The 2005 Induction ceremony was over, and inductees, friends, guests and well-wishers were winding back to the Otesaga Hotel. Outside the entrance, Bud Selig was on his cell phone, his voice raised in what obviously was a heated discussion. We later learned that Selig was in a discussion about a piece of news that he did not want taking away from the inductions of Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg and wanted announced the next day: that Rafael Palmeiro had been suspended for a failed drug test.
Selig fought long and hard for drug-testing. Oh, now we hear voices claiming that Selig was in some way a conspirator in the Steroid Era, but those voices never had to sit in hallways and street corners during labor negotiations when every attempt to address testing was greeted with a chorus of ”Nyet!”; in fact, Selig badly wanted testing in the 2002 agreement, but settled on the experimental, anonymous testing in 2003 (which led to the industry testing beginning in 2005 under which Palmeiro failed) because he felt that the game could not afford a second strike in eight years and the potential of again cancelling a World Series.
Palmeiro’s career ended that August, retiring with 569 homers and 3020 hits. He never got more than 12.6% of the votes before falling off the ballot, because he had undeniably tested positive in the first season of industry-wide testing. Babe Ruth may have broken the law by drinking alcohol during prohibition, but he never violated a serious, bargained baseball rule. In 2005, baseball had a drug-testing agreement.
There has never been a clear guide to Cooperstown disqualification, except for gambling on baseball games and failed tests within the system that was bargained for and monitored by principled advocates like Gene Orza. Baseball has a strong testing program, and suspicions, appearances or grandfathering Androstenedione—which many players, including Mike Piazza—admitting to using when it was not illegal or a banned substance in the game, isn’t a slammed door.
Manny Ramirez twice was suspended for usage, suspensions that the union agreed upon. Ramirez was a great hitter, but those highly publicized suspensions seemingly eliminates him, as it likely will Alex Rodriguez. Jeff Bagwell has been a victim of suspicions, although he never tested positive, his name never turned up in the Mitchell Report and when his body shrunk later in his career, he could no longer lift weights and train properly because of congenital arthritis in his right shoulder. Pudge Rodriguez did not test positive. Or Piazza. Jose Canseco’s book may have been closer to the truth than realized when it was published, but it never proved anything similar to the goods MLB had on Ramirez (and, believe me, few were more outraged by Ramirez’s trail of usage—which cost more than a dozen people in the Diamondbacks organization their jobs after 2008—than Scott Boras, who represented Manny when he shot his way out of Boston.)
Eddie Vedder, such a purist that he keeps score with a pencil, has written “there’s no wrong or right, but I’m sure there’s good or bad”, which sums up the dilemmas and contradictions with which many of us struggle in the month after we receive our Hall of Fame ballots. The Hall of Fame is the museum of baseball history, hence I am at the point where the best player in the last 40 years and arguably the best pitcher ever need to be parts of that museum, with whatever addendum is deemed necessary for their plaques. So I voted for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, and I struggle with my own sense of fairness in not voting for Sammy Sosa, just as I try to bring closure to mailing in my ballot without Fred McGriff, Larry Walker or Billy Wagner.
Let’s face it, our views on “cheating” change over time. We dismiss the notion that while players in the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s used and were often aided by teams to get and use amphetamines, many look at baseball records and, while admitting that players performances may have been enabled (how many players in that era would have reached 500 homers without them?), they do not consider them enhancers like steroids. As Jack Moore points out in a brilliant essay in the 2017 Hardball Times annual, Jim Brosnan and Jim Bouton wrote about amphetamines dating back to 1960, and Moore quotes Penn State professor Charles Yesalis—a noted expert on sports doping—as warning that amphetamines are not only highly addictive, but more dangerous than anabolic steroids; I know of one player whose use of amphetamine red juice led to his death, another whose usage eventually blinded him.
A decade ago, a player known to smoke marijuana was labeled a pothead and likely traded (after putting private investigators on the road with the Red Sox late in the 1976 season, a half-dozen players thought to be smoking dope were traded or dumped in the next two seasons). Minor league players today still get suspended for testing positive for marijuana, which is now legal in several states. One general manager and one manager this week privately estimated that close to 50 per cent of major league player occasionally use marijuana, and the general manager says “it should be treated like alcohol, not to be used when driving or in any situation where being impaired in any way is a danger to others.”
