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The PED Eight: players who continue to take hits from Hall of Fame voters whether they deserve it or not

Jan 8, 2014, 4:24 PM EDT

Barry Bonds AP

This is not new. Ever since Mark McGwire appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time in 2007, a great many Hall of Fame voters have made it their mission to deny entrance to any player who was associated with performance enhancing drugs during his playing career. Or, even if the player was not formally associated via a report, a prosecution an admission or a positive drug test, if he was assumed to be a PED user he has fallen short of election. And the basis of those assumptions range from “fair” to “totally and utterly baseless.”

The 2014 election results are no exception.  Here are eight players — I’ve dubbed them The PED Eight — who, but for the fact or the presumption of their PED use, would certainly be in the Hall of Fame by now:

  • Craig Biggio: Yes, he fell just short, yes he’ll likely be inducted in 2015 and no, no one has ever made a credible, public accusation of Biggio using PEDs. But it’s madness to think that he wouldn’t already be in the Hall of Fame but for a whisper campaign that, however small, is real. Former New York Times columnist Murray Chass believes that Biggio did PEDs. ESPN’s Pedro Gomez left Biggio off his ballot and, when asked why, was quite cagey about it. If he simply did not feel Biggio measured up, he’d just say that. There are likely many others who do as well, either as a generalized suspicion of players of his era, more specific suspicion of an Astros team in which famous PED user Ken Caminiti was a clubhouse leader as Biggio was coming into professional maturity or because someone told them so third hand. Biggio was an all-around great player who finished with over 3,000 hits. He would’ve been inducted a year ago but for the whispers.
  • Jeff Bagwell: Biggio’s teammate is more directly in the crosshairs of a PED suspicion and, consequently, a PED-fueled Hall of Fame blackballing. Several writers have explicitly accused Bagwell of using PEDs, despite the fact that he has never been named as a PED user by any credible source and never tested positive for PEDs during his career. Bagwell had 449 homers and an OPS+ of 149. His career numbers are more or less comparable to a man who was born on the very same day he was: Frank Thomas. Thomas was just elected on his first ballot, with over 80% of the vote. Surely Bagwell would have been by now if not for the unsubstantiated allegations. Or perhaps if, like Thomas, he spent many years speaking out against PEDs toward the end of his career.
  • Mike Piazza: He’s in the same boat as Bagwell. Many have openly accused Piazza of PED use, none have provided any evidence of his PED use at all. And, for what it’s worth, he has denied ever using PEDs. Still, he is a PED user in the eyes of a great number of Hall of Fame voters, as is evidenced by his vote total of 62.2% this year. Which, yes, is quite good and is inching him closer to induction. But given his baseball resume — he is arguably the greatest hitting catcher who ever lived — he would have been voted in on the first ballot if not for the suspicions of voters.
  • Barry Bonds: Now we transition from the players who are merely suspected to the ones who either certainly or almost certainly did use performance enhancing drugs. Multiple well-researched books have been written chronicling the drug use of Barry Bonds, and multiple government and Major League Baseball investigations bolstered this evidence. The feds couldn’t bust Bonds for perjury when he claimed he did not use PEDs, but that says more about the criminal justice process than it does the actual information supporting his drug use. Still, as many, including this writer, have argued, Barry Bonds’ baseball exploits are so extraordinary — and were even so extraordinary before his documented PED use in the latter part of his career — that he should be in the Hall of Fame regardless of what he injected or rubbed into his body. Obviously, however, the majority of Hall of Fame voters disagree with that assessment, and continue to vote against Bonds on the grounds of poor character, even if his baseball bonafides are better than two or three other Hall of Famers glued together.
  • Roger Clemens: The same story as Bonds, though he has more stridently denied using PEDs. Those denials come in the face, however, of accusations from people who were willing to go under oath in courts of law to make them, and are supported by at least some physical and documentary evidence. Ask any Hall of Fame voter if the Rocket used PEDs and you can bet that virtually all of them will say yes. 35.4 % of them, however, don’t care, and voted for Clemens this year, agreeing that the Hall of Fame case for Clemens, PEDs notwithstanding, is overwhelming.
  • Mark McGwire: He admitted taking PEDs on national television after never previously denying that he took them. So much for honesty. The voters have raked him over the coals for years now. He only received 11% of the vote this year and it’s not at all certain that he’ll remain on the ballot beyond next year, as he is at risk of falling below the 5% threshold for eligibility. But for his drug use, McGwire would certainly be in the Hall now, as he was roundly talked about as a sure-fire future Hall of Famer when he was active and before the PED story began to dominate the conversation.
  • Sammy Sosa: 600+ home runs should be an automatic ticket to Cooperstown, but Sosa is hanging on just above the 5% threshold and is likely to fall off the ballot next year. Blame his presence — at least reported by the New York Times several years ago — on the list of players who tested positive for PEDs in 2004 when Major League Baseball ran a trial drug testing program to see if wider drug testing was needed. That information was never meant to be public. The test results were to be destroyed, but were seized by overzealous federal investigators before they could be. But its existence, even if only substantiated by one news outlet and denied by Sosa himself to this day has been enough to keep him out of the Hall of Fame. More than anyone, really, Sosa is believed by Hall voters to be a creation of PEDs — a player who would not have been more than very good if he didn’t take drugs — than any other player on this list, the rest of whom are generally perceived to have merely enhanced naturally-existing talent. It’s too easy a story by half and suggests some things many voters may not be comfortable acknowledging about culture and ethnicity, but that’s the narrative and nothing is going to change it, it seems.
  • Rafael Palmeiro: A 3,000 hit, 500 homer run player who has the ignominy of being the only one on this list to test positive for PEDs during his playing career and while a drug testing and penalty regime was in place. What’s more, he did it mere weeks after wagging his finger at Congressmen who had subpoenaed him, defiantly stating that he had never taken performance enhancing drugs. Oops. Palmeiro received a ten-game suspension for the flunked test, but received a defacto lifetime ban from Cooperstown for the test plus the finger-wagging. He fell below 5% this year and will not be on the writers’ ballot again.

