About this blog

This isn't designed to be a blog per se, but just a place to store things I've written for easy reference. Most of it will be book reviews, with a few random essays about the stuff that interests me outside work (i.e. nothing on politics and government).

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Baseball, Steroids and the Hall of Fame

The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY: As simple and stately as the game itself
Tomorrow the Baseball Hall of Fame announces its newest members. This year’s ballot is particularly interesting because two of the game’s unambiguously greatest players are on the ballot, but they are also strongly believed to be steroids users. They are Barry Bonds, aka baseball’s all time home run leader, and Roger Clemens, one of the greatest pitchers ever to take the mound (another big name user, Sammy Sosa, is also on the ballot for the first time this year).  The debate that began several years ago when Mark McGuire first reached the ballot will reach its apex. One could make at least make a case against McGuire and several other suspected players on non-steroids grounds. Anyone voting against Bonds or Clemens, however, will definitively need to take their stand against ever voting for someone strongly suspected of steroids use.

Baseball fans, players and journalists are split on the role steroids use should play in Hall of Fame voting.

Understandably, many do not want the Hall to be tainted by those whose inclusion is based on their deliberate use of an illegal and dangerous substance. Still can we imagine a Hall of Fame without Bonds or Clemens? (Perhaps – baseball’s all time leading hits leader is Pete Rose, barred forever for his gambling) Some argue that no one even suspected of steroid use should get in. After all, if we find out they did use after their election, there's no precedent for removal. Better safe than sorry if the Hall is to remain clean. If Mike Piazza, the great Mets and Dodgers catcher, does not make it this year that will be why. It’s the only explanation for last year’s failure of Jeff Bagwell to gain admission. They were just “big guys” during the steroids era.

No doubt about these guys:
Ruth, Wagner, Johnson et al. 
Others would just look at the stats and ignore steroid use. Each generation has its own "steroids" or form of cheating whether it's spitballs, amphetamines, etc the logic goes. We don't even fully understand to what degree steroid use even really benefitted the players who use them. They would ignore the issue all together.  Some would place a sort of asterisk on their plaques noting that they played during the steroid era (presumable all players from this era, clean or not, would have such a mark) and have some sort of exhibit explaining how steroids affected play during this time period.

My own (perhaps over-lawyerly) view: apply a "but for" test.

But for the player's steroids use, should he be in the Hall of Fame? I think this is the ideal test on paper, but the hardest to actually administer. After all, what do we really know about a player's use? What do we know about how his use affected his performance? What if we find out later that a player's admitted use in the twilight of an otherwise Hall of Fame career or only brief use during an injury was actually career long? (The A-Rod question). These are difficult questions, and require much investigation and supposition. For me, I'd rather engage in such detective work than simply ignore the issue all together or bar every guy who shot up at only one stage, perhaps well after his Hall of Fame career was established (the Roger Clemens scenario). We'll get plenty of arguments applying such a “but for” test, but hey, isn't that what the Hall of Fame voting is all about anyway?

N.B.: This year, I’d like to see Bonds, Clemens, Bagwell, Piazza, Schilling and Trammel make the cut. The last two are more sentimental, but not undeserving.

When it was still a game: actually that period lasted about 5 minutes
before people started placing bets, which was the only thing
that drew crowds in the 19th century.