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Baseball’s Hall of Fame Vote

January 10, 2013

A faithful reader in Arizona wrote to ask why I hadn’t blogged on the baseball Hall of Fame voting yet. Hadn’t I heard, this writer wanted to know, that a homerun king and a Cy Young Award winning king, along with other record setters, had been the collective victims of the Baseball Writers Association of America (people who may have never come closer to athletics in their life than stepping into a pair of athletic shoes, or come closer to a baseball field than a sports bar or a press box), standing 569 voters strong, decided en masse to deny this year’s class of record-setting superstars of the game entrance to baseball’s holy shrine: the Hall of Fame.

What, my Arizona reader wanted to know, is the world coming to when I, an avowed baseball fan, haven’t weighed in on the vote. I told my beloved reader I didn’t blog on the vote because I didn’t have a heck of a lot to say about it and I didn’t care all that much.

The writer was astounded: Y… y… you don’t care? About baseball?

Suddenly I felt what I can only assume was remorse. Not only had I apparently let down a cherished reader of my blog, but I had, in a sense, dissed baseball.

(If you’d like to pause here and shake your head in disbelief at either my lack of care about the Hall of Fame issue or my use of the words “dissed” or both, I understand. Take your time)

So why don’t I care? Okay, I really do care, but not a lot. I’m ambivalent.

First things first: I love baseball and regardless of what happens with drugs and salaries and whatnot, I always will. It’s the best game/sport we have in this country (soccer is a close second but I don’t consider that an American sport) and no other American sport comes close to the nuances and finesse and strategy and athleticism of the game. But I do hate that players changed the game (maybe forever) by using steroids; not because they got bigger and stronger, because they changed the playing field and the field wasn’t level anymore and worse, they were allowed to do it by the league.

Are this year’s Hall of Fame ballot snubs Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa, not to mention more-than-likely non-using players who happened to play during the “Steroids Era”, guys like Mike Piazza and Jack Morris who are seen as guilty by association, the first to use performance enhancing drugs (PEDs)? I doubt it. It’s thought that anabolic steroids were being used by baseball players as far back as the early 1970’s yet that suspicion hasn’t stopped anyone from being elected to the Hall of Fame. And what about the use of amphetamines by players which has been reported to have been (and might still be) widespread? Check out Jim Bouton’s Ball Four where he alleged amphetamines were handed out to players like candy. Or how about cocaine or alcohol use? Some people, myself excluded since I have no firsthand knowledge, might argue that amphetamines have more of an effect and impact on a player’s overall performance than PEDs do.

There are too many questions and variables concerning baseball and PEDs for me to tackle but when I boil it all down I wonder why we’re punishing these players right now. Mickey Mantle drank a lot, Willie Mays was alleged to have kept a bottle of “Red Juice”, a liquid amphetamine, in his locker, a lot of players used cocaine during the early 80’s, Dock Ellis claimed he was on LSD when he threw a no-hitter, and the list goes on. Sure, a lot of illegal substance users aren’t in the Hall of Fame, but it’s quite possible that a lot are. My point here isn’t to demean baseball players, but that the guys we hear about today aren’t the only ones guilty of using a drug to change/alter/enhance their performance so what are they guilty of? Cheating? How can that be when Major League Baseball wasn’t enforcing a player’s use? Yes, the league did say that anabolic steroids were illegal a long time ago, but they didn’t test and they didn’t enforce. So who’s really to blame here, the players who used every advantage they could to play up to, or at a certain level, or league that took the easy way out by looking the other way? I’m looking at the league.

Baseball is a game that is driven by statistics and here’s an interesting article, and stat comparison, from Dave Cameron of FanGraphs. In a nutshell: 1998 is considered the year that defines the steroid era and during that year the rate of homeruns per contacted ball (a ball that is put into play) was 3.7%. Last year, over a decade later, and with MLB’s drug testing in place, the rate of homeruns per contacted ball was actually higher than in 1998; 3.8% vs. 3.7% and the same is true of the five previous years. So it would seem that players are hitting more homeruns using fewers PEDs which would mean the reason for the spike in homeruns during the Steroid Era was maybe not a result of steroid use. Cameron claims the reason for the decrease in homeruns since testing is not due to fewer players using PEDs, but a climbing league strikeout rate. So why the higher strikeout rate? I don’t know and I’m not going to look into it because it’s not important to me, but I will say that I love baseball stats! If you don’t you’re probably wiping away a yawn right about now and I undersand. Not really, I’m just being polite!