Last spring, Barry Bonds said to me, “you know I am a Hall of Famer.” He didn’t say it with any hint of anger, no staccato, just a matter-of-fact sentence about his ability and his career. As Jay Jaffe points out in his Sports Illustrated series on HOF candidates, if, as we believe, Bonds took to the PED route out of jealousy for the heroic characterization of Mark McGwire and Sosa after 1998, he still had 411 homers, 445 stolen bases, a 99.6 WAR (third all-time among left fielders)…and finished the all-time home run king, winner of seven MVP awards, second in extra base hits, a .444 on base percentage (fourth all-time), 182 OPS-plus (third)… As one whose respect for Jaffe’s JAWS is boundless, Bonds’ JAWS is 117.6, followed in the left fielder category by Ted Williams (86.2) and Ricky Henderson (84.1).
Turn to JAWS and starting pitchers, the only pitchers with a better career number than Clemens are Walter Johnson and Cy Young, whom Clemens tied on the Red Sox all-time win list before he was allowed to leave in “the twilight of his career.” Seven Cy Youngs. Third in Pitchers’ WAR (the only two in the top 25 in that category not in the HOF are Clemens and Mike Mussina). Third in strikeouts. The first pitcher with a 20 strikeout/0 Walk game. The second pitcher with a 20 strikeout/0 walk game. His 9 1 0 0 2 15 start against the Mariners in the 2001 ALCS is the best post-season start I have ever witnessed (second best? Mussina’s one-hitter in the 1997 ALCS against the Indians, the best offensive team of that era).
My suggestion is to put a separate alcove section for Steroids Era inductees, or maybe a spot near us ink-stained wretches. But this is no longer an evangelical issue.
I looked at this ballot and saw four distinct categories:
- Bonds and Clemens.
- I don’t know how I feel when I wake up on the morning of this July’s induction, or next December’s ballot arrival. Will I feel the same as I have the last three weeks? For now, I remind myself that this vote isn’t about me, it’s about players and the game they and many of us love and the work and care that has made the museum on Main Street, Cooperstown, N.Y. one of the great museums of American life in our country.
- Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Edgar Martinez, for whom I have previously voted; I have voted for Bagwell every time they’ve been on the ballot and, depending on your Mariner fandom, either pulled a four corners or changed my mind on Edgar and the DH issue; 72% of Edgar’s at-bats were as a DH, 88% of David Ortiz’s at-bats were as a DH, and while we can debate Martinez’s place among great hitters v. Ortiz, no one can argue the impact Ortiz had on a city, a franchise, a fanbase or historic moments. Check, check.
I will write on Bagwell later in the week, but by almost every measure he’s among the six best first basemen, ever, the best since World War II and MLB integration other than Albert Pujols. Great baserunner. Incredible first baseman whose star soccer feet allowed him to get off the bag and throw to second with a baserunner as well as any righthanded first baseman since Vic Power.
Raines is the best leadoff man other than Henderson, who may be one of the dozen best position players ever. He reached base more times than Tony Gwynn, Ichiro Suzuki, Lou Brock and Roberto Clemente, all 3000 hit guys.
4. Mussina and Schilling. I have voted for each every time they have been on the ballot. Each is among the 30 best starting pitchers, ever. Schilling had a great post-season record of 11-2, 2.72; Mussina had an exceptional 3.42 post-season ERA, beat Randy Johnson twice in the ’97 ALDS, had a 16 strikeout and nine inning one-hitter in the ’97 ALCS, was winning 1-0 against Barry Zito when Jeter made his flip and enabled the Yanks to the 2003 ALCS by taking over for Clemens with the bases loaded, no out in Game Seven, his only relief appearance. His 270 wins are the most of anyone who made the majors after 1990. A talk jock said he voted Schilling over Mussina because Schilling pitched in the AL East. Mussina signed professionally 4 ½ seasons after Schilling. pitched his entire career for the Orioles and Yankees, made 242 starts in Camden Yards, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium and Skydome; Schilling made 74 in those four hitters’ parks, and his earned run average in those parks was never lower than 3.92.