There’s a chance that the current ballot has a couple more guys who have lost votes due to PED suspicion. I think most of the reason for Jeff Kent’s criminally low 15.2% vote total is because voters don’t appreciate his talent and because the ballot is crowded, but it would not shock me if someone accused the power-hitting second baseman of something at some point over the next few years. And of course, at least a few voters submit blank ballots or vote for no one who played after some point in the mid-90s as some sort of generalized protest against the Steroids Era. But for the most part, I think these eight are the current players being kept out of the Hall of Fame because of PED use, real or imagined.

And their ranks will grow. Gary Sheffield, who was named in The Mitchell Report, comes onto the ballot next year. Others, who either tested positive during baseball’s testing era (Manny Ramirez), had their names leaked from the 2004 trial tests (David Ortiz) or who suffer the same baseless  whisper campaigns that bedevil Bagwell, Biggio or Piazza (Albert Pujols) will have to run this same gauntlet. I predict most will be caught up in limbo for many, many years.

Will they ever make it? Or, for that matter, will The PED Eight? Biggio probably will. I think Bagwell and Piazza have a decent shot. The evidence against them is so much weaker (or non-existent) and their current vote totals and time remaining on the ballot suggests that, over time, they’ll overcome.

As for the others? It’s hard to see it happening absent a fundamental change in the voting process. One that removes the “character clause” from Hall of Fame ballot or radically changes the Hall of Fame electorate to favor people who prefer a bit more evidence before denying otherwise worthy players of baseball’s highest honor. Or, in my preferred solution, a committee is formed to look into what are becoming mounting and damn nigh embarrassing oversights by the Hall of Fame voters. A committee which appreciates that, drugs or not, Barry Bonds was one of the best baseball players in history. A committee which appreciates that Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire didn’t hatch the idea of taking banned substances themselves nor did they do it in a vacuum.

I’m not holding my breath, of course. Against the current backdrop of the Hall of Fame’s structure and voting, that would be suicide.

129 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. cuns2317 - Jan 8, 2014 at 10:07 PM

    Ok we get it, you support PED cheaters

    • mikeevergreen - Jan 9, 2014 at 12:26 PM

      As far as the last five players on the list go, I don’t think their is any question that they did. If you’re talking about the first three guys, please prove that they did PEDs. There never has been any evidence at all, credible or not, presented in any newspaper, magazine, public form, or courtroom, that they did this. Present uour evidence, or shut up.

