Author’s Note: If you care deeply about the Hall of Fame, make sure to pick up a copy of The Hall of Fame Index. It was published back in 2010, but it still has a lot to say about the players on the ballot in this year’s ballot.
I care deeply about the baseball Hall of Fame. So, when I see voters that don’t it upsets me. Craig Calcaterra of hardball talk exposed Pedro Gomez in his article on the Hall of Fame. It seems that he and Calcaterra got entangled in a Twitter based discussion about the role of PEDs in the voting process. The subject at hand was Jeff Bagwell (who Pedro Gomez apparently will not be voting for him).
According to Gomez, Bagwell had not denied using performance enhancing drugs. This would be news to Bagwell considering he has publicly denied it several times. No matter, in the mind of Gomez and some voters he is guilty. For them, the fact that he has never tested positive, has not been directly connected to steroids through the Mitchell Report, or had a court of law determine his guilt is a distinction without a difference.
For his part, Calcaterra accused Gomez and others of his ilk of intellectual dishonesty. I’m not ready to go that far. I’d call it intellectual laziness. Even if we throw out the obvious moral questions of using PEDs, we have to distinguish between the various levels of the accused. Before one casts a vote, they must be able to distinguish between players from these various groups.
The Guilty (ex: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire)
These are the folks that have either tested positive, been mentioned in the Mitchell Report, or admitted publicly to using. In the case of the first two examples, they have the numbers to be in and likely achieved the numbers necessary before they started using. As far as McGwire is concerned, the voters have already made their statement. It will be interesting to see what happens with Bonds and Clemens.
This group is considerably larger and will eventually include the likes of Andy Pettitte. Miguel Tejada, and Alex Rodriguez. Whether a voter chooses to admit all or none is equally defensible. It does require some integrity. That simply means that whatever standard is applied has to be equally applied across the board.
The Probably Guilty (ex: Sammy Sosa, Brady Anderson)
This is where we run into issues with the Hall of Fame voters. There is a fine distinction between the probably guilty and those on the third level. The probably guilty get treated much the same way as the guilty. This is the issue when we get into a situation like Bagwell’s. You look at Sammy Sosa and say, “come on, who are you trying to kid here?” Yet, it was extremely difficult to come up with a secondary example.
Most of the other players belong to the third group. Assuming guilt in the case of Sammy Sosa likely makes him dead meat this time around. The problem he and McGwire have is that it is impossible to know whether they would have enjoyed the same success without the help. They likely would not have, but would they have been good enough otherwise? That’s hard to say.
The Suspected (ex: Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, Luis Gonzalez)
Let’s consider the case against Jeff Bagwell for a moment. He got considerably bigger between his minor league days and the majority of his prime. His numbers exploded from his minor league days to his prime. He played with some known users (most notably Ken Camniti). Obviously, when you add all of those up you get some pretty damning evidence. At least, it is pretty damning circumstantial evidence.
Still, that is where that evidence stops. A lot of players got bigger naturally between their rookie and final seasons. Typically, power is the last tool to actualize for hitting prospects. A lot of hitting prospects have what scouts call five o’clock power. They hit a ton in batting practice, but for whatever reason can’t translate that during the game. Sometimes that happens almost immediately and you get a player that goes from zero power to considerable power.
The guilt by association evidence is the most insidious of all of the evidence. It is a kind of perverse seven degrees of Kevin Bacon game where any user can be linked to Jimmie Foxx and vice versa. In other words, you can link any player today to a known user. How far do you want to take that logic?
The Intellectual Vote
I’m not really interested in whether someone wants to put any player on the ballot that is a known user. That’s not the kind of moral distinction I’m working on here. The distinction that’s important is whether someone is a known user or a suspected user. That only happens if you take the time to look at each player individually and to evaluate the evidence accordingly.
Jeff Bagwell could have gotten bigger and better on his own. He also could have had the help of PEDs. There are other individual considerations there as his degenerative shoulder condition seems to be another nail in his coffin. Known users tended to break down physically and he certainly did that. I can mount just as good a case for as a I can against and that becomes a problem if you are going to assume guilt across the board.