As a preface, this article was originally written for a debate final. It ran a little long, but I liked it as it was and didn't feel the need to cut any points.
This January, the Baseball Hall of Fame will announce its 2010 inductees, and until then, there will be much debate as to who is worthy and who is not. I would like to analyze each of the candidates, but that doesn’t seem like a plausible task in a four to eight minute time slot.
So, instead, I’ll will drop defending candidates, such as Bert Blyleven, or arguing against candidates, such as Andre Dawson, in which the cases are entirely based on numbers, and will stick to candidates with both a numerical and a moral side.
And so, with this in mind I would like to present the cases for Pete Rose, Joe Jackson, Mark McGwire, and Dave Parker.
Pete Rose has a clear case for enshrinement. He led the league in batting average three seasons, hits seven seasons, doubles five times and on-base percentage twice. He is the all-time leader in career hits, won both a Most Valuable Player and a Rookie of the Year award, and made 17 all-star teams, all with an impressive 15-year stretch.
Yet, while he was managing the Cincinnati Reds in 1988, he was found guilty of betting on the game, and was subsequently banned from Major League Baseball. This has kept him from being elected to the Hall of Fame-any ballot listing him as of now is thrown out.
Although he denied this at the time, he has since admitted to betting on his team, but only as a standing bet every night to win the game.
First, nothing has ever been found to discredit Rose on this point. This is interesting, as it would seem it hardly served any point besides extra incentive to win. Second, many people are rather unclear as to the official definition of gambling on baseball, as seen on a recent poll on sports writer Joe Posnanski’s blog.
Readers were almost completely indifferent to smaller or less “official” bets (for example, a $5 bet with friends about an outcome of a game compared to larger bets with bookies). Additionally, whether the bet was to win or lose the game was also a rather large factor. Rose, again, has said he only bet that his team would win, which should have been his goal anyway.
In addition to being redundant, the official banishment only extended officially to the Hall of Fame in 1991, the year Pete Rose was first eligible, making his Hall of Fame status seem especially cruel and vindictive.
In any case, Commissioner Giamatti, the man who banned Pete Rose, in the original agreement, gave Rose the ability to apply for reinstatement once a year for the rest of his life, with the intention of reinstating him after several years.
However, eight days after the ruling, Giamatti suffered a fatal heart attack. Since then, one of the main arguments against Rose’s reinstatement has been that it would be an injustice to Giamatti’s legacy DESPITE Giamatti’s original intent. At the very least, Baseball could acknowledge the antiquated rule, as I will explain with the next player.
“Shoeless” Joe Jackson suffered a similar fate to Pete Rose decades earlier. Seven other teammates were convicted of throwing the 1919 World Series. However, unlike Rose, Jackson not only proclaimed his innocence until his death, the other seven other players who admitted to throwing the World Series also defended his story, and claimed he had never met with them during their meetings on the subject.
Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis was notoriously quick to banish players-in his 24 year tenure, he banned more players or owners (21) than were banned in the following 65 years (six, two of which were later overturned because the players in question had not held any job in Major League for over a decade).
This also seems to lend itself to suggest that the incredibly harsh punishments for gambling seem outdated, as only one of those six was banished for gambling. Landis also banned Jackson despite the fact he was acquitted of legal charges during the incident, and despite questionable tactics used to obtain Jackson’s confession (such as drugging him prior to his “confession,” or having the illiterate Jackson sign legal documents).
At the very least, Jackson’s actions can hardly be considered those of a player trying purposely to lose. For example, over the eight game World Series, Jackson had an on-base percentage plus of 165.5. (OPS+ compares a player to a league average player, with 100 considered league average).
For comparison, the last two AL MVPs, Joe Mauer and Dustin Pedroia, had OPS+s of 170 and 120 in their MVP seasons, respectively. This is also right in line with his career averages of 170. For comparison, his teammate Chick Gandil, who instrumented the fix, had a series OPS+ of 58, almost half of his 103 career average. Jackson was either the worst person at fixing games in history, or he was not trying to lose.
