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If you suspect Jeff Bagwell of ‘roiding, why not suspect everyone?

Dec 27, 2010, 9:50 AM EDT

Jeff Bagwell

My totally unscientific sense of things is that Jeff Bagwell is going to fall well short of the Hall of Fame in this his first year on the ballot. Peter Gammons suspects as much. And, after making the case of just how clear a Hall of Famer Bagwell is, has some pointed words for the wait-and-see-on-Bagwell crowd:

We have media members who believe in a black-and-white one-and-done code when it comes to Cooperstown. We have those who believe their eyes are enough when it comes to making judgment, bifocals or no bifocals. Two springs ago, Mike Piazza asked, “How can someone write that I was a steroid user because of acne? When did I fail any test?” Thankfully, Piazza pushes that issue, as one of the greatest offensive catchers and a surefire Hall of Fame performer. Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens are going to be fascinating votes in future years, all very different case studies that will dictate prolonged, complex debates.

Meanwhile, Bagwell never failed any test, to our knowledge. Did he lose body mass later in his career? Yes; so did the indefatigable gym rat Carlton Fisk after he stopped lifting for hours every day.

I have seen no one make a purely merit-based case against Bagwell. It’s all either vague “let’s wait and see” stuff or vague references to the inflated offensive numbers of the 1990s. A few have specifically mentioned PEDs, but only a few.  In reality, I think that just about everyone not voting for Bagwell is doing so because they think he did steroids.

And I suppose I see why a big power hitter of the 90s is under suspicion, but where does it all end?  If you suspect Bagwell, why don’t you suspect Frank Thomas? Because he said he didn’t do steroids? Hell, so did Palmeiro. Do you suspect Piazza? Biggio? Randy Johnson? All of them did quite amazing things too. Given that big players, small players, fast players, slow players, pitchers, hitters, stars and scrubs have all been connected to PEDs, why isn’t everyone a suspect? And if they are, why isn’t everyone getting the Jeff Bagwell treatment?

The level of subjectivity being applied in this arena is doing more harm to the Hall of Fame than letting in one person who was later found to have  done steroids would ever do.

  1. Jack Marshall - Dec 27, 2010 at 10:05 AM

    Which, by the way, is one more reason why the superstars who did use PED’s–Bonds, Clemens, McGwire—should be disqualified for the Hall. They harmed the reputations of innocent players for their own benefit.

    • okobojicat - Dec 27, 2010 at 10:20 AM

      Does the use of Greenies and cocaine and other drugs during the 1970s and 1980s also destroy the reputation of other players. Perhaps we should remove Robin Yount or Joe Morgan or Nolan Ryan from the Hall of Fame?

    • billybeaneismyhero - Dec 27, 2010 at 11:19 AM

      Should their numbers be adjusted based on the era? Absolutely. Should they be disqualified? No. There’s little proof that steroids did anything more than make a hitter’s upper body bulkier, and allowed players to recover from injuries more quickly. There have been some interesting studies done that show that a change in the composition baseballs may have had more to do with the increase in home runs than anything else. Steroids may end up being nothing more than an easy scapegoat. We only know a fraction of the information needed to make an intelligent conclusion regarding what happened between 1988-2005. Until then, it’d be wise to keep our options open to all potential conclusions rather than accepting the most obvious and convenient one. Those are usually the ones that are disproven over time.

      • lanflfan - Dec 27, 2010 at 4:14 PM

        “There’s little proof that steroids did anything more than make a hitter’s upper body bulkier, and allowed players to recover from injuries more quickly.”

        So everyone hits 500+ foot home runs like Bonds and McGwire did I suppose. Look at the scoreboard in Busch Stadium where McGwire hit it. Is that something a “normal” person could do? Has it ever been done again?

        Steroids are still a problem in baseball, and yes, EVERYONE is suspect (not guilty, suspect) in regards to HOF induction criteria. However, to be fare, you must take each case on the player’s own merits while also remembering the access to steroids (at all levels) was very open. “I never failed a test” could be an honest answer, or an admission of “catch me if you can.”

      • billybeaneismyhero - Dec 28, 2010 at 7:38 AM

        Ianflfan –

        I’m not saying they didn’t have any effect, only pointing out that we don’t know exactly what effect they had. For example, how many additional HRs did steroids directly cause Bonds or McGwire to hit? How much of an affect did steroids have on average players versus superstars? Was steroids the biggest reason for the home run spike, or was it just a convenient correlation? All I’m arguing is that steroids is the most convenient of excuses. To this day, nobody’s been able to answer how greater upper body strength helps a player hit a home run–especially when power is derived from a player’s leg strength. We don’t know the true effects it had on performance, nor do we know exactly who did them.