  2. linji45thgen - Jan 8, 2014 at 10:08 PM

    “But for his drug use, McGwire would be in the hall of fame.” No, but for his drug use, he would NOT have hit as many home runs as he did, he would NOT have been as feared a hitter, and he would NOT, therefore even be considered for the Hall. That’s the point-steroids are “performance enhancers” and inflate your stats, making you look better than you really are. We don’t actually know how good these players were, because they CHEATED.

    • Chipmaker - Jan 8, 2014 at 10:49 PM

      McGwire played against equally ‘roided pitchers, and still hit home runs and drew walks, and did so better than all but a select few on the diamonds contemporaneously.

      Relative greatness shines through all sorts of muck.

      • jrob23 - Jan 8, 2014 at 11:10 PM

        ugh, those roided pitchers threw harder. Harder thrown pitches hit by faster swung balls equals power numbers up. Pretty simple and straight forward. Even a chipmaker could understand

      • braxtonrob - Jan 10, 2014 at 12:55 AM

        @jrob23, If you think ‘roided pitchers contributed that much to power numbers, then you are on a ridiculously fragile quest to prove these sluggers didn’t benefit IMMENSELY from their (individual) PED ‘programs’.

    • armadaservices - Jan 10, 2014 at 9:57 AM

      If steroids equaled homeruns, why did Larry Bigbie still suck? Why did Jeremy Giambi not have the career of Jason?

  3. cheapglazers - Jan 8, 2014 at 10:39 PM

    If they get voted in, it tells kids it is ok to take PEDs. Is that what we want?

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jan 8, 2014 at 10:49 PM

      Haha for the kids. The HoF just unanimously elected three managers who built their HoF careers on the back of PED users. And let’s not also forget that one manager beat his wife, another manager got busted for DUI, and a third manager wrote a tell all book about a team after he left.

      Yeah, great example “for the children”.

      • halfthemoney - Jan 9, 2014 at 12:01 AM

        Except no kid watches games or goes to the HoF to look at managers.

    • braxtonrob - Jan 10, 2014 at 12:51 AM

      “it tells kids it is ok to take PEDs.”

      No, it tells kids there was an era where MLB refused to catch and punish one type of cheating known as PED-use.
      That is ALL it does.

      • coachjac30 - Jan 11, 2014 at 12:40 AM

        agreed..the kids that are using PED’s aren’t using them because of baseball players anyway. If they are using them because of pro athletes/entertainers, they are using because of football and WWE.
        We’ve all seen the numbers, kids nowadays are not even watching baseball, you think they give a damn about the HOF.

    • armadaservices - Jan 10, 2014 at 10:01 AM

      The way that MLB and the writers have reacted tells kids to do it more than inducting them into the HOF would. MLB and the writers are basically saying that steroids work, that these accomplishments only happened because of the juice. SO a kid can look at it and say, damn, that stuff works, I can live with myself if I can score a huge contract. WHo cares about the HOF, I want to get paid.

      It would be more of a deterrent if they told kids that countless losers who sucked at baseball are the majority of steroid users, not these stars. They need to project the idea that steroids do NOT help you, that these guys were great because of their god given ability and that you can’t buy homers in a bottle.

  4. airedale1950 - Jan 8, 2014 at 11:28 PM

    Cal you are becoming a bigger ass every day. The only rational explanation for your ongoing campaign to promote the cheaters…they HAVE to have photos of you and your Aunt Jane’s goat.
    Be a man put the pictures out there yourself and come of of the barn! You will be glad you did.

  5. coachjac30 - Jan 8, 2014 at 11:40 PM

    Craig Biggio IS NOT A HALL OF FAMER!! If you break down his stats per year his stats are comparable to Dwight Evans and Tim Raines, are they Hall of famers? IF you suspect Bagwell of steroids then why wouldn’t you suspect his running mate (Biggio) in using them. Biggio is only considered by anyone because he had 3000 hits, while quite an accomplishment, it took him 23 years to do it (and he was surprisingly very healthy every year). I don’t dismiss that accomplishment, but it is not enough to put him in the hall. Everyone think back to when Biggio was playing, was he considered “one of the best of all time”? If you are being honest the answer is NO

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jan 9, 2014 at 1:12 AM

      Dwight Evans and Tim Raines, are they Hall of famers?

