As we saw yesterday, Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar have finally garnered the 75%+ votes they needed to make it into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Kudos to both of them. Blyleven had a career 3.31 ERA, 3.19 FIP, went 287-250, and struck out 3701 batters. Alomar posted a career .300/.371/.443 line, good for a 125 wRC+, 210 HR, 474 SB, and was generally known as a wizard with the glove at 2B. Kudos to the both of them.
What strikes me as more interesting is the exclusions of Rafael Palmeiro and Jeff Bagwell.
Palmeiro was a .288/.371/.515 hitter, 133 wRC+, hitting 569 HR and 3020 H.
Bagwell batted .297/.408/.540, 152 wRC+, hit 449 HR, and interestingly enough, 202 SB.
By the standards established, Palmeiro would be a lock for the hall, given that he passed the 2 surefire milestones of 500 HR and 3000 H (especially when you consider only 3 other players have done that: Eddie Murray, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron).
Bagwell, while lacking in the counting stat department, holds that 152 wRC+, suggesting that he was 52% better than the average baseball player that year. When you consider that Jim "I led the league in GIDP for 4 straight years" Rice is in the hall with a 132 wRC+ and a distinct lack of counting stats as well, I see absolutely no reason why Bags isn't a more obvious choice.
But then we decide to acknowledge the elephant in the room. Bagwell played in the 90s-2000s. He MUST have been on Steroids, right? There is a smoking gun for Palmeiro, as he tested positive, but where is the scarlet S for Bagwell? Sure, there's controversy and suspicion, but is there any proof? Jayson Stark lays out a case for Bagwell - but also voted for Palmeiro. Essentially, it's the fog of steroid suspicion that's going to keep Bagwell on the waiting list for awhile.
I feel bad for Bagwell, I do. There are any number of really sketch/suspicious players that are going to be up for HoF scrutiny - soon - but Bags seems to be the first in line for the "I didn't do them but I was awesome" defense, which will be eschewed immediately, because apparently nobody was good at baseball in the 90s except for Barry Larkin and Marquis Grissom.
I'm obviously kidding a bit, because it's obviously not an issue of performance, it's an issue of heart, an issue of "well, you attempted to cheat, whether or not it helped you". Putting my personal feelings aside on the matter, the Hall needs to figure out whether or not to allow these men into the hall or to exclude them. Let them in, and put them in a special wing called the "Steroid Era Wing"? Put them in like normal, with asterisks and disclaimers? Make mention of them as the Best of the Steroid Era but not officially induct them? Whatever it is, the Hall is running out of time to make these decisions.
The Hall basically needs to draw a hard line. Well, 2 hard lines. Are steroid users in, or are they not in? That's a hard line. If you ever tested positive, you're out. But then what about those who never tested positive? There needs to be another hard line. "If a particular player never tested positive for PEDs, a voter is to ignore the issue and suspicions of PED abuse and vote on the player based on the existing criteria, and not based on a voter's suspicions."
That won't be pretty. Everyone knows there are a decent number of questionable players who COULD get in, maybe even SHOULD get in, but because there are steroid Rumors - note, not a positive test, a slot in the Mitchell Report, no used needles, nothing but Rumors - entirely too many voters will take it upon themselves to play judge, jury, and executioner and exclude them from their ballots.
This is what drives me nuts about the whole issue of "Steroid Players in the Hall" is that it's turned into a witch hunt.
Townsfolk: We found a Steroid User! /pushes Todd Helton to the front of the pack
Sir Bedevere: How do you know he's a Steroid User?
Townsfolk: He had some really high peak years in the late-90s/early 2000s!
Helton: I'm not a Steroid User! I'm not! They put me in an offense-inflating park!
Sir Bedevere: Did you put him in an offense-inflating park?
Townsfolk: Well...we did put him in the park...
Sir Bedevere: Just the park?
Townsfolk: ...with really low humidity and thin air...
Townsfolk: But He's a Steroid User!
Sir Bedevere: Please, there are ways of telling if he is a Steroid User. First, what do we do with Steroid Users?
Townsfolk: Write angry articles about them and turn them into sports pariahs, and then exclude them from the Hall of Fame!
Sir Bedevere: Who do we write angry articles about APART from Steroid Users?
Townsfolk: MORE Steroid Users! /slap
Townsfolk: Billy Beane and Stat Peoples?
Sir Bedevere: Goooooood! Now, how do we tell if Todd Helton played for Billy Beane or a Stat Person?
Townsfolk: ....Moneyball! Neglect to read but still misinterpret Moneyball!!! [rabble]
Sir Bedevere: Does Billy Beane Generally Manage the Yankees?
Townsfolk: No...no he manages the Athletics!
Sir Bedevere: What is a distinguishing characteristic of the Oakland Athletics?
Townsfolk: ....ridiculous facial hair!!!!
Sir Bedevere: Gooood!
Townsfolk: So, if he has....ridiculous facial hair...then he must have played for the Athletics... which means he played for Billy Beane...
Sir Bedevere: And therefore?
Townsfolk: A STEROID USER! RAHHHHH
Helton: 'Tis a fair court.
I know I'm oversimplifying the mindset of much of the voting populace for the HoF, but I just don't see it as that far-fetched. A lot of guys are being circumstantially vilified because they were excellent baseball players in a period of time that a lot of other excellent baseball players decided to cheat to find an edge.
So while much of the voting masses are trying to burn steroid abusers at the stake, I worry that clean players who really aren't HoF caliber will be given a more serious look, purely because they DIDN'T use PEDs. In my opinion, that's also a miserable outcome of the whole Steroid Era, that lesser players are being hailed purely because they DIDN'T cheat. If steroid abuse was as rampant as we've been led to believe, the clean players certainly SHOULD be hailed, but come on, the pedestals we see some of these guys on is absurd.
We've clearly established the Clean and the Dirty, so the rest is really the middle ground, the questionable players with eyebrow-raising numbers and a curious lack of allegations with any weight other than the specious reasoning that "home runs + good - scrappy = steroids". Helton and Bagwell both fall into this category, which is a shame, given that both of them were the premier 1Bs from 1998-2004 (if fWAR is to be trusted). Bagwell's career stood up to the test of time better than Helton's (or so it seems), but I fear that Bagwell will mire in HoF purgatory for several years, and by 2020 Todd Helton will be in the same boat.
I don't write this to bemoan Todd Helton or Jeff Bagwell. I write this to say that something has to be done sooner than later by the Hall of Fame. Like it or not, 1990-2005 happened in Major League Baseball, and simply denying that a whole lot of big things happened is foolhardy and untrue to the game. I'm not defending the players, I'm defending baseball. @OldHossRadbourne said it best:
As an undead ghoul, I am often out of the loop. Can someone tell me when the game that PED users desecrated was pure and sin-free? I forgot.
Don't sweep it all under the rug, in either sense of the phrase. Don't just pretend that steroids didn't happen, because cheating shouldn't be tolerated. On the flip side, don't pretend the decade - decade-and-a-half didn't happen, because records were set and baseball was played.
Acknowledge the era, acknowledge the records, induct some players, exclude others. But do SOMETHING, because I don't know how sports fans are going to tolerate another decade of self-righteous copy being thrown about regarding the evils of PED users or the evils of those reviling them.