In his 2014 masterpiece “Fools Rush Inn” Bill James has a piece on big games pitchers, which, typical of James, is extraordinarily researched with appreciation of gray matter. Mussina is no. 11 on his 1952-2013 list; Roy Oswalt is number one (not shocking when one studies it out and talk to teammates), Bob Gibson is two, Randy Johnson three. Point: Mike Mussina was everything, and could have won 300 if he didn’t care about kids back home.
The newcomers. –Pudge Rodriguez is a no-brainer. Joe Torre once said in an interview with me that Pudge “probably is the best catcher of all time.” Leads all-time catchers in games caught, hits, runs, RBI’s, threw out 46% of opposing baserunners (league average in his career 31%), more homers than any catcher other than Piazza and Pudge Fisk.
—Vladimir Guerrero. He was scary, he could hit balls out of the park when the pitch bounced to home plate…but his skills out of the batter’s box, while good, were not great. Maybe I undervalued McGriff, a fearsome 30 homer metronome playing most his career in pitchers’ parks. I know, I know, Larry Walker played 150 games in a season once, but we have never quantified the recovery issue in Denver, or what hitting at Coors Lite and then the road did. Walker was a defensive right fielder in the Clemente/Dwight Evans/Roger Maris class, a great baserunner, had a 72.6 career WAR to 59.3 for Guerrero, a .965 OPS to Guerrero’s .931. Those 250 intentional walks tell us what opponents thought about Guerrero.
—Trevor Hoffman. My friend, respected colleague Joe Sheehan would throw a laptop out a window if he read this, but closers are so unique and still subject to heated debates that I tend to take Jay Jaffe’s combination of metrics to measure closers, and only Mariano Rivera, Hoyt Wilhelm, Dennis Eckersley and Goose Gossage exceed Hoffman. He was in many ways the ballast of a franchise for 15 years, and while I wish saves were not an accepted stat, I do know that this is a human game. And I defer to one of the people I most respect, Brad Ausmus, who caught 18 years in the majors and has managed and says “I had the best seat in the house to know there is a difference between the ninth inning and other roles and that Trevor was really special.” I strongly believe that some things can’t be quantified, and one of them is the man who can deal with what a ninth inning failure entails and deal with it.
In 1984, the Blue Jays made a run after the Tigers started 35-5. But the Toronto bullpen imploded, time after vital time. One of those times Bobby Cox threw a chair in the visiting clubhouse at Tiger Stadium in frustration. “A closer can change the way his fellow pitchers pitch, the way his teammates play games, most of all the way a manager manages,” Cox said that September. “He can infect everyone’s thinking.”
Cox has been there. Ausmus spent 18 major league seasons reading pitchers’ eye and body language. Jay Jaffe is right—they have yet to be defined analytically, they have yet to be judged historically. Ausmus is right: it’s great to speculate that every manager should use his bullpen the way Terry Francona used Andrew Miller, but there’s only one Andrew Miller.
So, in a winter when Aroldis Chapman, Mark Melancon and Kenley Jansen got paid, I bought on Trevor Hoffman. He’s one person with whom I’d trust my dog Becky for two weeks, and that beats a save stat, any day.
The character clause thing is past. It was invoked in 1941, eight years after Ty Cobb retired, but there is subjective validity in what teammates value in character. Clemens had it. Bagwell really had it, as did Mussina, Guerrero, Hoffman, Edgar Martinez, McGriff. Ask those young 2003 Marlins starters about Pudge Rodriguez.
The ballot is not an analytics exercise at The Sloan School or the University of Chicago School of Business. It is a human game, with human fragility. It’s why Chase Utley is one of the favorite players in the careers of Charlie Manuel and yours truly, why if I could have played I’d have been Don Mattingly, George Brett, Dustin Pedroia or Rickey Henderson,
But I couldn’t. I wish it were definitive, it’s not, but it damn well matters.