Hall of fame or hall of shame? Baseball’s greats break the rules

February 13, 2009

<i>ILLUSTRATION BY Ariel Wittenberg/The Hoot</i>

ILLUSTRATION BY Ariel Wittenberg/The Hoot

After the Alex Rodriguez scandal of last weekend, many are questioning if anybody was clean from the steroid era of baseball. Furthermore, who should be in the Hall of Fame? Those with the best statistics or those who were never caught? This writer looked at the numbers and the steroid evidence from 1990 to 2003 and has the following to say on who should be in the Hall of Fame and who will fall short because of this scandal.

Two players with legendary pitching careers are Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson. Maddux is eighth all-time in career wins along with four straight Cy Young awards. Johnson is second all-time in strikeouts, five wins away from the magical number of 300, and has five Cy Young awards. Neither has been particularly dominant the last few years, but don’t forget the legacy that these two legends have left behind.

On the hitting side, the three hitters who have elite numbers and have avoided scandal are Frank Thomas, Ken Griffey Jr., and Mike Piazza. Piazza is one of the greatest offensive catchers of all time. Thomas and Griffey meanwhile are both members of the 500 home run club. Of the 24 members of the 500 home run club, 16 are eligible for the Hall of Fame, 15 are in the Hall of Fame, and 10 were first ballot Hall of Famers. This seems to be as good an indication of Hall of Fame worthiness as any statistic.

So what about the rest of the nine that aren’t in the Hall of Fame? Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Gary Sheffield (still at 499, but should break 500 next season) have all been accused of steroid use. All six of these players were likely to end up in the Hall of Fame. First the Balco grand jury several years ago accused Bonds and Sheffield. Sheffield has kept his play at a solid level so he has mostly fallen through the cracks of the witch hunt. Bonds however, currently faces the threat of prison for lying to a grand jury. McGwire, Sosa, and Palmeiro have all since been linked to steroid usage. We’ve already seen the results on the Hall of Fame voting with McGwire. Sosa and Palmeiro will likely follow suit with remaining low on the voting percentage. Sheffield might slip through and still make it. However, Bonds has made many enemies with his gruff nature over the years and payback will keep one of the greatest hitters of all time out of the Hall.

Roger Clemens is probably the pitching equivalent to Bonds. With 7 Cy Young awards and top ten rankings in Wins and ERA, it’s hard to find a pitcher with more long-term success than the Rocket. However, he chose to lie about his steroid use and his trainer has now brought his legacy down. Clemens should be in the pantheon of all-time greats, and will fall short as a result.

Finally, there is the question of Alex Rodriguez. A batting average above .300. A great glove. Great speed. 553 career home runs. And he’s only 33. Now a confidential survey of tests in 2003 has been leaked by a greedy government official and Rodriguez has had his legacy tarnished. Rodriguez followed the suit of teammate Andy Pettitte and admitted to and apologized for taking steroids. He claims that he only took them from 2001 to 2003, his tenure with the Texas Rangers, citing the pressure of the mega-deal he signed before the 2001 season. The question is should we believe him when he says he only took steroids those three seasons. That is what the steroid era has tarnished the most. We don’t know who took what. We don’t know if Rodriguez really did take steroids just from 2001 to 2003 or if he took them before 2001 as well. The fact of the matter is that sometimes we just have to stop the witch hunt and just assume everybody is tarnished and reward those who did the best.

The one thing we know is that we cannot change the past. The one thing we can do is say that anybody currently in the Hall of Fame belongs there. There is a nineteenth century pitcher named Pud Galvin in the Hall of Fame. Galvin has 364 career wins. In 1889, Galvin admitted to using a substance filled with monkey testosterone, thus becoming the first admitted steroid user.

How about 300 game winner Gaylord Perry. He admitted in a book he wrote during his playing career to utilizing a Spitball, an illegal pitch since the first half of the 20th century. Perry is also a member of the Hall of Fame. Nobody can stop the media from accusing anybody and everybody from the steroid era of being guilty of taking steroids.

The one thing we can ask is that once a player is in the Hall of Fame, let him be. If we expand the witch hunt to players already in the Hall of Fame, we risk degrading the achievements of every player in baseball history. No Pitchforks Allowed.

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