’s time comes, I hope he gets due consideration. Both players will suffer because as good as they were in their peak, they fell off to just around average perhaps too quickly. But 10-12 years of great lead-off offense should get strong consideration. And yes, Raines even more so than Lofton. If I had a vote, he’d have mine.

  15. Detroit Michael - Dec 16, 2010 at 5:27 PM

    Darn, Craig demoted me to “a reader” in his post.

  16. kolfax - Dec 17, 2010 at 4:05 AM

    I think there is room for a seperate Hall of Fame or simply The PEDs Hall of Fame. It could have displays of athletes shooting up and all the equipment needed to shorten your life and deceive your fans. Additionally, it would provide a PED athlete with recognition, which drives most drug using athletes down the road to PEDs. Maybe put the PED hall in a bus and it could travel coast to coast stopping at schools along the way. This way this hall could be a perpetual travelling road show. Maybe some of the drug companies could sponser it. Go figure a drugged society with drugged athletes and a travelling hall of shame funded by drug companies. So much for the purity of the game if there ever was such a thing. Just a thought.

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