Cooperstown and Steroids: Where Do You Draw the Line of Eligibility?

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Cooperstown and Steroids: Where Do You Draw the Line of Eligibility?
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Alex Rodriguez are all at the heart of the steroid controversy in baseball.

As much as Major League Baseball would like to set the issue of steroid use behind them and move on, the debate is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

The recent Barry Bonds trial and Manny Ramirez's sudden retirement due to a second failed drug test further pulled the issue back into the spotlight, and Roger Clemens' trial this summer will keep us from forgetting the issue this season.

Annually, the issue will be brought to the forefront with the Hall of Fame eligibility of those connected to steroid use.

I believe inevitably some players with steroid pasts will eventually be enshrined in Cooperstown. I have zero doubt in my mind that at some point a news story will break about the past usage of a current member of the Hall of Fame.

After all, steroid usage did not start in the late 1980's with Jose Canseco, no matter how much MLB wants to believe that it did.

When that day does come and a Cooperstown member is "outed" as a juicer, the baseball writers will be forced to take into consideration the accomplishments of former players on the ballots with steroid implications as well.

How can you exclude some players for their accomplishments while others are allowed to have their accomplishments continue to receive praise in baseball immortality?

At some point a line will have to be drawn, and a determination of how you measure the careers of some of baseball's greatest careers, steroids or not.

Do steroid users deserve induction in the Hall of Fame?

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My opinion, whether you choose to agree with me or not, is that players be measured on a scale of where we think their careers stood prior to their usage, and where it went after.

This is tricky because rarely is an implicated player straight-forward about when their usage started, and they are almost always defensive about how much help the PEDs actually gave to their career stats.

There is definitely merit to the argument that steroids don't help your hand-eye-coordination, nor your mechanics which allow you to hit a baseball 400 feet, or throw a ball 100 mph.

The fact that players fail to acknowledge is that steroids prolong their career, both at the beginning and end of their careers.

Prospects who use steroids to set themselves apart from other minor league players reach the Majors quicker, adding to their stat totals.

Their use in their early career aides their early successes and helps them against the learning curve that other young players have to fight.

Older players, or injured players, use steroids to keep themselves on the field longer, or help them get back on the field quicker. Their statistics are obviously enhanced by the extra time the steroids added to their careers, which may otherwise have been shortened or ended.

Mark McGwire, for example, has denied that steroids helped him to hit any of his 582 career home runs. He insists that he would have hit everyone of those home runs without the use of PEDs.

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McGwire was the first to break Roger Maris' single season home run record, but his accomplishment is tainted.

What McGwire fails to realize though is that while he used steroids as a way of recovering from injuries and prolonging his career, that in itself added to his home run totals, and thus taints his career accomplishments.

By his own admission, had he not taken steroids he would have retired prior to his trade to the St. Louis Cardinals due to injuries, and the magical 1998 season in which he broke Maris' record never would have taken place, nor would the years that followed.

We do not know for sure when McGwire actually started taking steroids, but we do know that the statistics that would have made him a Hall of Famer are tainted.

Therefore, I would argue against admission to Cooperstown, ever, for McGwire. (Keep in mind, I grew up an A's fan and McGwire was a childhood hero, so I have no axe to grind here.)

Rafael Palmeiro is another prime example. The baseball writers excluded him from induction this past season. We have no direct evidence of steroid usage prior to the 2005 season in which he failed a drug test and was suspended for 10 games.

He was initially implicated by Jose Canseco, dating back to their days together with the Texas Rangers.

If we were able to focus only on Palmeiro's statistics after his failed drug test, he would still be worthy of induction. He is, after all, one of only four players in baseball history with 3000 career hits and 500 home runs.

Do Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro belong in the HOF?

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It would be worth simply excluding that one single season from consideration and still view his career as worthy of enshrinement with the other legends of the game.

His implied steroid use dating back to the early 1990's taints his entire career, though.

How should the other players implicated with steroids be treated by the baseball writers?

 

Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro:

 Based on the scenarios I just wrote, I would vote for exclusion for both players.