      Yes, I do. Raines has an argument as the second best lead off hitter in history, and Evans was extremely underrated.

      Biggio is only considered by anyone because he had 3000 hits, while quite an accomplishment, it took him 23 years to do it (and he was surprisingly very healthy every year)

      He was an above average hitter who played three of the four most challenging defensive positions. He also has the most doubles of any right hand hitter, in history.

      • coachjac30 - Jan 9, 2014 at 1:19 AM

        so your hall of fame is the hall of very good, or underated players? When you watched Biggio, or even Raines or Evans for that matter, did you think you were watching Hall of Famers?

      • basedrum777 - Jan 9, 2014 at 9:05 AM

        Church: I can’t back you here. If Biggio was a great player they probably wouldn’t have tossed him around the diamond. And accumulation is not greatness.

    • braxtonrob - Jan 10, 2014 at 12:48 AM

      He played 20 years, not 23, and you have zero appreciation for:
      1. the double
      2. utility players
      3. longevity

      Your HOF is small @coachjac30, but not nearly as small as your qualifying-criteria; THAT is the weakest part of your argument.

      • coachjac30 - Jan 11, 2014 at 12:51 AM

        I appreciate the double, but why is it so drastically higher valued than some other stats?
        Utility player, I couldn’t have said it better myself
        Longevity, does not mean HOF…He played 20 years, congrats…Would you rather an average player over 20 years or a dominant one over 12-14? If a player has a great 12 years but gets hit by a bus, should that diminish his value because he didn’t play 20 years?

        I do have a small HOF and its a lot harder to qualify for it. What are the magic #s that make one a hall of famer?

        If you average 34 doubles for 20 years, is that better than 40 over say 15?
        If you average 34 doubles and 15 homeruns over 20 years is that better than 33 doubles and 22 homers over 17 years?

  6. coachjac30 - Jan 8, 2014 at 11:46 PM

    As far as the other players being/not being inducted I think its a shame to not induct Bonds and Clemens. Does anyone realize that steroids were not technically “illegal” in the game of baseball until 2002 and HGH until 2005. Say what you want about them being illegal drugs and that’s why they shouldn’t be in, but what about the players that were using cocaine while playing and are in the Hall, to me its the same thing. McGwire and Sosa don’t belong because ALL they did was hit for power.
    From this crop of players the following should be in:
    Glavine, Maddux, Piazza, Clemens, Bonds, Thomas
    tome Schilling is a fringe candidate but being a Red Sox fan,although biased, I would put him in.

    The other thing to remember is you can’t solely look at the stats of guys like Bagwell, Kent, Biggio etc..The era they played in is vastly different than the others, so you need to ask, when they played did you consider them to be one of the greatest of all time.

    • dan1111 - Jan 9, 2014 at 5:56 AM

      This is a popular myth, but not true. Actually, steroids were officially banned in baseball for the entire period in question (besides being against the law without a prescription).

      Baseball’s ban was toothless, since there was no testing, and it seems the league was looking the other way. But still, steroid use was wrong and that should be taken into account in Hall of Fame voting. So should cocaine use, in my opinion. But steroid use goes beyond that because it is not just a character issue; it also has an impact on performance.

      I agree that Bonds and Clemens should be inducted. It’s not because steroids don’t matter at all, but because their careers were so outstanding that the character issue of their using steroids cannot be decisive, and there is no question that they would have been great players even without drugs.

      McGwire and Sosa were not as one dimensional as you claim. McGwire had excellent plate discipline, while Sosa was a good fielder in his early years. However, for me they are much more marginal cases, because it is not clear that they would have been good enough without PEDs.

  7. doctorofsmuganomics - Jan 9, 2014 at 12:24 AM

    I don’t care who cheats, just hit the ball deep

  8. coachjac30 - Jan 9, 2014 at 12:37 AM

    player A career averages: 17hr, 67rbi, 38 dbl, 3 tpl, 281 ba, 24 sb, 112 ops+, 796ops, 363 obp
    Player B career averages: 24hr, 86rbi, 30dbl, 5 tpl, 272 ba, 5 sb, 127 ops+, 840 ops, 370 obp
    player C career averages: 11hr, 63rbi, 28 dbl, 7 tpl, 294 avg, 32 sb, 123 ops+, 810 ops, 385 obp

    if you are going to put one in the Hall of Fame which one would it be? Or would you even put one of these guys in the hall of fame?

