January 5, 2011

Hall of Fame and Steroids and Naked Ballplayers

Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar got voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame today. Nate Silver wonders if too few players are getting in these days, what with there now being 30 teams and larger populations to draw from. In his first year of eligibility, Houston Astros slugger Jeff Bagwell didn't get in. Silver says:
Steroid use — actual or suspected — is another issue. Rafael Palmeiro, whose case was debatable on the statistical merits anyway, and who was actually suspended by Major League Baseball for steroid use, would not have made my ballot. Like Tyler Kepner, however, I cannot understand docking Bagwell for mere suspicion of steroid use when there is no evidence of it. 

I can. For one thing, players have 15 years of eligibility to get voted into the Hall (and if they fail there, can get picked by a Veterans Committee later). But they can't get kicked once they're in. So, what's the rush? Blyleven had to wait 15 years to get voted in. Why not wait awhile to see what shakes out? Let's see what turns up. This would only be a major injustice to Bagwell if he suddenly drops dead before he gets in. And if he suddenly drops dead ...

One advantage that working sportswriters have over statistical analysts like Silver in voting on whether players who hit a lot of homers during the steroid years should be entrusted with permanent Hall of Fame membership is that many of the sportswriters, unlike the stats analysts, saw these players naked in the locker room. For example, when Jeff Bagwell went from a .516 slugging average at age 25 to a .750 slugging average at age 26, how much different did he look with his jersey off? Statistical analysts like Nate don't know. I don't know either. Some of the sportswriters who get to vote for Hall of Famers do know, and have, I would guess, talked to other voting sportswriters about it.

Personally, I don't know, I've never heard any rumors about Bagwell. 

Tyler Kepner in the NYT says he's voting for Bagwell and all the other sluggers who haven't gotten official caught:
Circumstantial evidence can be used against anybody. Mike Piazza might have been the most productive offensive catcher in baseball history. But suspicion of steroid use has dogged him, even though, like Bagwell, there has never been a tangible link.

Did Piazza use steroids? I don’t know. He denied it in 2002 by explaining, “I hit the ball as far in high school as I do now.” [Piazza was drafted in the 62nd round out of high school by the LA Dodgers, and he was the brother of Tommy Lasorda's godson, so he wasn't all that awesome in high school.]

All I know for sure is that Piazza played like a Hall of Famer and should be enshrined for that. The New York Times does not allow its writers to vote for the Hall of Fame, but to me, the playing record is the only fair way to measure those who were never suspended for using steroids. 

The rumor I heard in the 1990s was that sponsors often wanted to feature Piazza shirtless in ads, but his back acne was so bad this made for a major issue. (Acne on the back is one possible symptom of juicing.) I recall finally seeing a commercial of Piazza shirtless, but with so much backlighting he was more or less in silhouette.

To me, the tough question is Barry Bonds, who was a first round Hall of Famer before, evidently, he started juicing in 1999. A lot of these other guys might not have gotten close to the Hall without the juice. Rafael Palmeiro, for example, was traded away by the Cubs because they had Mark Grace to play first base instead of him. Grace is the model of the pretty good player, the slick-fielding firstbaseman who never hit more than 17 homers in 15 seasons in little Wrigley Field, who doesn't belong in the Hall. He got only 4% vote for the Hall in 2009 and was dropped from consideration.


Anonymous said...

"Rafael Palmeiro, whose case was debatable on the statistical merits anyway..."

Can someone please explain how 569 HRs and 3,020 hits is "debatable?" Especially with Andre freakin' Dawson in the Hall. Come on now, steroids is the only issue here. It would be nice for Silver to admit that.

eh said...

To me, the tough question is Barry Bonds,...

It's only tough because Bonds very probably, if not definitely, would have been a HOFer without taking anabolics. He was a great player, even in the early '90s. But he did take them. And is to boot the most blatant and disgusting example of that form of cheating. Due to, in part, his consistent, arrogant lying about it.

No way he ought to be eleced to the HOF. That part's not tough at all.

Steve Sailer said...