 

Mike Piazza:

 Piazza was connected to steroids in Jeff Pearlman's book, The Rocket That Fell to Earth:

"As the hundreds of major league ballplayers who turned to performance-enhancing drugs throughout the 1990s did their absolute best to keep the media at arm's length, Piazza took the opposite approach.

Does Mike Piazza deserve induction into Cooperstown?

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According to several sources, when the subject of performance enhancing was broached with reporters he especially trusted, Piazza fessed up.

"Sure, I use," he told one. "But in limited doses, and not all that often." (Piazza has denied using performance-enhancing drugs, but there has always been speculation.)

Whether or not it was Piazza's intent, the tactic was brilliant: By letting the media know, of the record, Piazza made the information that much harder to report. Writers saw his bulging muscles, his acne-covered back.

They certainly heard the under-the-breath comments from other major league players, some who considered Piazza's success to be 100 percent chemically delivered."

Piazza's accomplishments in the game of baseball cannot be disputed, without connections to steroids he is a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee. He's an admitted steroid user, though, who likely used throughout his entire career.

As popular of a player as Piazza was, and despite the fact that his steroid use has been overwhelmingly under-reported, Piazza does not deserve induction into the Hall of Fame before any of the other players connected to PEDs. He likely does not deserve induction into Cooperstown at all.

 

Gary Sheffield:

Does Sammy Sosa deserve induction in Cooperstown?

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 Sheffield has 509 career home runs and a career .292 batting average. He acknowledged using the designer steroids "the cream and the clear" in his 2003 Federal Grand Jury testimony.

Sheffield maintains that he never knowingly used steroids, and there is not any evidence or public speculation to prior usage. His statistics stayed fairly consistent throughout his career, and they declined as you would expect as he aged.

Sheffield likely is not a first-ballot inductee, however unless more proof emerges of continued steroid use, I would argue that he belongs in Cooperstown.

I do understand though that he is sort of a fringe candidate and the voters could exclude him based on the assumption that steroids pushed him just far enough to the totals that would have earned him enshrinement.

 

Sammy Sosa:

Sosa will never see enshrinement into Cooperstown, period. Sadly his 609 career home runs are not only tainted by a connection to steroid use, but he was also suspended for using a corked bat.

Sammy was a good hitter who may have been headed for a Hall of Fame career but his numbers suddenly took a video game-like spike from 1997-1998 and continued through 2004. He eclipsed the 60-home run plateau three times during that span.

Does Ivan Rodriguez deserve induction into Cooperstown?

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Ivan Rodriguez:

Ivan Rodriguez has widely been considered the greatest catcher ever, and his thirteen Gold Gloves while putting up impressive offensive numbers leave little to argue about his place in the game amongst not only the greatest catchers, but the all time greats of the game.

Add to his 13 Gold Glove awards, his seven Silver Slugger awards, his 1999 MVP award, and his 14 All-Star selections and there is no arguing that Pudge was a dominant player throughout his still active career.

Rodriguez is also speculated to be included in the list of 100+ players who failed a drug test in 2003, and further he was connected to steroids by Jose Canseco, his teammate in Texas in the early 1990's.

Rodriguez is arguably still Cooperstown-worthy based on his defensive accomplishments alone, which steroid use would not necessarily have aided.

What needs to be taken into consideration with Rodriguez is what impact steroids had in keeping him on the field late in the seasons, and if they prolonged his ability to continue playing catcher as he aged.

My opinion is that Rodriguez still deserves induction based on his defensive rankings in the game.

Does A-Rod deserve induction into Cooperstown?

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Manny Ramirez:

Manny was supposedly on the 2003 list of players who failed a drug test, he was suspended 50 games in 2009 for the use of a steroid-masking agent, and retired this year after another failed drug test that would have given him a 100-game suspension.

The fact that Ramirez failed two drug tests after baseball implemented the current drug testing policies calls into question what he was doing before the stiffer penalties went into effect.

Manny's 555 career home runs may as well have never happened.

The question is not whether Manny will be inducted into the Hall of Fame; he won't.

The question is whether his name will stay on the ballot after his first year of eligibility at all.

