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There’s more than one way to deal with PEDs and the Hall of Fame

Dec 1, 2011, 2:00 PM EDT

McGwire Palmiero

This morning I laid out my general approach to how I’d deal with PEDs and the Hall of Fame. The shorthand: I’m a discounter. I try my best to take the accomplishment of established PED users down a bit. In this way I’m making an extremely rough and dirty era adjustment.  I know it’s not a bulletproof approach. Far from it.  And whenever I offer it up I usually ask for people if they have better ideas to enlighten me, because there isn’t a great way to deal with it.

Brien over at IIATMS took me up on that this afternoon, offering a critique of my approach that, I must acknowledge, makes me feel somewhat uncomfortable with my approach:

To sum it all up, the “this player wouldn’t be Hall-worthy without ‘roids” premise seems superficially fair and nuanced, but getting below the surface it seems far too similar to the old “he just doesn’t feel like a Hall-of-Famer” chestnut to me, and I absolutely despise that standard. And that’s why, though I certainly understand the desire to try to find a nuanced way to view this question, ultimately I don’t think there’s any way to apply such a standard in anything approaching an objective or scientific faction.

I can’t really rebut that with any sort of force. But I’m still not comfortable with where Brien comes out, which is to totally ignore the potential impact of PED use and focus only on production.

There’s no perfect answer here.  It’s a struggle for even a guy like me who is often called a steroids apologist.

  1. JBerardi - Dec 1, 2011 at 2:08 PM

    Is anyone else getting really sick of talking about this?

    • Kyle - Dec 1, 2011 at 2:18 PM

      Bunker down, son. We’re just getting started.

    • purnellmeagrejr - Dec 2, 2011 at 7:31 AM

      I think it’s safe to say that Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden both would have had MVP careers had they not made the mistake of indulging in recreational drug use. In Strawberry’s case I would use Willie Stargell as a comp – in Dwight Gooden’s – perhaps Early Wynn (allowing for normal decline in later years) I think that their stats should be rounded up to take this in consideration – thus making them both shoo-ins for the Hall.

      This seems like a solution that everyone should be able to get behind. Well, maybe not everyone …

  2. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Dec 1, 2011 at 2:15 PM

    HoF = museum
    A museum that ignores huge parts of history = irrelevant
    Baseball writers do NOT = morality police
    Let’s all look at what happened on the field and leave it at that.

    • JBerardi - Dec 1, 2011 at 2:17 PM

      Honestly. People talk about it like we’re handing out Purple Hearts or something. It’s a damned tourist attraction.

      • stex52 - Dec 1, 2011 at 3:23 PM

        Excellent point. I love a little perspective.

    • dlevalley - Dec 1, 2011 at 2:17 PM

      “HOF = museum”

      Amen, brother.

  3. cur68 - Dec 1, 2011 at 2:21 PM

    Dialectic anyone?
    I don’t know as there will be much in the way of a definitive answer till we establish that PEDs are really PEDs. Clearly at a time when use was prevalent some guys were dominant and some weren’t. IMO, level playing field = the best guys are the best guys, PEDs regardless.

    If its a matter of cheaters and low-down bastards shouldn’t be in the HOF, then someone better get busy expunging Cobb, Perry and whole bunch of others all ready in there.

    I seem to have painted myself into a “let Bonds & McGuire in” corner. I don’t happen to like Palmiero, and maybe he gets in, too, (but I don’t like his mustache, either, so I wouldn’t vote for him to go in to the HOF). Way rather have Fred McGriff over Palmiero, and damn the naysayers, but that’s just me and my Blue Jay’s homerism talking….

    • bozosforall - Dec 1, 2011 at 3:45 PM

      You should be griping about Joe Carter getting screwed out of the HOF while that jerkwad Jim Rice got in (on his fifteenth try, no less).

      • cur68 - Dec 1, 2011 at 3:57 PM

        yeah, but then I’d have a whole other argument about how low the bar is. This one here’s about PEDs and the HOF. One deeply divisive argument at time, IMO.

      • bozosforall - Dec 1, 2011 at 4:16 PM

        Well, you already said that you’d rather have McGriff over Palmeiro…why not go all the way and stump for Carter as well (I’m not even a Jays fan and I still think he’s getting jobbed). Carter lead those two 90s WS champion Jays teams to those two titles and that alone should push him over the top…not to mention that his overall career numbers put him into the conversation, even without the WS heroics (and I’m not talking about the overworked sabermetrics crap either, so naysayers need to leave that crap out).

