Does Barry Bonds deserve HOF justice even with his alleged steroid abuse?

            The mission statement of the National Baseball Hall of Fame reads "Preserving History, Honoring Excellence, and Connecting Generations." Since its inception in 1936, the Hall of Fame has generally received the reputation of upholding these duties while maintaining its integrity as both an honor and museum. This year's class is the first to truly challenge this longstanding reputation with the introduction of all-time greats Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa to the ballot. Under normal circumstances, this ballot would be received with unparalleled interest and significance, not because of any moral wrongdoings, but because of the legitimate greatness of the players involved. The all-time home run king with an unprecedented 7 MVPs. A 354 game winner with a record 7 Cy Youngs. The only player in Major League history to hit sixty home runs an incredible three times. Under normal circumstances, there would be little doubt to greatness that would be honored in a quiet upstate New York town in late July.

            However, as you well know, this ballot does not follow the same rules as ones in years past. The Steroid Era that consumed much of the game in the late '90s is once again rearing its ugly head in the form of the suspicious acts committed by Bonds, Clemens, and Sosa. Although the topic of steroids and the Hall of Fame is not a new topic (see Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro), this year represents a complex dilemma with so many different aspects to it.  One such aspect is the fact that little tangible evidence directly implicates the aforementioned cases of Bonds, Clemens, and Sosa as well as first-time ballot mate Mike Piazza. Even evidence that is present comes from untrustworthy and discredited eye-witness accounts or is just based on visible changes in the physique of these players (see Bonds' transformation above). In addition, these players were allegedly using during a time in which drug and PED abuse was rampant. I would be lying to say or think that everybody was using during this time period but going by numerous reports, it was pretty clear that a decent amount of players were indeed using. Lastly, this ballot simply is different because of the names headlining the list, especially Bonds and Clemens. Between the two of them, reasonable cases could be made that they are the greatest hitter and pitcher of all-time, respectively. To some, not honoring this greatness, regardless of their transgressions, would be a failure for the Hall to "Preserve History, Honor Excellence, and Connect Generations."

            Since its birth shortly after the Civil War, baseball has been ingrained as America's Pastime. As society is seemingly ever changing, ever evolving, baseball remains the constant in the everyman's life. Baseball is what connects generations, families, and us as a country to our storied past and history. The game remains nine innings, with three outs to each half-inning. It remains ninety feet to each base and still is played with a stick and a ball. These enduring qualities and traditions are what has caused baseball to leave such an indelible mark on this country's heart and soul. As football continues its crusade toward the ubiquitous process of player pampering (consequently stripping the game of what made it so popular), baseball's most radical changes have been an extra hitter and a tiny increase in technology. So much of the game remains the same from when Alexander Cartwright wrote up its first rules in 1845. Which should make it no surprise then, that cheating isn't some new fad to the game either. The first documented use of performance-enhancing drugs was in 1889! with Pud Galvin openly admitting and boasting to his monkey testosterone usage. Of course, it was only fitting that Galvin, a 365 game winner, would later be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1965. Hall of Famer Whitey Ford, ace of the perennial Yankee powerhouses of the '50s and '60s was quoted as saying:

"I didn't begin cheating until late in my career, when I needed something to help me survive. I didn't cheat when I won the twenty-five games in 1961. I don't want anybody to get any ideas and take my Cy Young Award away. And I didn't cheat in 1963 when I won twenty-four games. Well, maybe a little"

Hall of Fame manager Leo Durocher also was quite open in regards to his law-breaking:

" I believe in rules. Sure I do. If there weren't any rules, how could you break them?"

"Win any way you can as long as you can get away with it."

            Still not enough? How about the fact that Gaylord Perry carved an entire Hall of Fame career off the illegal "spitball" pitch, in which he would doctor the baseball in order to give the ball unnatural movement? Even after being caught red-handed by umpires during an August game in 1982, the writers eventually enshrined him as one of Cooperstown's immortals. Perhaps Willie Mays wasn't a cheater despite being renowned for sign-stealing and using it to his advantage. Perhaps it was okay to cheat for George Brett because of his hilarious tirade following his ejection for too much pine tar. I am not saying that none of these players belong in the Hall, but clearly, cheating has been in baseball as long as the game itself.

            In my opinion, it would just be flat-out hypocritical for us to give a damn now about cheaters in the game, especially now that the writers voting on this were the very ones reporting in the very same locker rooms in which these players were using. These very reporters and writers, the ones who happened to turn a blind eye to steroids when they were selling papers and bestselling books, are now deciding to be the morality police? I am just continually stunned by these media double-standards. Now, that is not to say that I am condoning the actions of these players and it was something I legitimately took into account for my hypothetical ballot. I hate awarding players for something they more than likely do not deserve, especially considering all the work I put into studying, training, etc to better myself as a student, athlete, and individual. However, I also believe in trying to gain an advantage at something so that as an individual, you can best set up yourself and your family for life, even with the risk considered. Considering the fact that these players were not tested or even questioned about drug abuse during the '90s, why would what they were doing be considered wrong at the time?