        There have been plenty of spikes in power over history (the 1920s, 1977, 1987) that were caused by changes in baseball composition. In the mid-90s the composition of the ball was changed again to make it more lively. Then all of the sudden it was supposedly (and I stress the word supposedly) changed again (to a less lively ball) in 2005 right when steroid testing really started to take hold.

        I’m not saying that there is necessarily a cover-up, only trying to point out that there are frequently factors outside of conventional wisdom that have a greater impact on a particular situation than what most of us find to be most convenient and obvious.

    • jkcalhoun - Dec 30, 2010 at 6:48 PM

      Sorry, how’s that? How do Bonds, Clemens, and McGwire grant BBWAA members license to vote without logic or fairness? And how would disqualification of one or all of them help those voters do a better job?

  2. PanchoHerreraFanClub - Dec 27, 2010 at 10:11 AM

    Please explain again how Bonds, Clemens, and McGwrie harmed anybody’s reputation but their own? The only other people to remotely have any blame are sportswriters and fans that speculate in print about players’ steriod usage with no facts.

    • plivengood - Dec 27, 2010 at 3:54 PM

      Pancho, it is as simple as “you’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t.” The reputations of those who didn’t use (who of course we cannot really identify, as there is no way to prove a negative other than by denying use and pointing to passed tests, and looking more like a user than ever) were harmed by those who did in two ways:

      First, their numbers pale in comparison to those who used. Just take a gander at any of the leaderboards over at b-ref (particularly the power leaderboards) and see how littered they are with names of players who have been caught, investigated, admitted, implicated. They appear to be lesser players in comparison to artificially-inflated numbers.

      Second (and somewhat ironically), at the same time, non-users are lumped in with the users, gulity by association simply by having played in the era, which of course also compounds the first point/comparison.

      It’s really not too hard to figure out…. Yes, you are right, there is enough blame to go around – owners, media, fans, even non-users (who perhaps didn’t press hard enough with their union for testing), but for me at least, blame is properly placed primarily on the users.

      • PanchoHerreraFanClub - Dec 27, 2010 at 4:22 PM

        Livengood. I hear what you are saying and sort of agree with you at first blush.

        Where I disagree with you is on your first point. I am not sure that the steriods users numbers are much better than those that didn’t use. For example McGwire hit 49 HRs this rookie season in a pitchers ball park. He wasn’t juiced then. Many of the users from the Mitchell report had very ordinary numbers. I am not saying that ‘roids didn’t help performance, but I have yet to see any systematic proof that it does. The increase in HRs during the steriod era is much more easily explained by drier baseballs (because they were stored in air-conditioned clubhouses).

        On your second point, lump non-users with users is precisely my point. It is SOME sportwriters and fans that are knocking non-users without any facts.

        And yes the blame is placed on the users and they and their reputations have to live with what they have done.

      • plivengood - Dec 27, 2010 at 8:39 PM

        Pancho wrote:

        “Where I disagree with you is on your first point. I am not sure that the steriods users numbers are much better than those that didn’t use. For example McGwire hit 49 HRs this rookie season in a pitchers ball park. He wasn’t juiced then.”

        How do you know that? Because that’s what Mark McGwire, who was so brutally honest about PEDs when confronted in the late 1990s, said so?

        While I would be stupid not to agree with your point that we don’t know for sure exactly what effect PEDs have on performance, I think it is right to be suspicious, and that it is more than simple coincidence, that the leaderboards are so riddled with known/caught/admitted/implicated users. Sure, there could be other factors, including the baseballs, but I have yet to see the proof of that, either. So, while YMMV, I choose to think (and believe I do so reasonably) that non-users – who had what would have been considered GREAT numbers just a decade earlier are now after-thoughts in HoF discussions – have been victimized by users. The non-users definitely played a role (that of enabler) in their own victimization, though.

      • PanchoHerreraFanClub - Dec 28, 2010 at 11:46 PM

        Take look at McGwire rookie baseball card, his arms look like pipe cleaners.

  3. randomdigits - Dec 27, 2010 at 10:17 AM

    I do suspect them all. I find it laughable when folks go: There is no way that (Griffey) (Thomas) (Ripken) used! I am pretty sure folks were saying that before Brian Roberts and Andy Pettitte admit using.

    There is just no reason to think that highly competitive people, with strong financial incentive, did not take advantage of lax rules.

    I think there are still a fair number of players using HGH or designer steroids.

  4. Glenn - Dec 27, 2010 at 10:42 AM

    Anyone with knowledge of Jeff Bagwell’s career from high school on may disagree with his innocence – likewise with Piazza. Not every PED user waited until he got to the majors, or even the minor leagues before using. I understand that Piazza wasn’t even that secret about his use very early on and would discuss it off the record.

