The most controversy laden Hall of Fame ballot perhaps since its 1936 inception went out the other day, and the fates of such steroid tainted superstars named Bonds and Clemens and rumored, but never directly proven, users such as Mike Piazza will be at the mercy of the joke known as the BBWAA.
My personal take on most of the names appearing are brief. The steroid era happened. The era of Ruth provided inflated offensive statistics due to a number of factors, not limited to a tighter spun ball, the outlawing (but not total elimination) of such pitches as the spitball and shineball, and a culture change in the game from small ball to long ball. Many of the new age players of this generation were derided by baseball writers, purists, and players from a forgotten generation. The proof being this: Babe Ruth, I hope no one will question me here, was probably the greatest player of the era and probably all time. But the inaugural Hall of Fame vote had Ty Cobb getting a higher percentage of the vote than the Bambino. The point being, while there was some resistance to the era, it wasn’t completely ignored and shunned to the side.
In the mid to late 1960’s, pitching took over and became king, with such dominating seasons by pitchers like Bob Gibson, Denny McLain, Luis Tiant, and Sandy Koufax that the rules needed to be changed. These pitchers were celebrated, but after the adjusting of the height of the mound in 1969, the players who benefited offensively like Johnny Bench were not castigated because they were offered a new advantage thier predecessors did not. In fact, Bench is generally considered the greatest catcher of all time.
Conversely, greenines, amphetamines, trucker pills, all of the above, were rampant in baseball in the sport from its inception through the release of Jim Bouton’s landmark tell all, Ball Four, and probably even after it. These players are not penalized for their reliance on performance enhancers (and believe me, they are most assuredly performance enhancers).
Which brings us to this class. I hope any informed baseball fan knows that from roughly 1985-2003, steroids were being used by arguably the vast majority of major leaguers at least at some point of their careers. Now, I am not a licensed medical professional, but I can clearly remember watching the World Series in 1988, in the third grade, at the sage old age of eight, and myself and a bunch of my classmates all remarked that we thought Jose Canseco was on steroids. Heady stuff for eight year olds, but the point stands: watching baseball during the steroid era broke down to this: who had Hall of Fame talent enhanced by steroids, and who enhanced their talent to Hall of Fame by using steroids?
Because of the latter statement, I cannot in good conscience approve of Sammy Sosa or Rafael Palmeiro for inclusion in the Hall. Did they have great numbers? Sure. But Sosa’s game was utterly one dimensional, all light tower power, and before he grossly bulked up in the mid nineties (and grossly bleached his skin in the new millennium) he was basically Alfonso Soriano. A good player? Yes. A Hall of Famer? Hardly. Palmeiro had what I considered the sweetest swing in baseball during the era he performed. But he was never an all around GREAT player. Very good? You bet. But his candidacy is completely reliant on all those gorgeous stats he accrued, and the fact he tested positive proved that those stats were inflated and he were, thus proving as empty as Mr Finger Pointer’s head.
Mark McGwire I am on the fence on. Get back to me on that one.
With those out of the way, you come to Bonds and Clemens. Both players, before their documented steroid abuse, were on their way to Hall of Fame careers. Bonds was a slam dunk by the time 1998 rolled around and his hat sized started exponentially increasing, as he was the only 400 home run 400 stolen base player in the games history. He was a multiple time MVP, Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Award winner, generally considered to be (arguably, sez I) the best all around player of the 1990’s. Then he bulked up significantly in his mid thirties and turned into this ridiculous amalgamation of Babe Ruth and Ted Williams. The stats were mind boggling. If he was not walked as many times as he was in 2001, the guy would have hit 100 homers, and no one can tell me differently. The guy saw maybe one pitch every two games that was hittable…and STILL hit 73 home runs. Part of that certainly can be attributed to Bonds once in a generation skills. But seriously now, everyone knew what was going on; he was good, but this was crazy. And the next few seasons back that up with similar Ruthian totals accruing at an age when most players skilled has so diminished that the only accruing stat they cared about was their financial ones. The fact remains, though, undeniably, Bonds is a slam dunk Hall of Famer. All world cheater and asshole? You’ll get no argument from me there. Undeniable Hall of Famer though.
Clemens is a slightly different case. He was arguably the most dominating pitcher in baseball from around mid 1985 until around 1993, when he got a contract extension from the Red Sox. He was a little dinged up during those years, not necessarily in the best of shape. In fact most Sox fans of the era will say, most diplomatically, grossly out of shape. They point to his diminishing innings and wins totals and say he was bilking money from the club. However, they also ignore the fact his peripheral statistics were still good, the ERA was still solid, excepting 1993, and the strikeouts were still there. Plus, those Red Sox clubs in the mid nineties were, to put it mildly, not very good, and if I were Clemens, I would not necessarily been the most motivated man in the world those years.
Then Clemens contract expired, and at that point, at 33, he was still a functional pitcher who had borderline Hall of Fame stats that could have easily been bolstered by a few sub-prime Clemens offering in the next few years. However, a funny thing happened: Red Sox fans, long suffering and miserable creatures back then, started blaming ALL of the teams problems on Clemens. Dan Duqette, sensing the sentiment and a chance to shed some big dollars, a big ego, and the opportunity to build a younger club, denied to offer Clemens an extension, uttering the now infamous phrase that Clemens “…is in the twilight of his career.” An honest, correct assessment? Possibly. Hell probably. However, not the best way to part with arguably the greatest pitcher in franchise history. Spurned, Clemens went to Toronto, met Brain “Mr. Tact” MacNamee, got in shape through the means of the time, and turned in two of his finest seasons in 1997 and 1998, before going to the Yankees in 1999. He had another two mediocre seasons in the Bronx, certainly not bad ones, then MacNamee rejoined his charge in 2001 and followed him to Houston as well for two unfathomable years in 2004-2005 from a pitcher in his forties.
Now, Clemens transformation was not as obvious as Bonds, but it was there, but the fact remains much like Bonds, Clemens would have been a Hall of Famer if he had simply pitched two or three mediocre years after leaving the Red Sox. Instead, he developed into the greatest right handed pitcher EVER, by the numbers. Once again, Hall of Fame talent enhanced by performance enhancers. Clemens is a Hall of Famer.
Lets stop for today. Next time we will get into the candidacy of guys who steroids were whispered about, but never proven true, Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell.