Rethinking the Steroid Era and the Hall of Fame for Bonds, Clemens and Sosa
Update: January 9, 2012: Today at 2pm EDT we will learn he impact of the Steroid Era on all of those players, guilty or not, who played at this time. What is your opinion of this critical juncture in Baseball history?
Baseball purists will deny the accomplishments of the players named in the Mitchell Report or who were otherwise rumored to have taken performance-enhancing drugs. But regardless, the records are still a product of the era in which they played.
It can be argued that since the designated hitter was instituted, run production and batting average went up, especially in the American League. However, when it comes to steroids and baseball, it is much more difficult to determine their true net-effect on the game given the many other things happening in the game throughout this time.
Yet most of those players eligible this year and in upcoming seasons are going to be denied their plaque in the Hall of Fame.
As we look to the voting for this year's class, it is important to take into account the many factors other than steroids which led to such skewed numbers. Here are some reasons why we should reconsider the role of steroids on the game and give serious thought to the Hall of Fame candidacy of Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens and holdover Raphael Palmiero.
New Baseball Stadiums, Shorter Fences, Seats Closer to the Field
From 1989 to 2006, a total of 19 new stadiums were built. Each had a retro design to it, and all had shorter home-run fences down the lines than the ones they replaced. That turned a lot of fly balls that would have been outs the year before into home runs.
Also, to give the fans a more intimate experience at the ballpark, many of the new stadiums reduced the amount of foul territory, which gave hitters more opportunities at the plate.
All of which is to say that there were factors other than steroid use that fueled the rise in the number of home runs in the majors.
Steroids Do Not Help Your Vision
While it is true that PEDs will increase strength, there is no evidence to suggest they help vision.
This is significant because of Bonds's incredible batting eye. For a power hitter, he struck out remarkably little. In 22 seasons. he fanned as many as 100 times just once, and that was his rookie year. He averaged 82 strikeouts per season, which is outstanding given the number of hits, home runs and walks that he drew.
Despite the season when he hit 73 home runs, perhaps his best statistical season was in 2004 when he hit 45 home runs, drove in 101 runs and walked an amazing 232 times! His OPS was an incredible 1.422. More than half of Bond’s hits in 2004 were for extra bases.
You need a keen eye to consistently draw walks like Bonds did, and performance-enhancing drugs do nothing to boost eyesight artificially.
It is important to note that Alex Rodriguez admitted to using steroids during his time in Texas. In those three seasons, he hit 56 home runs, leading the league all three seasons he was allegedly using PEDs. A-Rod’s 52 homers in 2001 were just 10 more than his next highest total.
Do the math and you can figure that A-Rod hit just 10 more homers with steroids than without. But what stands out given A-Rod's propensity to spend time on the disabled list is that for those three years, he missed just one game.
If what Andy Pettite said was true, that he took PEDs to help him heal faster, this would make sense. Steroids didn’t help A-Rod’s statistics as much as they helped him stay healthy.
Competition for Big Paydays
Money is a driving force in the way baseball contracts are designed with incentives. When Miguel Tejada came up in 1997, he was coming into an era when baseball had several outstanding shortstops. Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra and Derek Jeter were all beginning to flourish.
Tejada was 5’9’’ and a little more than 175 pounds when he came up with the A’s. Having shined shoes in his native Dominican Republic just a few years earlier, the money he could make in the majors must have been a great incentive for him.
Evidently, according to the Mitchell Report, others knew how young Tejada could get ahead. They were there and able to offer him a badly needed ''shot'' in the arm—or elsewhere.
Tejada soon flourished, winning the MVP award in 2000. In just two short seasons, Tejada went from 11 home runs to 30 and also gained 25 pounds. In hindsight, it is clear that he was taking PEDs along the way.
When you examine the Tejada story, you almost understand why he took this route. Competition is fierce and the A’s were not a big-market team. To be seen as one of the premier shortstops in a league full of good ones, he wasn’t going to be able to compete without the help.
There are some who would argue that the language barrier and Tejada’s own inexperience in the majors contributed to his use of PEDs. But when judging these guys, all of these factors must be taken into account. After all, shining shoes in order to bring home a little money for dinner was not that far removed from his memory.
The Hall of Fame Needs to Develop a Consistent Message
Probably the biggest flaw in the Hall of Fame is that it would keep out a Clemens and a Bonds but allow Cap Anson, Ty Cobb, Enos Slaughter, and Rogers Hornsby in. The justification for keeping the steroid era players out has been the ridiculous ''character'' clause. Yet let’s examine the so-called character of these last four individuals mentioned.
Cap Anson: He refused to have the White Sox take the field when Moses '‘Fleetwood’' Walker ran out to second base. Because Anson was the greatest ambassador the game had known up to that time, the opposing team sat Walker, and thus began the unconscionable decision to segregate baseball.
Ty Cobb: By most accounts, Cobb was a seething racist. His 4,192 hits all came off of white pitchers and he was in no hurry to endorse blacks playing pro baseball. He addresses this in his autobiography, ''Cobb,'' and argues that much of his behavior was attributed to him by New York writers who were unfriendly to Detroit players.
In the book “The Glory of Their Times’’ by Lawrence Ritter, Sam Crawford said that Cobb once went into the stands and beat up a heckling fan who had happened to question ''the morals of his mother'' and the ''color of his family line.''
Rogers Hornsby: Owner of the highest batting average ever for a National Leaguer, .424, Hornsby nonetheless was a seething malcontent. In a day and age when players often stayed with a single team their entire careers, Hornsby was shipped off to five. He was reportedly an outspoken segregationist.
Hornsby bet on the horses, which frequently put him at odds with baseball commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis. But Hornsby was a ferocious battler, and despite all of his character issues off the diamond, he was quite a player while on it, and many of his records still stand today.
When a player injects himself with steroids, he is the only one affected. He takes a chance which allows him to seize the moment. But beyond that, there are no promises. Athletes know the health hazards of taking steroids. One look at Lyle Alzado's fight to live having been a steroid user for years and the risk is all too apparent.
But segregation of baseball is a far more egregious act. Anson, Cobb, Horsnby and others divided baseball along color lines. America had just won the Second World War. In Europe, as in the South Pacific, blood has just one color. Blacks and whites fought together and died together all over the world for their country.
The fact that for a full year after the war, the same men who were willing to lay down their lives for their white counterparts could no longer play a game, America’s Game, on the same diamond, is reprehensible.
To legislate morality to the point where Anson, Cobb and Hornsby are in the Hall of Fame, but a player with 765 home runs or seven Cy Young Awards or four consecutive seasons of 60-plus home runs is not is difficult for most baseball fans to reconcile.
It's an interesting parallel that there is no such thing as a ''Tie-goes-to-the-Runner.'' An umpire has to call the runner safe or out. There is no middle ground, no compromise. The baseball writers who vote on the Hall of Famers needs to adopt this same mentality.
If we didn't concern ourselves with conscious when we elected the old-timers into the Hall of Fame, we are hypocrites to do so now. Regardless of the situation, a Hall of Fame without Bonds, Clemens, Sosa or others is not a Hall of Fame to many fans.
As a result, we are left with two choices: Either we take the plaques of the old-timers who damaged baseball for 60 years off the wall, or we let the steroid era players into Cooperstown.
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