Some debate over whether Jackson had a Hall-of-Fame worthy shortened career. Well, at the age of 30 (meaning he had roughly 10 seasons left), he had amassed 1,772 hits (in just over nine full seasons), and was, on average, 70 percent better than the average ballplayer.
He is still third all-time in career batting average. His case certainly looks sound.
Dave Parker also certainly has Hall of Fame qualifications. He has one MVP award with four other top five finishes, 7 All-Star game appearances, and three Gold Gloves and Silver Slugger awards (given to the best hitter and fielder at each position in a season) over a 19 season career. He amassed 2712 hits and 339 home runs, and, over his career, was 21 percent better the average player for his era.
For comparison, Hall of Famer Paul Molitor had 607 more hits and 105 fewer home runs in almost 2000 more plate appearances, good for an OPS+ 1 greater than Parker’s.
Additionally, Parker played superior defense, while Molitor was primarily a designated hitter, and did not contribute with his fielding. However, he still has not been elected to the Hall of Fame, for reasons that many fans believe are tied to his connections to Baseball’s first drug problem.
In the 1980’s,Major League Baseball had a growing problem with its players using cocaine, culminating in the 1985 Pittsburgh Drug Trials. Parker, then with the Pittsburgh Pirates, was one of 11 players suspended for his drug use, and arguably the best player of the list.
In the end, Parker payed one-tenth of his 1986 salary to drug-related community service, served 100 hours of community service related to drugs, and submitted to random testing. Many voters seem to tie Parker back to these events from nearly two-and-a-half decades ago.
First of all, Parker would not be the first Hall of Famer tied to drug use. In 1980, pitcher Ferguson Jenkins was suspended for life after cocaine was found in his possessions at an airport. He was reinstated in time for the following season, and was inducted to the Hall of Fame a decade later, on his third try at election.
Parker, meanwhile, is on his fourteenth try at election. He can hardly be seen as a weak choice, as I have previously mentioned. In addition, he has been punished for his actions, and has arguably helped more than he has hurt with the aforementioned charity work.
Since it would hardly be against a set precedence, and since he not only served a punishment for his actions but also may have off-set them, he should be elected despite his drug incident.
On a related note, Mark McGwire is entering his fourth year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame. He has impressive numbers, which would certainly garner induction with little debate.
However, he is one of the most prevalent names linked to steroids, and is the first to reach the election process, which makes the process very complicated. He has never been officially proven to take a substance that was banned by Major League Baseball, but the evidence against him is very strong.
The only drug he was officially linked to was not illegal or banned by MLB, but it is officially considered a steroid and was accordingly banned by every other testing program in professional sports. As it is, he is the only of the aforementioned players who has not been punished in some way for his controversial actions.
However, he can hardly be seen as the only player in baseball history who has tried to use chemicals to gain an edge.
In fact, as far back as 1889, future Hall of Famer Pud Galvin was found to be taking monkey testosterone to gain an advantage. Stimulant drugs were apparently common in the 1960s and 1970s, according to some sources.
So, McGwire can hardly be kept out on moral grounds. Yet he can hardly be seen as without fault. It may be best to use him as a precedent; establish that steroid users from the period of lax testing in the 1990s and early 2000s will be punished, such as by increasing their wait time before they can be elected to the Hall of Fame.
This would give time to put their achievements in proper perspective. Additionally, they will need to prove to be well-above their peers who did not use performance-enhancing drugs, who can still be held to current standards. In any case, there seems to be little foundation for a case to keep McGwire out indefinitely.
These four players represent a small faction of the players deserving of election to the Hall that are currently waiting. In many cases, such as Parker’s, these players are running out of chances; players only receive fifteen chances, a total that is fast approaching for some. I can only hope, as a baseball fan, that the Baseball Writers in charge of the process begin to correct some of these grievous injustices.