Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Hall of Fame on Steroids

The Baseball Hall of Fame is about to announce this year’s inductees.  To be inducted, a player must have been retired for five years and receive 75% of the votes among the members of the Baseball Writer’s Association, who can vote for up to ten candidates. In recent years, as players of the so-called Steroid Era become eligible, the persistent question is whether those suspected of juicing should be allowed in.  I believe the answer is "yes."

It is unquestionable that steroids were used by a large group of players --  hitters and pitchers -- from about 1995 until 2005, when the baseball establishment, under pressure, finally began to crack down on the use of performance enhancing drugs.  During this time, when offensive numbers (and players’ heads) were suspiciously inflated, the fans cheered and the owners gleefully looked the other way.  For better or worse, steroids were part of the game and unless we are going to disqualify everyone who played during these years, we simply have to accept it.  (Not to mention that players in every era used whatever substances they thought could help them perform better -- amphetamines were in common use at least as early as the 1960s, and even Babe Ruth reportedly injected himself with an extract from sheep testicles).  Moreover, with the exception of the few players who have either admitted steroid use or whose tests have been made public, we have no way of knowing with any hope of accuracy the extent of who juiced and who didn’t.

In my opinion, the best and most dominant players of any era should be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, and confirmed or suspected steroid use should not be a barrier to entry.  That being said, some of the gaudier offensive statistics need to be considered in the context of the times.  Hitting 500 career home runs and amassing 3000 hits was a far more impressive feat in the 1950s-1970s than it was in 1990s and early 2000s.  So, for example, I don’t think Rafael Palmiero should be in the Hall of Fame; not because he was a steroid user (or flagrantly lied to Congress about it) but because despite what are traditionally Hall of Fame numbers (over 500 homers and 3000 hits), he was not one of the dominant players of his generation.

If I had a vote, I would vote for the following players to be inducted:  Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, Alan Trammel, Tim Raines, Jack Morris, Bert Blyleven, Lee Smith, Dave Parker and Mark McGwire.  [Read more after the break]

Roberto Alomar, despite being a complete and utter flop as a Met, was one of the greatest second basemen of all time.  He was a 12-time All Star, won 10 Gold Gloves, and played key roles for two World Series champions.

Barry Larkin was one of the top shortstops of his time.  He played 19 years, all with the Reds, including the 1990 World Champs.  He had 12 All Star selections, 3 Gold Gloves and 9 Silver Slugger Awards (for best hitter at his position), and he was the 1995 National League MVP.

Alan Trammel was similar to Barry Larkin in many respects.  An excellent hitting and fielding shortstop with one team over a very long period of time.  He was an All Star 6 times, won 3 Silver Sluggers and came in second in the AL MVP vote in 1987.   He was an instrumental part of the Tigers incredible 1984 season, and won the World Series MVP.

Tim Raines also gets my vote.  Somewhat overshadowed by Rickey Henderson, he was, like Rickey, an incredibly exciting lead off hitter with the rare combination of speed and power.  "The Rock" was a 7-time All Star.  He scored 1,571 runs in his career, leading the league twice, and is fourth on the all-time steals list.

I would vote for Jack Morris and Bert Blyleven, two pitchers who have failed to get in the last several years. Morris had the most wins of any pitcher in the 1980s.  He was a 5-time All Star, with 3 All Star starts.  He pitched in 3 World Series with 3 teams, most notably for the Twins, winning the 1991 World Series MVP after pitching in three games, including an epic 10-inning shut out to win game seven against the Braves.  Blyleven had one of the most devastating curve balls in the history of the game.  He played for 22 years and compiled 287 wins, 3701 strikeouts, and a 3.31 career ERA.

For a period of time in the late 1970s-early 1980s, Dave Parker was considered the best player in majors. "The Cobra" was a feared hitter and had one of the best outfield arms. He won an MVP in 1978, was a 7-time All Star, won 3 Gold Gloves, and was a key player on 1979 Pirate championship team. After his career was derailed by injuries and drugs, he rejuvenated his career with the Reds (finishing second in MVP voting in 1985) and then played a pivotal role for the great A’s teams of 1988-89. With a career .290 batting average, 339 HR’s and 1493 RBI’s, Parker deserves to be in.

