In honor of the Home Run Derby, let's examine the one thing that makes the derby better, other than Josh Hamilton...steroids!
In the coming years, more and more first time Hall-of-Fame candidates will show up from the Steroids Era. The Hall-of-Fame voters must decide what to do with this period, who to punish, and what will define a potential inductee whose career spanned from the late 1980's to the early 2000's.
Here, I will attempt to examine the careers of many potential Hall-of-Famers from the Steroids Era and whether or not they deserve to get in.
2007 gave voters their first Steroids Era test. Mark McGwire, poster child of inflated power numbers (whether or not it was due to the legal substance called androstenedione, apparently doesn't matter), was given his first opportunity at a Hall-of-Fame induction.
McGwire's relationship to whistleblower/drama queen Jose Canseco places him squarely in the sights of steroids allegations. Additional "evidence" came in the form of his weak showing during Congress' steroids witch hunt (see: waste of time).
What was initially considered a first ballot lock for McGwire quickly deteriorated into a question of whether McGwire would get in at all thanks to the steroids allegations. As expected, McGwire fell short of the 75 percent vote required for induction on his first attempt and has retained a consistent 20 percent vote over the last three years.
Clearly the voters aren't ready to forgive juicing yet. However, McGwire remains comfortably on the ballot. A five percent vote is required to carry over one's inclusion on a Hall-of-Fame ballot. McGwire is in no danger of falling below that mark right now and will likely be on the ballot for a while.
While the voters don't want to appear lax on the steroids issue, McGwire's numbers are great enough that he retains consideration. However, the only reason McGwire is considered a Hall-of-Famer is because of his power numbers.
McGwire holds a career .263 batting average and only managed 1,600 hits. Even his RBI numbers aren't overly impressive at 1,414 especially considering he hit 583 home runs.
Take away the long–ball and McGwire's not a very good baseball player. As it stands, he should remain on the ballot as long as possible, until definitive proof comes out that he used steroids.
McGwire's HR–chase contemporary, Sammy Sosa has an additional 800 hits, 250 RBI, 26 HR, and a ridiculous four year period where he hit 60 homers in a season three times. Already, his game is more impressive than McGwire.
One must consider that Sosa shares more than just power and a home run record chase with McGwire. He is also a steroids use candidate. According to the New York Times, Sosa is supposedly on the same list of players as Alex Rodriguez. He's also got that embarrassing corked bat episode weighing against him as well.
Just like McGwire, Sosa's numbers are primarily power numbers. Sosa carries a low batting average (.273), no gold gloves, and no non–powerhitting milestones.
Without an actual release of the 2003 test, the allegations remain hearsay, but the fact that he's a power hitter first with no other extraordinary facet to his game means the voters are justified in waiting around as long as possible to determine whether or not Sosa deserves induction.
The final two retired cases are a bit more difficult (one impossibly so), Rafael Palmeiro and Barry Bonds.
Palmeiro is a member of the 500 HR club and the 3,000 hit club. He's got more RBI than either McGwire or Sosa and a career .288 average. He was also a Gold Glover three times in his career.
Of the three players examined so far, surprisingly Rafael Palmeiro is the best Hall-of-Fame candidate as his game was more diverse than just power hitting. However, he has an actual, released positive test for a banned substance against him, a larger strike to overcome than Canseco's allegations or forgetting how to speak English in front of U.S. legislators.
In Palmeiro's case, it boils down to how much negative weight should be placed on steroids. Palmeiro wasn't a pop-up guy like Sosa or McGwire, he was a good hitter before balls started flying out of the park. It would be a shame to keep a member of the 3,000 club and the 500 HR club out of the Hall-of-Fame, and voters should remember steroids make you better, not great.
The final retired hitter may be the most difficult case ever, Barry Bonds.
On one hand he's crass, an enemy of the media, and has more steroids connections than professional wrestling. On the other, he might be the greatest baseball player of all-time.
Consider the career stats, bolded are MLB records: seven MVPs, eight Gold Gloves, 2,558 Walks, 688 Intentional Walks, 762 HR, 2,935 hits, .298 AVG, 514 Stolen bases, 1,996 RBI, and the sole member of 500 HR–500 SB club.
It's almost unfathomable to think that Bonds won't get in. Regardless of steroids, he is one of, if not the greatest, five tool players of all-time (does he get a bonus sixth tool for being an actual tool?). Asterisk his numbers if necessary, but Bonds cannot be kept out of the Hall-of-Fame.
In fact, the only thing more asinine than Bonds not getting into the Hall, is that nobody signed him in 2008. He was a .276 hitter with 28 home runs in 2007 playing in the NL. He easily could have DH'ed for any AL team and been very successful, but enough of that, and of batters, time to move on to "The Rocket".
I'll admit, I suspected Clemens as a steroids user for years. He was too old to be pitching the way he was pitching towards the end of his career, just like all of the batters were too old to be hitting 45-plus homers per year during the 1998-2002 power surge. I often wonder why it took so long for everyone to start questioning pitchers as well.