      • cur68 - Dec 1, 2011 at 4:36 PM

        Bozo, Carter is my hero, but this conversation is not about him. MGriff was already in it, hence my views there. Since I don’t troll the interwebs looking for ways to irritate people I don’t need to push any agenda, even for a guy I named my dog after.

        FTR: I love sabermeterics. I love the way it irritates the hell out of people who don’t like to think.

      • purnellmeagrejr - Dec 2, 2011 at 7:53 AM

        “I love sabermeterics. I love the way it irritates the hell out of people who don’t like to think.” Looking at stats is thinking? The idea that any type of metrics fully represents baseball is like thinking the human genome is the recipe for a human being.

        BTW I’ve discovered a new metric which would be useful to the Mets – PWSI – Using it I accurately predicted Jason Bay would be a bust. If the Mets sign Brad Lidge (using Braden Looper as a comp) he will also be a bust.

  4. Ari Collins - Dec 1, 2011 at 2:21 PM

    We don’t discount people for taking greenies or speed. Or discount all pitchers who pitched in pitcher’s eras. No one took the pre-integration out of the running because they faced a much smaller pool of players.

    The best of the best of every era have to be in the Hall. If you beat all the other players who played within the same context, you were an elite player and deserve to be celebrated.

    When everyone hit 10 HRs and you hit 30, you had a great season. When everyone hit 20 and you hit 40, you had a great season. When everyone hit 30 and you hit 50, great season. And so on to when everyone was hitting 35-40 and a few sluggers managed to hit 60 or 70.

    It’s all about comparing you to your peers, and compared to their peers, Sosa, McGwire, Bonds, and Clemens were Hall of Famers.

  5. lardin - Dec 1, 2011 at 2:35 PM

    Regardless of whether they are elected to the Hall of fame, Rose, Bonds, Big Mac, Palmeiro, Sosa, or Clemens are all IN the Hall of fame. They are NOT Hall of Famers. There is a difference.There are displays that talk about all these players and their contributions to the history of baseball. What these players don’t have a is bronze plaque in a room, that’s part of the Hall of fame. I’m ok with that. It’s not like baseball whitewashed them from history. All they get screwed out of is a bronze plaque and the ability to write HOF after their name.

    • JBerardi - Dec 1, 2011 at 3:58 PM

      Well if they’re already in the museum, isn’t it kind of silly and ridiculous to go “oh, well you don’t get a PLAQUE though”.

  6. djpostl - Dec 1, 2011 at 2:50 PM

    Just build a new wing to the HoF. As you enter the wing have all the dirty laundry pertaining to PEDs and their use within the sport laid out for everyone to see. Make that wing house any Hall of Famers who came out of this era so their accomplishments can be seen in the proper context.

    And yes, that includes those who didn’t use PEDs. They knew what was going on and sat idly by. Same for owners, coaches and journalists who didn’t say nary a peep about it until the damage was done.

    They were all complicit, so let them lie in the bed they made.

    • twd1165 - Dec 1, 2011 at 3:00 PM

      Yeah, the wing would be made symbolically HaaaUGE to match the busts of PED-swilling Faux-HOFers that would be housed there. The door jambs of the place would need to be made double-wide for their egos and swollen skulls (i.e. Bonds) to fit through.

    • JBerardi - Dec 1, 2011 at 4:01 PM

      “They were all complicit, so let them lie in the bed they made.”

      You’re talking about segregation, right?

  7. Jonny 5 - Dec 1, 2011 at 3:04 PM

    I’m perfectly comfortable with allowing players into the HOF regardless of their alleged or confirmed steroid use, as long as there’s a note of the era they played in being known for steroid use which could cause some inflation of production. Keeping out great players because of allegations or because we know they used does seem a bit like hiding the ugly truth to me. Which I feel much stronger about in all honesty. Sure it could have made them better, but that was what baseball was when they played. It is what it is. With that said, the BBWA is full of holier than thou a-wipes who claim it’s sacrilegious to allow such players into their hallowed halls. Which is basically a bunch of self righteous BS in disguise. To be fair, and honest, I felt differently about this in the past. I’m not ashamed to admit that I used to have a different view on this matter and wished to keep these players from being inducted. But after hearing many, many, many arguments on the matter, and becoming older and wiser, I’ve changed my opinion on this. I think it makes the most sense. I’m by no means a steroid apologist, I think it’s wrong and should be banned, but why cover the past by trying to exclude the truth from the HOF? The players were some of the best, they may have used steroids, it is what it is.

