from The Other Tip of the Goldberg -- Matt Goldberg
One of my favorite sports-related pastimes is to speculate on which current players will make the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. You may rightfully question the fullness of my life, but Cooperstown still has a certain magic to it. As there are no objective criteria for determining which players go in—only stats, and stats often lie—it becomes a challenge that I sometimes share with other passionate baseball geeks.
When it comes to the steroid era, this pastime of mine becomes much trickier. How are we to consider (especially) the power tallies posted by current sluggers against the backdrop of ridiculous numbers achieved by Bonds, McGwire, Sosa and others?
And, is there any single source—be it the flawed Mitchell Report, shaky congressional testimony, drug testing, Selena Roberts, Brian McNamee, Jose Canseco, or even our own eyes—that accurately reveals and punishes the cheaters, yet rewards those that have played by the rules? Sadly, I think we all know the answer to that.
Given the inherent confusion of the above, how do I articulate a standard for whether to induct players acknowledged to be tainted? For purposes of this column, I am applying my new standard to the following seven players, who most consider to have cheated: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa. I realize that this is not an exhaustive list (where’s Jason Giambi, or Jason Grimsley for that matter?) but let’s just look at these guys who I will call the Cooperstown Seven.
The easiest way to articulate my position is to state that I reject both of these more absolutist positions:
DON’T LET ANY OF THESE JERKS IN: It would be nice to take such a strong stand, as I abhor cheating, and what it’s done to the game. I detest what this era has meant to the fans that are younger and more impressionable than I am. But in the end, I cannot be sure that we truly know who cheated and who played by the rules. I don’t think it’s fair to simply reject the candidacy of a handful or so players.
SO, JUST CONSIDER THEIR STATS—THEY ALL CHEATED, ANYWAY: At some point, I may arrive here, but not yet. There are megastars that have tested positive, lied to Congress, and been ratted out by SI, and I just don’t think that this should be ignored because we don’t know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. And, admittedly, I’d like to still believe that guys like Ken Griffey, Jr., Jim Thome, Albert Pujols and Ryan Howard accumulated their power numbers the old-fashioned way.
Given my rejection of these strong stances, where does that leave me? Perhaps, it puts me on a slippery slope, but this is the best I can do:
HOLD THE CHEATERS ACCOUNTABLE WITHOUT DISQUALIFYING THEIR CANDIDACIES: The best way to explain this new standard is to apply it to the Cooperstown Seven.
Bonds, Clemens and A-Rod are still in: Even if I slightly downgrade their statistics, all three put up such overwhelming numbers (apparently, with and without the juice) that I can’t keep them out. And yes, they all strike me as arrogant creeps, but I can’t factor that in. Last I checked, Ty Cobb was in, and Dale Murphy wasn’t.
Rafael Palmeiro needs to buy a ticket to get in: To me, his stats—if untainted—are Hall-worthy, if barely. Applying my new standard, the fact that he was caught cheating keeps him out of Cooperstown. (Some may argue that he wasn’t a Hall of Famer, anyway, but a .288 BA with 569 HRs, 1835 RBIs and 3 Gold Gloves would have been good enough for me.)
Ramirez, McGwire and Sosa are close—very close: I truly haven’t made up my mind about Manny, Mark and Sam (The PED Boys?). I consider their overall numbers to be better than Palmeiro’s, but certainly not as overwhelming as the first three, who were arguably the very best at their positions during their tenure. Put a gun and an actual ballot at my head, and here’s how I would vote:
McGwire—Out. Big Mac was an awesome power hitter who did not bring much else to the table. He had a relatively low batting average, played mediocre defense, and boasted career numbers that were impressive, but not monumental. Like Palmeiro, without the taint he’d be in.
Sosa—In. Sosa is more of a coin flip to me. He was a better all-around player than Mac, and his run from 1995-2003 was ginormous. I won’t argue vehemently if you say that he should be out, and both his corking incident and his Chico Escuela routine before Congress are not in his favor. Let me move on before I change my mind.
Ramirez—In. I know that this (still improbably lovable) goofball has embarrassed the game on several occasions, but he is a historically great hitter. Other than Pujols and maybe A-Rod, who has been a better right-handed hitter in the last 20 years?
I still enjoy debating who belongs in Cooperstown, but only when PEDS are not involved. Jeff Kent? No. Trevor Hoffman? Yes. Mike Mussina? Nah. Andy Pettite? Oops.