Think about it, the lowered recovery time thanks to steroids helped pitchers throw harder, deeper into the season. If any position was helped by steroids more than power hitters, it was power pitchers.
When news of Clemens' alleged steroids use broke, I figured that everyone would make the connection that a.) steroids aren't a batter's drug b.) the inflated HR numbers came from pitchers throwing harder as much as they came from bigger biceps.
Unfortunately, coverage remains biased towards the big bats. I guess chicks, and media alarmists really dig the long ball.
Ultimately, blackballing all cheating hitters for steroids is not fair if you don't do the same to their cheating opponents at the plate. If you're going to let Andy Pettitte slide because he wasn't a power pitcher, let Bonds slide because he was a true all–around player.
But, the Steroids Era was not made up solely of players who retired around the turn of the Millennium. Most of the players today in what we could consider the first five years of the post–Steroids Era played part or most of their career under the old, steroids friendly testing rules.
Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield, Andy Pettitte, and Ivan Rodriguez all share a connection to steroids and Hall-of-Fame hopes.
Ivan Rodriguez is a particularly interesting case as he is known more as a defensive specialist than an offensive force. While steroids may have improved his longevity, they didn't help his defensive prowess. Rodriguez gets in regardless.
Pettitte is a nice guy with good enough stats, but nothing really jumps off the page at you. Well, one thing does; he used steroids. Without the steroids allegations, Pettitte was not a shoo–in for the Hall-of-Fame.
He will not get 300 wins, 3,000 strikeouts, or post a sub–3.00 ERA. Instead he's got 220, 2,000, and sub 4.0. He's not an ace, but he's one of the most consistent pitchers around. Combine that with the four World Series rings, and a lot of post–season success and you've got a pretty good case for a Hall-of-Famer.
Does a pretty good case get dropped to a not so good case thanks to steroids?
Surprisingly, in Pettitte's case, it probably won't matter. His pitching style will work in his favor. He won't be a first ballot Hall-of-Famer, but he wouldn't have been one anyway. He will probably get 30-plus percent of the vote though, better than McGwire, and I see him getting in down the road.
The other three are all members of the 500 HR club, the 1,500 RBI club, and the 2,400 hits club. Real power hitters. They also hit for average, something McGwire and Sosa didn't do. A–Rod and Manny have career averages over .300 (Sheffield is not far behind at .292).
A–Rod seems like a lock for 600 home runs; 3,000 hits and 2,000 RBI aren't out of the question. He's a good enough offensive threat to overlook the inflated numbers due to steroids use, and should get into the Hall-of-Fame without any problems.
The other two players likely will not increase their stats enough to reach another significant milestone before their retirement.
This leaves Sheffield and Manny somewhere between Sosa and Palmeiro as far as career accomplishments go. Manny's the best pure hitter of all of them, and will likely be inducted in time.
Sheffield may not be so lucky. Despite a lack of evidence outside of Sheffield's "unknowing" use of the cream, the link to BALCO maybe too much for him to overcome.
What of the Clean Ones?
The final, less noticeable, less publicized group is the clean players. The list of guaranteed locks for the Hall-of-Fame is surprisingly long.
For hitters: Ichiro, Pujols, Griffey Jr., and Chipper Jones will have no problems.
On the pitching side, Pedro Martinez, Smoltz, Randy Johnson, Maddux, Glavine, Rivera, and Hoffman will get in.
But what of the players whose careers may have seemed lucrative if not for the surge in numbers thanks to steroids?
Fred McGriff is right on the edge of the 500 HR club, with a .284 average, 2,400 hits and 1,500 RBI. He's never been connected to steroids, but his reign as a top tier power hitter was short thanks to the other players' cheating.
Will the writers remember how great he was, or will they remember how little they actually remember Fred McGriff's career?
Frank Thomas may fall into this category as well. His numbers are great (521 home runs, .301 AVG, 1,700 RBI) and he's been clean as far as we know. However, just like McGriff, Thomas was lost in a sea of power numbers greater than his.
Jeff Bagwell is a little further away, but in a similar situation with 449 homers, 2,300 hits, and 1,500 RBI; great numbers if he hadn't produced them in the Steroids Era.
Furthermore, will voters believe that these players were clean? Without testing, one can never be positive that any particular player didn't take steroids, and with every new allegation, the voters will become even more skeptical.
Hopefully this will not be the case.
Hopefully the voters will not impose their own personal beliefs about any particular player, but with the unfounded rumors which somehow make it all the way up to major news outlets, it would not come as a surprise if the voters prejudices come through in their ballots regardless of the presence of hard evidence against any particular player.
Sadly, only time will tell how the Hall will treat this era of baseball. The line between treating the integrity of the game and past players with fairness and treating the players from the '90's fairly will be a difficult one to walk.
Unfortunately for everyone, this is something that needs a well thought out solution, and the voters do not have a long time to decide how to approach this delicate situation.