    • badmamainphilliesjamas - Dec 1, 2011 at 3:19 PM

      What he said (that’ll teach me to take a phone call in the middle of typing a comment).

    • bozosforall - Dec 1, 2011 at 3:50 PM

      Keep in mind that steroids have been in existance since the 1950s (and no one really knows when players really started using them in whatever form they were available back then), therefore, even someone like Hank Aaron could have theoretically had access to them. Just put the top guys from this era in and leave the interpretation to each individual fan. Anything else is just ignorant. MLB turned a blind eye until it became a black eye…if anyone is to blame, then let’s blame MLB for doing nothing until it became embarrassing to them to not do anything.

      • Jonny 5 - Dec 1, 2011 at 4:21 PM

        Bozo, Actually they were in existence in the 30’s and the Russians are known to have used them for athletes in the 40’s. And then there’s this.

        “That wasn´t however, the first time anabolic performance enhancement had been attempted. As far back as the original Olympic Games in ancient Greece, athletes ingested various herbs and foods with the hopes of improving their performance. The big winner in the 480 B.C. Olympic Games said he ate nothing but meat for 10 months prior to the Games. Now we know that meat is especially high in B vitamins and Creatine, both of which can enhance performance. Early attempts to increase Testosterone were documented as early as 776 BC andagain, by Olympic athletes´ ingested sheep´s testicles, which they knew to be a source of Testosterone production (3). Although it might seem extreme to us now, to eat meat for ten straight months (or to ingest sheep testicles), this was a small price to pay for the prize money that was offered back then & up to 1,200 days pay for winning an event was common. There were no participation medals; they did not compete for the love of the game, to give it their best shot, or even for pride. They competed for money and prestige, end of story (1). And that is why they sought out performance enhancers.”

        You are correct though, athletes have always looked for ways to gain an easy edge over the competition and we have no idea how long it existed in baseball and with whom.

  8. mamow74 - Dec 1, 2011 at 3:06 PM

    Honestly if I had my druthers I would leave it up to the fans through some kind of supplementary vote (as wholly impractical as that probably is). It really bothers me hearing sanctimonious crap from others players, owners, and members of the media with regards to steroids and “honor” when all of these people benefited a great deal financially from the ‘steroids era’. For all of these people to turn around now and act like they had no idea that any of it was going on and are just positively outraged upon being informed seems a little dishonest, fraudulent at worst. And if you think about it, who really was cheated? The fans. We are the ones who worshiped these guys, who drove the bus of their success with our money, who bought the narrative that these people were heroes (wasn’t McGwire on of Time’s Men of the Year in 1998?), and who are the ones who now feel kind of stupid and cheated and taken advantage of. And honestly if fans collectively don’t have a problem with the behavior or certain individuals then really I have no problem with them being in the hall. But a guy like Lupica who wrote a goddamn book about the summer of ’98 and probably made a ton of money off of it, just save your hypocrisy.

    • bozosforall - Dec 1, 2011 at 4:12 PM

      No supplemental vote (way too much room for fan bias regarding players from rival teams, etc.). What is better is for the voters to do exactly what MLB did during that era…ignore it. It worked for MLB, so it should work for everything else.

  9. zman801 - Dec 1, 2011 at 3:08 PM

    We vilify those who used PEDs yet we have no issue with Tommy John surgery. Are not both of these examples of medical enhancement? Can someone enlighten me?

    • lanflfan - Dec 1, 2011 at 3:54 PM

      Tommy John surgery (hopefully) restores your elbow to its previous working condition. You do not gain any velocity or movement as a result of the surgery, although some players have reported a temporary increase in velocity post-surgery that is nearly always attributed to the increased training, conditioning and rehab you do post-surgery. Any potential velocity gained will be lost as normal with aging or a decrease in training regimen.

      It’s not a boob job, they don’t give you anything nature did not already give you.

      • JBerardi - Dec 1, 2011 at 4:05 PM

        “It’s not a boob job, they don’t give you anything nature did not already give you.”

