Monday, January 25, 2010

Steroids and the Hall of Fame

Continuing with the discussion I started the week before last, I feel compelled to elaborate on my new, but still evolving, philosophy regarding steroid users and their Hall of Fame candidacy. As I already stated, I'm not of the belief that anyone who is known to have used performance-enhancing drugs be denied entrance to the Hall. I just don't think it's that easy, nor do I believe it's fair to single out only those who've been identified or who are highly suspected, the latter category making the exercise virtually impossible.

On the other hand, neither am I of the mindset that we should treat the entire era as if everyone who played in it was a user and, therefore, we should simply judge all of them based on the statistics—legitimate or otherwise—that they produced. Rather, we need to take the information we have—that which we know with a high degree of certainty—and view each player's performance accordingly. Those for whom there is no evidence of steroids usage should be treated at face value, while those for whom there is should have their performance adjusted based on the evidence at hand.

As I said about Mark McGwire, this adjustment means that, in the very least, the offenders are not afforded the benefit of the doubt. In its simplest application, this means that borderline candidates are left out, and less-than-obvious candidates become borderliners. But, of course, it's not quite that simple. As in the case of McGwire, if the evidence suggests that the performance enhancement is what elevated the player from very good to potential Hall of Famer, the conclusion is simple. He's not worthy of Cooperstown. The same applies to Rafael Palmeiro, in my opinion.

On the other end of the spectrum of potential Hall of Famers who fall into the category of fairly obvious steroid offenders, is Barry Bonds. Of course, since we don't know for certain when he—or anyone else, for that matter—began using steroids, all we have to go on is the evidence that exists. That evidence suggests controlled substances transformed Bonds from the greatest combination of power and speed in the game to the most feared power hitter since Babe Ruth. This transformation occurred at a point in his career that most players' skills are declining, yet Bonds won four consecutive MVPs from age 36 to 39.

To the best of our knowledge, Bonds won three MVPs, seven Silver Sluggers, and even eight Gold Gloves before he began using performance enhancers. He had already all but cemented a Hall of Fame career. Why he found it necessary to break the rules to postpone the downside of his career, we'll never know. But, the fact remains that, even adjusting for his use of steroids, Bonds is a slam dunk Hall of Famer. The holier-than-thou attitude of the BBWAA doesn't change this.

While I'm suggesting that Bonds be enshrined in Cooperstown despite his transgressions, it appears that most of those who have the power to make that decision don't agree with me. So, there's no guarantee he'll ever make it. But, that doesn't change the fact that he deserves to take his rightful place among the greatest of all-time. Other candidates' cases may not be as easy to figure out as Bonds's, but the same methodology needs to be applied to all of them. That is, if we're going to make any sense of this era.

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