 

Alex Rodriguez:

A-Rod admitted his steroid use after his name was leaked to the press being included in the 2003 drug test list. He publicly stated that his steroid use was limited to the 2001-2003 seasons. In my mind, and I have no proof of this, his statistics prior to 2001 should also be questioned.

Steroids do not only lengthen your career in the later years after all, they can help a young prospect put up statistics that help them reach the Majors and compete quicker as well.

Does Roger Clemens deserve induction into Cooperstown?

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If, and I stress this is just my opinion, Rodriguez was juicing in the minors or his first few years in the Majors, then his early success could have been the results of steroids enhancing his unquestionable natural ability.

Rodriguez has continued to dominate baseball since the stricter testing and punishment policies were put in place though, which hints that he has remained clean since his 2003 failed test.

His early statistics are questionable, but if we can safely assume that his later statistics are all clean, then he is still a definite Hall of Famer, and likely a first-ballot inductee.

 

Roger Clemens:

It's awfully hard to ignore the accusations against Roger Clemens by his former trainer, Brian McNamee. Clemens is, after all, facing federal perjury charges because of his steroid usage denials.

I doubt there are many fans that still believe Clemens accomplished his career totals without the help of performance enhancers. My personal belief, though, is that he was already arguably an induction-worthy player when his supposed steroid use is rumored to have begun.

Clemens falls into the category of great players who used steroids to prolong his career, and prolong the length of his dominance rather than fade to mediocrity.

Does Barry Bonds deserve induction into Cooperstown?

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It's worth noting that he had a 1.87 ERA in 2005, a season with baseball's stricter testing policy in place, followed by a 2.30 ERA in 2006.

Clemens has my vote, but unfortunately for him, I don't have a vote. It's going to be interesting to see how much credit the voters give him for his accomplishments prior to his enhanced years towards the end of his career.

 

Barry Bonds:

Bonds is the poster-child for steroid use and what they do for the back of the baseball card.

Bonds reportedly began using steroids following the 1998 season out of jealousy of the attention being given to Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, two players he believed he was better than but they were using steroids to achieve their numbers.

Thanks to coverage of the Bonds perjury trial we know most of the details of his steroid use, including failed drug tests prior to 2003, as well as his acknowledgement that he used the designer steroids "the cream and the clear."

Barry Bonds is the career home run leader with 762 career home runs, a total he never would have reached without the use of PEDs. He is also a Hall of Famer, though.

Bonds was headed to Cooperstown before 1998. Had his career just continued at the same pace he was going before, he would have achieved between 500-600 home runs and likely won a few more MVP awards.

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Ken Griffey Jr and Derek Jeter represent two players whose accomplishments remain untainted, and I am thankful for that.

He probably won't be rewarded with first-ballot induction because of his connection to steroids, and there are some writers who will never vote for him, but Bonds does belong in Cooperstown because of his overall career accomplishments.

 

The Debate Doesn't End Here

Unfortunately, a clear line needs to be drawn with how voters are going to treat the steroid era as a whole.

All players who played within this time-frame will have to deal with the doubt that accompanies the era. The exception is players that are widely considered to be clean, first-ballot candidates: Ken Griffey Jr., Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson.

Several current players are considered clean as well and could find themselves rewarded with quick inductions for remaining to stay out of the realm of suspicion: Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jim Thome, Ichiro Suzuki and Albert Pujols to name a few.

If Major League Baseball truly wants to put the steroid era behind us, and end all conversation about the matter to move on, then they need to establish a clear line to determine how implicated players will have their accomplishments remembered.

For me personally, only the accomplishments that I can reasonably consider to have been achieved naturally will matter to me, whether that be the stats achieved before a failed test, or those after testing got stricter.

The Manny Ramirezes of the baseball world will be forever forgotten and treated as an enigma of the record books, careers that never happened.

I look forward to the day when we are only considering the careers of players who began their careers after 2005, and we can reasonably compare their career statistics to those of Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Bob Feller and the rest of baseball's true immortals.

 

Brandon McClintock covers Major League Baseball for BleacherReport.com. You can follow Brandon on twitter   @BMcClintock_BR.

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