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 (
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
) 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. Oakland
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
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 HOF 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. Houston
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
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
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 Canton OH Suburban CT with his wife, 3 kids and dog,
fighting the local board of education to make our schools more successful.