    Player A: Craig Biggio,
    Player B: Dwight Evans
    Player C: Tim Raines

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jan 9, 2014 at 1:16 AM

      All three are viable.

      • coachjac30 - Jan 9, 2014 at 1:25 AM

        Right, they are close, but they are not Hall of Famers. Is Chuck Knoblauch a Hall of Famer? Is Scott Rolen? All similar stats,

      • dan1111 - Jan 9, 2014 at 6:04 AM

        @coach: you can’t make your argument by comparing Biggio to other players that lots of people also think should be Hall of Famers. If anything, that makes your case worse!

        The fact is that you can’t find a single player that:

        1) Is actually comparable to Biggio; and

        2) Nobody thinks should be in the Hall.

        In other words, you have no evidence for your argument that Biggio has no case. If you are in favor of a small Hall with only the very top players, and want to exclude Biggio on that basis, that is fine and perfectly defensible. But Biggio is well within the range of what many people consider HoF worthy.

      • pastabelly - Jan 9, 2014 at 7:24 AM

        This HOF stuff is amusing. Much of it revolves around momenturm of a candidacy. Dwight Evans was also a defensive weapon, with an amazing arm and several gold gloves. He was overshadowed by playing with Yastrzemski and Rice (you could probably add Fisk, Rice, and Lynn to that list as well).

        As for the argument I saw earlier about saying the PED guys were competing against other PED guys and it’s all relative, are you Lance Armstrong?

      • coachjac30 - Jan 9, 2014 at 10:27 AM

        Dan what does the Hall of Fame mean to you? It appears to me that many people think its the Hall of very good. It is not…while some of my arguments may not come across as I hope, do this: Go look at each season stats for the years Biggio played. After doing that, tell me how often he was the best or 2nd best 2nd baseman during that time. Then look at his yearly awards and compare them to guys like Sandberg and Alomar.

        I think Biggio is very very good, he just doesn’t add up to a Hall of Famer in my book.

        What stats specifically put Biggio in? What about the eye test, when he played, puts him in? He was a consistently good player but when you put all his numbers together they aren’t HOF worthy.

        War 64.9 compared to Alomar (66.8) Sandberg (67.6) Kent 55.2
        Batting average 281 compared to Alomar (300) Sandberg (285) Kent (290)
        ops 796 compared to Alomar (814) Sandberg (795) Kent (855)
        MVP Votiing 16th, 10th, 4th, 5, 12th compared to Alomar (6,6, 20, 22, 6, 3, 4) Sandberg (1st, 13, 4, 4, 17, 12) Kent (8, 9, 26, 1, 6, 13, 19)

        These are the players that people say are the lower tiered 2nd base hall of famers (and Kent isn’t getting as much respect as Biggio)

        Longevity is good, but that alone, with mediocre season averages should not put you in the Hall of Fame. So for everyone pumping up Biggio, tell me the reasons he should be in? If you don’t think Jeff Kent should be, then why should Biggio? If you think Alomar and Sandberg aren’t deserving then why would Biggio be?

      • coachjac30 - Jan 11, 2014 at 12:53 AM

        @dan

        You’re right people think they deserve to be in, but they aren’t..I’ve compared him to people that are in and he doesn’t add up so why wouldn’t I then go to the people that aren’t??

  9. sincitybonobo - Jan 9, 2014 at 2:47 AM

    http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/7035635/major-league-baseball-offense-2011-dropped-two-decade-low

  10. anythingbutyanks - Jan 9, 2014 at 5:32 AM

    I still think who gets in and who is left out should typically follow a fairly simple test. For me, I’d vote for a player whose WAR was at least two standard deviations above the mean for five years of his career (his “peak”) and at least one standard deviation above the mean for ten years (longevity). It is still worth voting for, and people will disagree (especially about borderline cases), but having a generally agreed upon baseline for who should even merit strong consideration would be nice.