I don’t know why I got into all that since I really started this whole thing, not because of a faithful reader in Arizona, that faithful reader doesn’t exist, I made the person up because I thought it sounded like a good introduction, but because a handful of really good baseball players didn’t make it into baseball’s Hall of Fame this year because they were linked to PEDs. Whether or not their use, alleged or confirmed, gave them a performance advantage over other players can, and since this is baseball, probably will, be debated until the end of time, but these players were, at least to my knowledge and belief, operating within the rules and guidelines of the league during the time they were playing. I used to have a zero tolerance attitude toward PED use but the longer the issue has gone on the more I’ve changed. These guys used readily available tools and while they knew that these tools were technically against the rules of baseball, the league made no attempt to test for use, stop use or penalize users so how can I penalize them? And if we’re going to penalize them now, after the fact, then should we also penalize the players who used cocaine and amphetamines after the fact? I don’t think so. Finally, and maybe most important is that this isn’t end-of-the-world stuff. This isn’t ending poverty or war stuff. This isn’t helping people to live stuff. This isn’t Newtown, Connecticut stuff. This is a silly plaque in a building most of will probably never go visit. Collectively, these guys gave us thousands of hours of entertainment and now that their careers are over they deserve their reward and their recognition.

Now someone put Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame where he belongs!

Your thoughts? I’d love to know them.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Randomanthony permalink
    January 10, 2013 1:31 pm

    I see what you’re saying, but I want to visit the hall of fame. I don’t care about its credibility or whatever. The museum sounds cool.

    Like

    • Michael Fishman permalink
      January 16, 2013 6:03 am

      I’m not sure I wouldn’t get bored at the museum after a half hour or so. I have a little souvenir bat from 2002 that someone gave me after a visit and I think I’m good with that.

      Like

  2. January 10, 2013 4:53 pm

    I completely disagree, Michael. I don’t believe steroid users should even be eligible for the HOF, never mind elected to it. They are cheaters, pure and simple. The fact that the leagues hadn’t banned these substances at the time doesn’t change the fact that they used artificial means to achieve what is supposed to be achieved through one’s natural ability and hard work. And because players from past eras might have used substances too is no reason why it shouldn’t be stopped now. Baseball kept its eyes averted for far too long. You say why punish them? I say, Why reward them?? Seeing how much you love the sport, why don’t you want it to be as pure and untainted as possible? I love basketball, but if any NBA players were using PEDs, I’d feel the same way. The Hall of Fame should maintain the highest standards, and if that means no players are elected because they might have used PEDs, so be it.

    Having said all this, though, I will also say that I think Pete Rose SHOULD be elected. There’s no evidence that he ever bet AGAINST his own team, and why is it so terrible to bet on them? He’s supposed to be doing all he can to win, anyway, and having bets down isn’t going to change that. Besides, I think MLB is being hypocritical about it, knowing full well how much of the interest in them is because people do bet on the games.

    That’s my say.

    Like

    • Michael Fishman permalink
      January 16, 2013 6:30 am

      Hi Elaine! I do think PEDs should be banned totally and I agree that the past isn’t an excuse for what’s going on now although I do think it does point to the fact that baseball players have been using drugs to achieve a performance edge for a long time and it’s nothing new so how can I punish guys today for something others have done and been rewarded for? We’ve rewarded those players in the past who have used drugs for an edge so why shouldn’t we continue? Everyone talks about adding an asterisk to these player’s names, but they could easily add it to their bio, too so why not do that? Why not acknowledge the fact they used PEDs while recognizing what they did? I also think MLB liked the fact that ballplayers were using steroids and was happy when McGwire and Sosa brought fans back to the ballparks. I’m not going to make the assertion that they saved baseball, but I do think they helped generate a lot of interest in the game and put fans in the stadium. Is that justification? No. It’s just another perspective. As to cheating, the way I look at it now is if the league says we don’t want you to use this, this and this, and then turns their head away, how badly can they really think this, this and this are? That should all change this year with the new blood test for Human Growth Hormone and the new testosterone test so going forward we should have a clean and level playing field. At least until someone comes up with the newest and latest undetectable PED!

      Like

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