Bonds ex-girlfriend says he started experimenting with PEDs in 1999. So, his clean 1986-1998 seasons alone put him in the Top 20 position players all time in Wins Above Replacement. If he'd played out his career au naturel, he'd probably have finished in the top ten.

albert magnus said...

The season Bagwell slugged .750 was a season shortened by his broken hand. They also changed the walls a bit in the Astrodome.

Bagwell, unlike McGwire or Palmerio, did everything well. Defense, baserunning and clubhouse leadership. On top of that, beyond the MVP year, he was remarkably consistent and injury-free (until his arthritic shoulder ended his career) unlike other steroid users.

If Bagwell had played in MMPUS his whole career rather than just after 2000 he would have had at least one more MVP in the late nineties and he would be a no-brainer for the Hall. (Though he should be already).

JHB said...

Here's suspicion regarding Jeff Bagwell: Bagwell hit only six home runs in two minor league seasons, after which he hit 449 home runs in the Major Leagues. Yes, players develop, but Bagwell was playing at lower levels of competition and he simply wasn't a power hitter in the minor leagues, even though he was a guy with college experience three or four years older than about half of the other players.

I think that a preponderance of evidence points to his steroid use, and there are third party allegations of steroid use. I don't know that steroid use equates to exclusion from Cooperstown, but I think that it's pretty clear that Bagwell would be suspected of steroid use by a reasonable observer.

DCThrowback said...

Barry Bonds - with or without steroids - is one of the greatest baseball players of all time. With steroids, he became the greatest. Sadly, he never learned media relations like his "friends" Sosa & McGwire. A casual reminder that these middle aged, white sportswriters would be the ones having the final say over his career probably would've served Barry well (not that he would've heeded it anyways).

He should be a first ballot HOFer in every scenario.

josh said...

Bonds was the best player since the Mays/Aaron/Mantle days without PEDs (with them he was so absurdly much better than everybody else, many of whom were also juicing, despite being fairly old that it just shows how talented he was). The question is whether he should be punished.

Andre Dawson's induction is not debatable, it's a minor travesty.

keypusher said...


Statistical analysis of Rafael Palmeiro and others here:


There is a lot to look at, but the author makes the case that, adjusting for his era and the parks he played in, Palmeiro does not have shoe-in credentials, even leaving steroids aside.

Anonymous said...

My brother and son never 'juiced' but both had Godawful acne on their backs when in high school and both had what is called in our small town 'stupid strength'. Meaning enough strength to really get yourself into trouble.

My son would hurt himself playing by jumping too high and landing wrong or pulling muscles. My brother and I just fooled around turning small cars around in their parking spots by walking the back ends around. We were always the first guys called to move furniture or pianos.

I wasn't as strong as my brother but I didn't have the acne either. I think testosterone must have something to do with it.

helene edwards said...

+1 to First Anon. This site is all about calling out stupidity, right? Well, that clause about Palmeiro is the clubhouse leader for the year so far. But for steroids, those are 1st ballot numbers.

James Kabala said...

There probably is a steroid user in the Hall of Fame already. I don't have anyone in particular in mind, but I bet someone has slipped through, or if no one has, that someone will do so by 2020 at the latest. Not everyone shows obvious signs.

alonzo portfolio said...

Keypusher, do you believe in this "adjusting for parks" stuff? The Polo Grounds had one of the shortest right field home run distances of any park. So if Mel Ott's numbers were good enough (511 hr.) aren't Palmeiro's too?

MQ said...

If Barry Bonds doesn't make it to the hall of fame then the whole process is a farce. He only started shooting up because the entire sport was engaged in a conspiracy of silence about allowing mediocrities to juice, and he saw himself losing out to said mediocrities because of that. You could even say that he owed it to his fans to juice -- the sport had de facto accepted steroid use and the SF Giants were losing games because he wasn't doing what his competitors were doing in order to win.

I find the attitude toward past steroid use today on the part of fans and journalists to be hypocritical in the highest degree. It's not like this stuff was hard to figure out when it was happening.

Anonymous said...