  5. plivengood - Dec 27, 2010 at 3:37 PM

    There is a little bit more to the suspicion with Bagwell than there is with some other, random 1990s power hitter who didn’t appear in the Mitchell Report and is not (to our knowledge) being investigated:

    http://tinyurl.com/29akqaa

    This would not be enough, for me, to disqualify Bagwell, who is otherwise a very good HoF candidate, but it is wrong to equate Bagwell with those about whom there aren’t even whispers.

  6. tigerprez - Dec 27, 2010 at 5:22 PM

    It seems very reasonable to suspect everyone who played in the steroid era of juicing, and the fact is that we’ll never know for sure who is guilty aside from those who failed tests. The choice then becomes to let them all into the Hall, none of them, or just the ones who haven’t been proven to have juiced. I choose the last option.

    If we’re honest, that’s the same standard that has been applied to Pete Rose. Do you really think that he was the only player/manager to have ever bet on a baseball game? I really doubt that, especially in the years before he was made the poster boy of gambling on games. But he got caught, and he won’t be in the Hall as a result. We’ll never know how many players/managers have got away with it, but the reasonable standard seems to be to go with the evidence and keep the gamblers (and the roiders) out of the Hall.

  7. kindasporty - Dec 27, 2010 at 7:14 PM

    I know a guy who used to play triple A baseball and he’s told me about certain guys who everyone knew where taking steroids. From what I understand most of the players know that Bagwell was on steroids. A lot of players also share stories strictly off the record with the media. None of this of course is proof, but it may be enough for a reasonable person to want to wait and see if any proof eventually does come out. Now I’m not saying if it’s right or wrong to hold him out of the hall of fame based simply on heresy, I just think that when there’s smoke, most of the time there’s fire and I don’t blame anyone for wanting to wait for more info.

  8. aious - Dec 27, 2010 at 9:00 PM

    Since when has losing mass mean you were on roids?

    I have seen people lose muscle mass when they retired and lost their muscles as they got older and into retirement

  9. stankfinger - Dec 27, 2010 at 10:36 PM

    I love how some of these Bagwell-Steroid stories on HBT feign outrage but then continue to post a highly zoomed/cropped picture of him with his gigantic, skin-tightening, bulging, vein-popping forearm and popeye shoulders. Which is it?

  10. raysfan1 - Dec 28, 2010 at 12:39 AM

    Yes, everyone is suspect. There have been players who stated a majority were using. I’m sure they did have some effect as well–for both the hitters who used and the pitchers who used. Yep, some no doubt are still using. I also think the following have also had differing levels of effect: lowered pitching mounds, body armor allowing hitters to crowd the plates with impunity, pitchers getting run for throwing knockdown pitches, MLB expansion to the point that pitchers who would never have sniffed the majors 40 years ago are now multimillionaires, new parks with dimensions that do not meet MLB guidelines. Still 3 years to go before the first HoF voters arrive who did not cover MLB during the “steroid era” & yet very few ever mentioned them until 2003. That is, the very people pontificating about steroid users as pariahs spent much time with their heads buried in the sand or looking the other way because “chicks dig the long ball.” Gotta love the hypocrisy in some voters. The only sensible thing is to judge each player within his own era against his own peers. Factor steroids in sure, but blindly trying deny every possible user (1) makes no sense, (2) ignores every PED user [amphetamines] already in the HoF, and (3) will likely ultimately fail to keep some users out and “successfully” punish some of the innocent.

  11. dirksimmons - Dec 28, 2010 at 1:28 AM

    Well, I’m not sure what the effect of PEDs has on the productivity of a player, but I do know that they are against the rules. Therefore, players that use them are cheaters.

    The cheaters that used them have spoiled the game for everyone that didn’t. I believe the percentage of users during the “steroid era” to be much higher than anyone would care to admit. I haven’t heard of many of the greats from the 80′s and 90′s coming out to denounce their former teammates though. Why the heck not? Ripken and Gwynn and Griffey and Maddux need to come out collectively and stick up for other players that never used. Or at least come out and say something. It’s too late to stay quiet.

    There’s no way the cheaters should be allowed into the Hall of Fame. That’s an injustice to all the players that played clean. And if it comes out that players already in the Hall of Fame did steroids, then they should be removed from the Hall of Fame. What, do they have impunity or something?

    • kindasporty - Dec 28, 2010 at 10:04 AM

      How do you know Ripken, Gwynn, Griffey, or Maddux never used?

  12. fquaye149 - Dec 28, 2010 at 3:26 AM

    Craig:

    It goes a little deeper with Frank Thomas than “He said he didn’t use steroids.” Frank has consistently lobbied for steroids testings, even against the wishes of the MLBPA and he was the only player to cooperate with the Mitchell investigation. Further, he was famously immense as a college player and hasn’t changed size since then.

    I don’t necessarily suspect Bagwell of roiding, but there’s a big difference between the Bagwells and Piazzas of the world (i.e. players with no non-circumstantial evidence vis a vis steroid use) and Frank Thomas. That should be acknowledged.

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