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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Should Bonds, McGwire and Clemens be in the Hall? Yes.

I was on Google+, and the question was raised, "Who should get in to the Hall of Fame?" I said that players like Bonds, Clemens and McGwire should go in. A commenter named Chris Pratt (not the actor) had this to say:
Steroids were illegal in every other professional sport at the time and against the law to sell or possess.
There is no way Bonds did what he did without steroids. That's why you keep them all out.
I'm a native of St. Louis and was at the game where McGwire hit 62 and 70. Those were two games I will never forget, but they are tarnished because of the fact that they wouldn't have happened without the roids.
None of them deserve to go into the hall.
These are common points, and we'll go through each one of them, one-by-one.


"Steroids were illegal in every other professional sport at the time and against the law to sell or possess."

Here's something crazy: The NBA didn't test for marijuana for years. In recent years, they've started doing tests, but as recently as 1997, there was no testing in place. All the other major sports leagues had it in place, and it was, of course, illegal in the US to sell or possess.

So, if an NBA player was found to be using marijuana during that time, should they not be allowed in the Hall?

You could say, "Marijuana isn't a performance-enhancing substance! It's used for relaxation and recreation!" However, if a player has a PED in his system, we don't care what they used it for. It's banned, right?

Let's use an example of something that is, in fact, a performance enhancing drug. Baseball allowed amphetamines up until about 2006. Some say that it's more responsible for the drop in power than steroid use. However, amphetamines were illegal in other sports and illegal to sell or buy.

So, should all players that used amphetamines be kicked out ot the Hall? If you do that, get ready to kick out Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and practically every great player you know.

Putting it all together: If we're going to base our opinion of steroids in baseball on what other leagues allowed or disallowed, we're going to go down a weird path that includes a lot of doublespeak and weird contradictions.

"There is no way Bonds did what he did without steroids."

Does Barry Bonds hit 72 home runs in 2001 without steroids? It's highly unlikely. However, as the story goes, Bonds saw the adulation that was thrown at McGwire when he broke the home run record. Bonds always felt underappreciated for his skills, so he decided to take steroids starting in 2000 in order to beef his home run totals.

The estimable Jonah Keri compiled Bonds' stats up until 2000, and came up with this career:
2,000 games played
445 home runs
1,299 RBIs
1,455 runs scored
460 stolen bases
.288/.409/.559
3 MVPs
102.5 WAR
Here are his money quotes:
"The next-highest WAR during that 1986-99 stretch belongs to Ken Griffey Jr., at 68.5."
"Bonds's first 14 years work out to the sum of Jimmie Foxx's entire career. And of course, this exercise twistedly assumes that without PEDs, Bonds would've been eaten by wolves on Christmas Day 1999 and never played again."
He also looks at another player of the era, Roger Clemens:
"Just for fun, let's try the same exercise with Clemens, counting everything up to the Rocket's otherworldly numbers in Toronto:
2,776 innings pitched
2,590 strikeouts
3.06 ERA
83.4 WAR
The next-highest WAR during that 1984-96 stretch belongs to Greg Maddux, at 58.5. Clemens's first 13 years top Warren Spahn's entire career."
I think those numbers speak for themselves. These are players who would have been great with or without steroids.

However, the next quote really sums up what's really bothering the voters and the fans.

"I'm a native of St. Louis and was at the game where McGwire hit 62 and 70. Those were two games I will never forget, but they are tarnished because of the fact that they wouldn't have happened without the roids."

I'll always argue that there were three events that brought baseball all the way back from the 1994 strike: Cal Ripken breaking Lou Gehrig's consecutive games record, the Sosa/McGwire home run chase, and the 2004 Red Sox/Yankees series. You may have your own choices, but I think we can all agree that these were some pretty big events.

Knowing what we know now about the so-called Steroid Era, it seems silly that the home run chase had such a huge effect, but it was all anyone could talk about in 1998. McGwire and Sosa seemed to be good guys, they were having fun, we were having fun and no one seemed to care.

At the time, though, there were journalists who were poking around McGwire and brought to light his use of andro. We all knew that he was taking, but no one said anything or seemed to care. It was just swept under the rug.

When we talk about how we feel "hurt" or "betrayed" by the players that hit all those home runs, it's a little odd. We knew that players were taking things. We didn't care at the time. We wanted them to do it. It would be like a boyfriend encouraging his girlfriend to cheat on him, then having people tell him that she's cheating and he does nothing about it and ignores it. Then, years later, he decides to throw that back in her face and break up with her.

We, the fans, saw players using substances and did nothing. Look at McGwire as a rookie:


And McGwire years later:


Only those with their head in the sand refused to believe he was on something. We knew about steroids, and we knew they were in McGwire's locker. We didn't care.

Now, years later, we're going to hold players like Bonds, McGwire and Clemens responsible for what we as fans allowed them to do with impunity? That's unfair.

"None of them deserve to go into the hall."

So then who does? Only players like Maddux who are skinny and don't look like they took steroids? Is a player's build a guarantee that they never took anything? The first person suspended for steroids was Alex Sanchez. He was 5'10" and 180 pounds soaking wet.

Steroids also help a player come back from injury faster. Maddux was pretty durable. Is the fact that he wasn't injured a lot a sign that he was taking steroids?

I'm not saying anything against Maddux, mind you. For the record, I believe he was clean. I'm just making a point: If you start suspecting everyone of steroids and lumping them all together, some weird mental arithmetic starts to happen. You start believing players are clean because you believe they're clean, and that some players are dirty because they're dirty.

You simply can't do that. When deciding who goes into the Hall, you have to stack players up against players of their own era, apples to apples. If a player is head and shoulders above players of their own era, they should go into the Hall. That's what the Hall is: A place where the best players of their era are enshrined. You can try and make the argument that a Hall of Fame is some sort of moral museum, but that argument falls apart when you look at the fact that Ty Cobb, one of the game's worst people, is in the Hall, as well as Kennesaw Mountain Landis, a virulent racist who fought to keep the leagues segregated.

The truth is, we want to keep players out of the Hall because we're mad. That's it. We're just angry. But, frankly, it's our own fault, not the fault of the players for doing what we wanted them to. For that reason, we have to get over it and let the best players of the era into the Hall.

Sources:

http://www.nytimes.com/1997/10/26/sports/marijuana-and-pro-basketball-a-special-report-nba-s-uncontrolled-substance.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm
http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/baseball-experts-amphetamines-ban-steroids-biggest-reason-steep-drop-offense-article-1.182105
http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/10155321/breaking-baseball-hall-fame-ballot