            One more thing about baseball is that it is often referred as a direct reflection of American society. If we truly look at baseball as a mirror, is it really too far off of where we stand as a society? Instead of wondering what influence these players have on society, maybe we should look in the mirror and realize our own faults before criticizing someone else's. The influence that these PED users have on future generations really is not any different than the ones we as a society. I just don't think arguments like this are legitimate roadblocks to each candidcacy.

            All things considered, I still honestly do not think there is a right or wrong choice in regards to this Hall of Fame vote. Some people will value some things more than others and there is nothing wrong with that. I just think people need to realize that it is not as cut and dry, (clean or dirty) as it may first seem. Anyhow, after reviewing all of the evidence, below is my ballot, with a brief introduction of JAWS, a statistic necessary to understanding some of my HOF arguments. 

JAWS: The Jaffe WAR Score System was developed by Sports Illustrated's Jay Jaffe as a measure of a player's Hall of Fame worthiness. A JAWS score is calculated from taking the players' career WAR averaged out with their seven-year peak (seven best seasons, regardless if they were continuous or not). It serves as a good means to judge how a player stacks up to his Hall of Fame brethren and whether or not they are deserving of a plaque in Cooperstown. For additional JAWS information, click on the link above. So without further adieu, my HOF ballot would read…

Jeff Bagwell: One of the most productive first baseman in Major League history, there was little Bagwell could not do. Offensively, Bagwell was an absolute monster. He was a career .297/.408/.540 hitter while playing much of his career in the unfriendly Astrodome. He won the MVP in 1994 and has the fifth highest peak among 1st baseman, ahead of HOFers Harmon Killebrew, Willie McCovey, and Eddie Murray. JAWS has him as the sixth greatest first baseman OF ALL-TIME. Additionally, Bagwell was an underrated defender that ended up 59 runs above average according to UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating), a number one might not think possible given his physique. Despite his relatively short career (only 15 years), Bagwell's extreme durability (142+ games in 12 of 15 seasons) helped him put up some of the best numbers ever by a first baseman. Despite the whispers regarding his use, the complete lack of evidence gives me no reason not to vote for him. He might not have the shiny 500 home runs (449 career) or .300 average (.297), but Bagwell's overall numbers make him a slam-dunk Hall of Famer in my mind.

Craig Biggio: The other member of Houston's "Killer B's," Biggio was a great player without having any of the "obvious" skills usually attributed to a Hall of Famer. He didn't have light-tower power (291 HR), blazing speed (414 SB or 24 per year), or superb contact skills (.281 career hitter), but Biggio carved out a career as a master of the little things that win ballgames. Biggio hit plenty of doubles (668, 5th most all-time), took his walks (1160), was efficient on the bases (77 % SB success rate), and  played good defense at key up-the-middle positions. The father of sabermetrics, Bill James, even went as far to say that Craig Biggio was the fifth best second baseman of all-time. I might not go as far to say that Biggio was that good, but his overall body of work speaks for itself. Even not considering his 3,060 hits, a landmark number in which Biggio probably stayed too long to obtain, Biggio is without a doubt a Hall of Famer.

Barry Bonds: Strip away Bonds' steroid suspicions and Bonds is clearly one of the two or three greatest players to ever step on the diamond. Bonds' numbers speak for themselves; 762 home runs, 1996 RBI, a .444 on-base percentage, a .607 slugging percentage, 7 MVPs, 8 Gold Gloves, and 158 career Wins Above Replacement (2nd highest career total). The list of Bonds' accolades literally goes on and on and on. I'll admit, it is extremely troubling to see Bonds hit 73 home runs as a 36 year old, while outpacing his previous career high by 24 in the process. It is extremely troubling to see a 39 year old to have a .609 on base percentage and .812 slugging percentage when a player's bat speed and eye should be slowing. It is extremely troubling to see Bonds win two batting titles after the age of 37. I cannot express enough how much I have wrestled with Bonds' and Clemens' Hall of Fame candidacy. It pains me to think that I am rewarding cheating and that Bonds gained such an unfair advantage in his late 30's. However, Bonds' candidacy is just too great for me for me personally. The goal of the Hall is to "Preserve History, Honor Excellence, and Connect Generations." What kind of Hall would it be without having one of the greatest individual talents of all-time? Ultimately, Bonds' legacy and talents outweigh the steroid allegations, and would get my Hall of Fame vote. 

Roger Clemens: As with Bonds, Roger Clemens, minus the PED cloud, is among the greats at his position. Clemens is among the all-time greats in wins (354), Win Probability Added (1st all-time), ERA+ (143), and strikeouts (4,672 K's, 3rd all-time). Clemens' case would normally be clear-cut but will almost certainly not see a first-ballot induction due to his alleged steroid use. Pretty much the same argument for Bonds, Clemens' career record as an all-time great, even with the steroid ties, would be good enough to get my vote.