Lee Smith belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Anonymous said...

Actually, the real reason the Cubs traded Palmeiro was because he slept with Ryne Sandberg's wife.

Anonymous said...

Palmeiro is not a HOF'er. I saw him up close. Total choker. If Cal Ripken woulda juiced like he was supposed to the Orioles would have won the 1996 and 1997 World Series. Still pisses me off.

Dan in DC

Anonymous said...

JHB, Bagwell played in the ultimate pitcher's park in the minors, the old Beehive Field in New Britain, CT when he was in the Red $ox farm system. Nobody hit home runs there.

The idiots running the $ox in those days also discounted the Beehive Effect and traded Bagwell instead of the immortal Scott Cooper to the Astros.


Anonymous said...

Ridiculous to have a "morals clause" for the HOF. The best players, as demonstrated on the field, should be inducted. That includes Pete Rose and Barry Bonds, above all others.

Anonymous said...

My brother and son never 'juiced' but both had Godawful acne on their backs when in high school and both had what is called in our small town 'stupid strength'. Meaning enough strength to really get yourself into trouble.

I suspect a genetic link between low IQ and hypermuscularity.

I think testosterone must have something to do with it.

That, and genetics.

keypusher said...

alonzo portfolio said...

Keypusher, do you believe in this "adjusting for parks" stuff?

Of course. If Player A has to hit the ball 250 feet for a home run, and Player B has to hit the ball 400 feet for a home run, doesn't it make sense to take that into account when rating Player A against Player B?

The Polo Grounds had one of the shortest right field home run distances of any park. So if Mel Ott's numbers were good enough (511 hr.) aren't Palmeiro's too?

Or maybe Mel Ott shouldn't be in the Hall of Fame either? There are a lot of guys in the Hall of Fame who shouldn't be. (Checking the web, though, it looks like Ott isn't one of them. While he hit 323 of his 511 home runs at home, he actually had a higher batting average on the road than at home, had huge RBI and run totals, and hit nearly 500 doubles. Baseball Reference sees him as exceeding the Hall of Fame batting thresholds by a lot. So even if you knocked 100 homers off his career total, he'd still probably be in the Hall.)

Anyway, I'm not saying Palmeiro shouldn't be in the Hall. I only skimmed that last link I posted. I'm just saying that, in the Steroid Era, 500 HRs and 3000 hits may not be an automatic ticket to the Hall of Fame.

JHB said...

Brutus, I understand that the Beehive was a AA pitcher's park in a pitcher's league. With four home runs in 1990 with New Britain, Bagwell had 13% of his team's home runs. But it was an average AA team, not an MLB team, so a guy with HOF power would be expected to dominate his teammates. Bagwell did that in Houston: his MLB rookie year, 1991, he had 19% of his team's home runs, and by age 26 in 1994 he had 32% of his team's home runs. Bagwell wasn't a notable power hitter in AA.

The guy who had the most home runs on Bagwell's AA team was Eric Wedge, with five. Wedge went on to hit exactly five home runs in MLB. The two guys behind Bagwell in home runs that year in New Britain weren't even good enough to play in MLB.

The most successful future power hitter other than Bagwell on his AA team was shortstop John Valentin, who had only two home runs in 1990. Valentin had, however, hit eleven home runs in A ball the previous year while Bagwell had hit two, and Valentin went on to hit just 124 home runs in MLB while Bagwell hit 449 in his MLB career.

While Bagwell might have hit more home runs in a different ballpark, he failed to show himself to be a significantly better power hitter than his teammates who went on to far lesser careers. Something changed significantly to make Jeff Bagwell a power hitter at all, let alone a HOF-caliber power hitter.

Tony said...

Palmeiro absolutely used steroids. Why else would a world class athlete in his 30's need viagra. I thought it funny that someone from a macho hispanic culture would actually admit to using viagra. I guess money talks.

Tim Cooper said...

As young people are mad for the development of the big muscles and they can do any thing for the achieving of these muscles and therefore I think many of the youngsters will surely take the advantage of the steroids.