Lee Arthur Smith compiled 478 saves in 18 seasons, third all time.  At 6 foot 6, with a blazing fastball, Smith was an incredibly intimidating reliever.  He was consistent and durable, saving  25 games or more 12 years in a row.  He won three Rolaids Relief Pitcher of the year awards and was an All Star seven times.

And I also believe that Mark McGwire should be in the Hall.  Yes, his 583 home runs, and particulary his 70 in 1998, were inflated by steroid use.  But he was a sensation when he first arrived in the Big Leagues and was one of the most dominant first basemen of his time.  McGwire was the Rookie of the Year in 1987, when he hit 49 home runs, and was selected to be in 12 All Star games in his 16 year career, including six in a row from 1987-1992.

Now, for those who would not make my ballot.  This is more of a gut thing, but I would not vote for three very good players who had some exceptional years but not enough great ones, in my view, to be Hall of Famers:  Larry Walker,  1997 MVP, 5-time All Star, 7-time Gold Glove winner; Juan Gonzalez, two MVP awards, 3-time All Star; Jeff Bagwell, 1994 MVP, 4-time All Star.

And finally, a word about Edgar Martinez and Harold Baines. Two remarkable hitters with great numbers, who I loved to watch hit. But they were almost exclusively DH’s for a majority of their careers and my bias against the DH prevents me from voting for them.  (See Designated Hitters).


Anonymous said...

I saw Parker play in his twilight years with the A's, but I never viewed him as HOF material. Somehow, I just can't see Parker, Blyleven, or even Jack Morris in the HOF. The same can be said for Raines, Larkin and Trammel, with Roberto Alomar being on the border. McGuire and Lee Smith belong, as they were once-in-a-lifetime type players with true greatness (although McGuire will always be tainted with the steroid era).

Anonymous said...

Frankly I'm just way too excited about Chris Capuano and Taylor Buchholz becoming Mets to even focus on anything as trivial as Hall of Fame inductees.

Lovechilde said...

And, besides, Keith Hernandez isn't eligible for the Veteran's Committee vote until next year.

Paul said...

Good arguments, F&B. Some disagreements: I'm with you on Morris and even more on Blyleven, who should have been in before this. My memory (or lack of memory) about Larkin and Trammel make me think that despite their great years they are not "forever" players in the way the HOF somehow should mean (even if it often does not). And despite my total hatred of the DH, I think Martinez, and maybe Baines, should qualify: by more or less the same principle as the one you argue for induction of steroid users (it is part of baseball; the owners and players have moved it into their ways of creating teams; there are distinct qualities to a DH that deserve recognition and are different than other field players). And then there's McGuire. I just don't know. I know the numbers, but at some level he's just never struck me as a major player, a count-on guy, the one to build an offense around. Maybe that's just prejudice, but there always seemed something limited about him, even at his best. Yest, Rookie of the Year, but . . . .

Anonymous said...

I saw McGuire play during his great years with the A's. He was the type of hitter who could summon a mesmerizing gaze of attention and intrigue just by standing in the batter's box. You could feel the sense of power, possibility, and destiny with every pitch coming his way. In my life, there were few hitters who had this command of the game: McCovey, Dave Kingman, Willie Mays, are names that come to mind.

Stephen said...

If steroid use is to be viewed indifferently as an accepted part of the game during the '90s -- and this is a point of view that seems to be attracting more adherents -- then the players who used steroids during that era (an example of where there's power in numbers) need to become more forthcoming and honest about its use. The acknowledged widespread use of steroids, and the countenance of it by the owners (as well as the tacit approval of the many fans thrilled by the home run derbies), would go a long way to lifting the sense of shame that tarnishes so many of its best players.

Sheep testicles? What, the Babe couldn't afford bull testicles?

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