        Nature gave you an elbow ligament that was good for X number of innings pitched. TJ surgery clearly provides you with the ability to do things that “nature” did not intend.

    • bravojawja - Dec 1, 2011 at 3:54 PM

      Sure, I’ll give it a shot:

      PEDs supposedly made you a better player. A guy who hit 10 HR can suddenly hit 20, a guy who hit 40 can hit 60, whatever. The claim is that PEDs artificially inflated a player’s numbers and abilities.

      Tommy John surgery puts you back together to what you were before the injury. If a guy was a 15 win pitcher before blowing out his elbow, he’ll come back 12-18 months later winning 15 games again, not 20. As a bonus, the player lost at least one, usually one and a half, years’ worth of stats, making it harder to reach those magical round numbers voters love.

      This, obviously, is as oversimplified an explanation as the wins stat, but it’s a start.

      • clydeserra - Dec 1, 2011 at 4:25 PM

        But steroids don’t give you the ability to throw 95+, or hit 20 HRs instead of 10, they give you muscles the ability to recover from trauma faster. Much like the TJ surgery gives you the ability to, I don’t know, lift your arm instead of being monoplegic

  10. Detroit Michael - Dec 1, 2011 at 3:38 PM

    This doesn’t completely answer your question, but I would distinguish among Hall of Fame candidates based on when they used or probably used steroids.

    If they used steroids after MLB & MLBPA started testing players on a nonanonymous basis, when by then it was clear that the world would consider steroid users to be cheaters, then you can hold those players to a harsher standard. This includes Palmeiro and Manny Ramirez but essentially no other viable Hall of Fame candidates so far.

    If someone used steroids before then, when use probably was technically against baseball’s rules but no one was taking any steps to enforce the rule and it was widely thought that steroid use was quite prevalent, then little or no weight should be given to steroid use in my opinion.

  11. illcomm - Dec 1, 2011 at 3:41 PM

    They should place a picture on the players sitting down and the congressional hearing with the caption “We did not knowingly take steroids, we did not lie to congress, we are not role models, but we do deserve to be in the HOF”. You can put all their stats below that picture, so therefore everyone will be happy. those that don’t want place those players in the HOF officially, and those that believe its just a museum and they should be in there.

  12. PanchoHerreraFanClub - Dec 1, 2011 at 3:58 PM

    Here’s a novel idea. Why not let the player’s career stats speak for themselves? Who knows who used PEDs and who didn’t. Why do greenies get a pass for Mickey Mantle and ‘roids don’t for Mark Mcgwire? To all the ball players that swear they didn’t use PEDs I have a big time “Yeah sure” (quoting Ball Four).

    • bozosforall - Dec 1, 2011 at 4:18 PM


  13. icanspeel - Dec 1, 2011 at 4:21 PM

    Can someone enlighten me to the answer of a few of these questions?

    1) Were PED’s illegal in baseball at the time? and if so then a player being caught and suspended shouldn’t qualify.

    2) Do PED’s really make that much of a difference? I would like to think skill and talent played a bigger role in a player being a super star.

    3) Would it be a safe assumption to say some players in HOF taken some form of PED’s but just weren’t caught or weren’t during the targeted era?

    • paperlions - Dec 1, 2011 at 4:42 PM

      1) Different types of PEDs became illegal at different times. Steroids, for example, were not illegal without a prescription until 1991, meaning there was no rule against their use until then. Amphetamines were against the rules starting in 1970, but there was no stated punishment for using them. But this shouldn’t really matter. A lot of things are against baseball rules and players still do them, still get caught, and then it is forgotten. Using pine tar to get a better grip in cold weather is illegal…and dozens of guys do it every year.

      2) No one really knows…but there isn’t a single study that can find a signal of steroid/PED performance enhancement. The downturn in offense the last few years actually coincided with the beginning of testing for amphetamines, and not for steroids, which started many years earlier and did not result in a decrease in offense.

      3) Yes. In fact, people “in the know” have stated unequivocally that there are already guys in the HOF that used steroids during their careers. No one has named names…but it has been stated as a fact.

    • Ari Collins - Dec 1, 2011 at 6:09 PM

      I *believe* that steroids were illegal according to U.S. law but not against baseball’s rules. Could be wrong about that, though.

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