Monday, September 10, 2012

The BBWA’s Hypocrisy by Jeff Herz

I know the Baseball Hall of Fame election process is flawed.  It has been flawed since the Hall was created back in 1936.  Bill James wrote an entire book basically hypothesizing why Don Sutton should be elected to the Hall, even though we disagree on this particular player’s worthiness.   Who should be enshrined and who should not is a great argument.  I believe that Joe Jackson should be allowed to enter as his lifetime ban ended with his life in 1951.  I also believe the hit king, Pete Rose—Charlie Hustle, should be allowed to enter the hall if it is the last event he is ever allowed to have with Major League Baseball. 

So that brings us to the current and upcoming crop of players who are now eligible and are going to become eligible over the next 20 or so years.  Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Jeff Bagwell, Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Ken Caminiti, Ivan Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Vlad Guererro, Miguel Tejeda, Andy Petitte, Jason Giambi, Juan Gonzalez, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, etc. Which ones are guilty?  Which ones are guilty by association? The only names I hear that people agree are clean are Greg Maddux, Trevor Hoffman, Mariano Rivera, and Derek Jeter, but who knows for sure?

I don’t know a baseball fan that did not stand up and cheer in 1998 every time McGwire and Sosa crushed the balls out of the yard.   Remember, it was four short years after the devastating strike that caused temporary commissioner for life Bud Selig to cancel the World Series (when the Montreal Expos were in first place and flush with talent).   Many fans were disgusted and turned off from the game.  They were not coming to the parks. 

That all changed in ’98.  When Slammin’ Sammy and Mashing Mark came to town everyone came back.  They came early to watch batting practice, they brought their kids, and they bought shirts, and pennants and beer and balls and Cracker Jack, and baseball was back.  I went to a Mets/Cardinals game that year and watched McGwire go yard on #50 and #51.  It was great.  When a reporter found andro in McGwire’s locker, the reporter was chastised by other reporters for invading a player’s personal space.  Barry Bonds, who was perhaps the best player of that generation, did not need to jack up his home run totals, he was already a first ballot hall of famer, but he saw the adoration and the dollars, and wanted a taste of the clear.  Many other players did too.  Many other players did not.  Except for the Mitchell Report and Jose Canseco, we might never who is actually “guilty” of using a substance that was never actually prohibited by the sanctioning body (MLB) at the time they played.

It took years before they could agree to legislate steroids out of the game.  That leaves us with the steroid era from 1988 (I pick this as this was the beginning of the Bash Brothers, McGwire and Canseco in Oakland) to 2005.  How do we deal with this period as fans evaluating player greatness? If you believe Canseco a majority of players were using.  Others put the number closer to 50%.  Some might argue that only the superstars were juiced, but I don’t believe that.  What is the number?   I don’t think it matters. 

We need to look consistently across the eras and evaluate them for what they were.  We don’t compare anyone from the dead ball era to Babe Ruth.  We don’t compare today’s pitchers to Bob Gibson.  We just have to admit this is the steroid era and go from there.   Steroids in baseball were a fact and the Baseball Writers of America (BBWA) need to come to grips with it.  Their recent voting for the Hall of Fame is a joke. (Barry Larkin?  Don’t get me started).   They have anointed themselves the judge and jury and have single handedly determined any known user is not getting into the Hall. 

On one side that is fine, but what about Jeff Bagwell? You can argue his numbers until you are blue in the face and in my opinion he is a border line HOF candidate, but the writers have deemed him guilty with only anecdotal evidence.  He was not named anywhere in any report, not in anyone’s book, other than beating up a friend of mine in college, he had a very clean reputation while he played.  He played his whole career in Houston with Craig Biggio.  He played a few years with Clemens and Pettite.   Does that make him a known user?  I don’t think so, and I don’t like the precedent.

There is only one way to deal with this era and that is simply to compare them to other players who played at the same time.  Throw out the old adage 500 HR (bye-bye Fred McGriff), 3000 hits (bye-bye Palmiero) and other standards that guaranteed Hall of Fame stature.  When you consider your Hall of Fame batter, the writers should ask, was this player considered the best at his position, was he a true star who excelled in baseball during this era?  These players that lined the pockets of the owners, that filled the stands with fans, and sold newspapers with columns written by the BBWA are now being ostracized for simply trying to play the  game better faster and stronger, and like it or not, within the rules.  Buck O’Neil, the great advocate and spokesman for the Negro League could relate to the rationale of the players trying to get an edge.  No court of law that I am aware of, will allow a law to be applied to before it was enacted and that is exactly what the BBWA is doing, and it is not fair. 

Do I support steroid usage?  Absolutely not!   Do I think it is bad for the sport?  Absolutely!  What is baseball, and specifically the writers, trying to do by burying these baseball icons that personified the sport during this era?  Are we supposed to believe that those home runs never happened?  That Hank Aaron is still the home run king? That Roger Maris still holds the single season record with 61?  No.

We need the Baseball Writers of America to admit they are just as culpable in the steroid era, as MLB, the managers who turned the other way and the players who either did or did not juice, but turned the other way.  The BBWA needs to swallow their medicine and vote in the best players from this era.  If you want to add a statement on Barry Bonds plaque that says “steroid user” that is fine by me.  Let future generations know that these are the players that played during this era, they were the best, and they only did it to play the game they love, the same game we love.

Jeff Herz is a rabid baseball fan and baseball card collector. Realizing his dream of playing Major League Baseball died in a plane crash outside Canton OH in August 1979, he set his sights on becoming a nerd instead. immersing himself in statistics long before SABR came to reality. After SABR was formed, he realized he was not really as quantitative as he once thought, since he could not follow anything they were saying. He now lives in Suburban CT with his wife, 3 kids and dog, fighting the local board of education to make our schools more successful.

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