    • braxtonrob - Jan 10, 2014 at 12:40 AM

      @anythingbutyanks, I like your name, but are you serious? This isn’t a math test. I know what a standard deviation is but if you expect others calculate the art of baseball performance strictly with this, you are right outta-yo-mind.
      Your comment reads like a legal contract; crazy.

      Comparing players can only be simplified so far (too many many metrics, not 2 or 3) as much as we would like that.

  11. pastabelly - Jan 9, 2014 at 7:32 AM

    One image that is painted in my mind as Red Sox fan is Roger Clemens looking up to GM seats and pointing out Dan Duquette and glaring at him the year after Clemens left Boston. Clemens’ performance was on a downgrade at the time and Duquette had the nerve to suggest that he didn’t want to pay a premium for the sunshine years of Clemens’ career. Now, Clemens was a bit of a porker his last couple years in Boston and just wasn’t in much shape at all. How he got into great shape (new workout program or PEDs) we’ll never know for sure. Maybe it was a combination of things. It took Duquette about a decade to land another job after Boston. Sometimes I wonder if Duquette was a victim of Clemens and how seemingly stupid Clemens made him look as a GM. I am no great fan of Dan Duquette, but that whole episode reminds me that I don’t want to see Clemens and his lack of integrity in the HOF.

  12. psousa1 - Jan 9, 2014 at 8:39 AM

    Maddux, Glavine great selections. Maddux and Pedro may have been the two greatest pitchers to watch. Pure artistry. Definite first ballot hall of famers. If I had to pick one guy, from that era, to start a game 7 I would pick Curt Schilling.

  13. tomgallagher76 - Jan 9, 2014 at 12:47 PM

    Piazza isn’t arguably the best offensive catcher ever. There is no valid way to argue against him being the best offensively.

    • doctordelicious7 - Jan 9, 2014 at 7:02 PM

      If you’re talking HR, sure. But he’s not the leader in OBP, RBI, runs scored or runs created, and that does leave room for debate.

  14. psousa1 - Jan 9, 2014 at 4:54 PM

    They all deserve to die! How’s that? Friggin steroids. These were not murderers or rapists. I think the people who get pious and turn this into a morality play need to sit back and take a long look at themselves. That was the climate of the day. Amphetamines are banned. Let’s go get those two bastards Mantle and Mays out of the Hall! May they burn in hell!

    I was around the culture I saw these guys and assumed quite a few were on. I just figured it was an accepted part of the game if you wanted to succeed. It did not offend me. Had no bearing on my life whatsoever. Looking back I feel for the guys who were clean and were the 25th man on the roster or stuck in AAA.

  15. doctordelicious7 - Jan 9, 2014 at 6:46 PM

    “Many have openly accused Piazza of PED use, none have provided any evidence of his PED use at all.”

    Piazza:

    a) was a DH playing catcher and shouldn’t get in right away in any case. Hell, even Yogi Berra had to wait.
    b) was accused by fellow players and strongly suspected by the writers who were in the Mets clubhouse on a daily basis…writers who have a HOF vote
    c) according to several separate sources, he admitted it to some writers
    d) Circumstantial though it may be, there is plenty of evidence, not the least of which being how his power mysteriously dropped precipitously right around the time his backne cleared up…which also happened to be the first year of testing

    • coachjac30 - Jan 9, 2014 at 11:22 PM

      The biggest load of crap is ” doesn’t deserve to get in right away”..Why? He either is, or isn’t a Hall of Famer. The BBWAA knows when he is going to be on the ballot, they have 5 years to compare his numbers, recall him as a player and figure it out. The only reason someone shouldn’t get in on the first ballot is if there are 10 more deserving during that year and that will never happen.

  16. braxtonrob - Jan 10, 2014 at 12:09 AM

    I love how you (Craig C.) try to coin the phrase ‘the PED Eight’ (as if that number isn’t going to vary and change practically every year. Is it possible to coin a phrase with a number in it that changes every 12-24 months? Lol, we’ll see.

    Personally, I couldn’t care less who did what (when it comes to most types of cheating, like PEDs).
    And since the BBWAA isn’t the end-all, be-all to the HOF, I don’t have to care.
    Get to know your ‘local’ Veteran’s Committee (because THEY will be the TRUE deciders of who gets in and who doesn’t.)

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