Edgar Martinez: As the greatest true DH of all-time, Martinez made up for his nonexistent defensive value by flat-out raking for 18 seasons. He was a career .312/.418/.515 hitter with two batting titles and was arguably the best pure hitter for the excellent late 90's, early 2000 Mariner teams (teams that had Griffey, Rodriguez, and Buhner). Although he was not a huge home run hitter (309 career HR), he hit plenty of doubles (514) and his career OPS+ of 147 is the same as Willie McCovey, Mike Schmidt, and Willie Stargell. In regards to the whole "DH not being a position argument, I view it the same way I view closers. It is a specialized position and one that requires an immense talent to be Hall-worthy. Sports Illustrated's Jay Jaffe, brought up an excellent example to this argument with Mariano Rivera. Pretty much he said it was very possible Rivera would never have the career he has had if he were a starter. I feel the same is true for Martinez, but like Rivera, his excellence is too much for him not to be in Cooperstown.

Mike Piazza: How does a 62nd round player become a Hall of Famer? Mike Piazza did just that on his way to becoming the greatest hitting catcher of all-time. The all-time catching leader in home runs, slugging percentage, and OPS+, Piazza's bat clearly is among the elite for those to wear the tools of ignorance. His peak ranks third all-time among catchers (only behind Gary Carter and Johnny Bench), notwithstanding his defensive shortcomings. Although he always face steroid whispers due to some gnarly back acne, these allegations lack any tangible documentation and really are just whispers. Although some voters will, I think it is extremely unfair to play a guessing game on who used. With that said, Piazza's bat is worthy for me for Cooperstown immortality.

Tim Raines: The second-greatest leadoff hitter of all-time, it baffles me how Raines has failed to get any respect from the voters. With Raines, the conversation has to start with his speed. He stole 808 bases (fifth most all-time) while having the highest success rate of that top five*. He had over 1500 runs scored while playing much of his career with hapless Expos teams and was 100 baserunning runs above average according to Fangraphs' Ultimate Base Running statistic (a total only surpassed by Henderson). His 123 OPS+ and .294/.385/.425 slash is right in line with Hall contemporary Tony Gwynn, even topping Gwynn in times on base, a number which surprises most considering Raines is 536 hits behind "Mr. Padre." According to Jaffe, Raines was the eighth greatest left fielder of all-time while compiling the position's ninth greatest peak; a peak in which Raines' WAR totals were only surpassed by Wade Boggs, Henderson, and Cal Ripken. Although he might not compare well to Henderson, it is not a slight on Raines one bit and his Hall of Fame worthy career is definitely deserving of Cooperstown glory.

Curt Schilling: For starting pitchers, the Hall of Fame has long been exclusive to those lucky enough to have won 300 games in their career. Prior to Bert Blyleven's induction two years ago, it was not since 1991 that a pitcher with fewer than 300 victories claimed enough votes to garner induction (Fergie Jenkins, 284 wins). With the days of specialized bullpens now firmly in place, starting pitchers just are not going to accrue the big time wins numbers as seen from past generations. Although Schilling's 216 win total may be viewed as low, that should not be held against him, especially considering the fact that pitcher wins are a poor judgment of a player's talent level. All else considered, I feel Schilling's case is an easy one to make. He has 3,116 K's (15th all-time), has a higher ERA+ than HOFers Juan Marichal and Bob Feller (Schilling's 127 compared to Marichal's 123 and Feller's 122), and the best strikeout to walk ratio of all-time (4.4 K/BB). Without even mentioning his postseason dominance (11-2, 2.23 ERA, 4.8 K/BB, 2001 WS MVP, and ace on 2004 Red Sox team), Schilling is a fairly obvious Hall of Fame selection in my book.

Alan Trammell: Just last year, Barry Larkin received 86% of the vote and gained induction into the Hall of Fame. However, Alan Trammell, a player with similar numbers, is on the ballot for his twelfth year, never receiving more than 37% of the vote. Trammell, along with double play mate Lou Whitaker, was the backbone of the successful Tigers teams of the 80's and with extremely steady play at arguably the most vital position on the field. Trammell ranks as the eleventh greatest shortstop of all-time going by JAWS, ahead of Hall of Famers Barry Larkin, Joe Cronin, and Pee Wee Reese. Trammell finished his career with a relatively unimpressive .285/.352/.415 slash line and 185 home runs, but played much of his career in unfriendly Tiger Stadium and missed out on the offensive surge seen from the Steroid Era. Factor in Trammell's excellent defense (4 Gold Gloves, 22.0 dWAR, +81 runs above average) and his case looks all the more impressive. To further cement his case, Trammell shined during his postseason experiences (11 games) with a .333/.404/.588 line with 3 home runs and 11 RBI, claiming WS MVP honors for the '84 series. To those that do not think Trammell was enough of a "standout" player to be Hall-worthy, Trammell had four seasons in which he topped 6.0 WAR, including one eight win season that should have won him the 1987 MVP over George Bell. All things considered, Trammell's overall body of work is right in line with his Hall of Fame peers and should have gotten him in Cooperstown 12 years ago.

            Tomorrow, I will post a list of players that just did not make my list for various reasons, with a brief explanation regarding each of their candidacies and why they would fall short in my mind. Expect to see Jack Morris, Sammy Sosa, Larry Walker, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, and Kenny Lofton on that list. 

           Once again, feel free to post any comments in the comment section or contact me at behindtheplatebaseball@gmail.com



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