January 22, 2014

ZAKOUR | Steroid Users Can Be Hall of Famers Too

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By JOHN ZAKOUR

With another year of voting in the books, still no steroid users are in baseball’s Hall of Fame. A large swath of voters will not vote for any player who is a suspected or admitted steroid user.

This poses a few problems. For one, if this voting holds up, there will be no one from the steroid era in the Hall of Fame, and the peak of steroid use will not be acknowledged.

Steroid use is not a binary issue. Some players used steroids for one season, some for most of their career. Others have no concrete evidence confirming their use and are simply victims of playing in the era.

Never mind that the Hall already includes abusers of amphetamines and pitchers who would routinely doctor the ball (it seems those who doctored the ball were praised for doing anything it takes to help the team win, even though it was outside of the rulebook). These are all forms of cheating, yet these players were allowed to walk into the Hall.

In general, steroids and performance enhancing drugs deserve a more complicated discussion than the one currently surrounding them. Each performance enhancing drug user should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds belong in the Hall of Fame. I also believe Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell belong in the Hall of Fame, as there is no actual evidence connecting them to illegal steroid use. I suspect the latter two will get in eventually, and deservedly so.

The stats Bonds compiled in his career are simply unparalleled in his, or any other generation. He is the MLB’s all-time home run leader, peaking with his record 73 homerun season. But Bonds is more than a power hitter. He won multiple gold gloves for his defense, was the best home run hitter of his generation, and his ability to get on base was peerless. Literally.

In three consecutive years, Bonds’ on base percentage was 0.585, 0.529 and 0.609. This is otherworldly. Pitchers simply refused to throw to him. He holds the highest OBP in major league history, and it shattered the previous record, which had stood for over 60 years. Ted Williams got on base at a 0.553 clip in 1941, and Bonds would surpass this rate twice in a three-year span. He won seven MVPs in his 22 years. This man belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Now, I know Barry Bonds took steroids. And I know he lied about taking steroids. But he still belongs in the Hall of Fame. His numbers are so overwhelming, so unmatched, it shouldn’t matter that he took steroids. Or rather, steroids should not prevent his admission into the Hall of Fame. Many other major leaguers took steroids and did not come anywhere near Bonds’ achievements. To totally dismiss his entire career because of his use of steroids is narrow minded and short sighted.

It is easy to believe all of Bonds’ years in Pittsburgh were untainted and that he was a true five-tool player. He was likely a Hall of Fame player without steroids, about a ten-year sample. It was because he felt underappreciated (and likely underpaid), that Bonds started using steroids. And he did it better than anyone else, becoming the all-time home run leader almost as an afterthought.

Of the trio of McGwire, Sosa and Bonds, only Bonds lead the league in batting average. Although these three hitters might get grouped together, Bonds was simply a cut above. Sosa and McGwire were much more one-dimensional, and between them only Sosa was an MVP. Neither was a great defender, and both were power hitters and power hitters only. Take into account their PED use, and they are simply borderline in comparison.

The Roger Clemens case is very similar to Bonds. Bonds has a record seven MVP awards and Clemens a record seven Cy Young awards and one MVP. They both had Hall of Fame caliber careers before any steroid stigma, and their “artificial” peaks were extraordinary.

Clemens’ former steroid provider, Brian McNamee, said under oath that Clemens took HGH and anabolic steroids, but added that he did not “abuse” them, while also praising his work ethic. McNamee and Clemens’ relationship coincided with Clemens’ resurgence in the late 90’s, after he had already won four Cy Young awards. Much like Bonds, it is reasonable to think Clemens was a surefire Hall of Famer before juicing, but the drugs lengthened his career and peak.

One thing that is impossible to quantify is how pervasive steroid use was during the so-called steroid era. The Mitchell Report only confirms the names of 89 players. But McNamee, who once worked as a strength coach for the Blue Jays, said over “half” the league used them in that period.

Steroids and other illegal drugs were not magic. Steroids alone did not an all-star make. Names like Chad Allen, Matt Franco, Cody McKay and other equally anonymous players litter the Mitchell Report. For every McGwire and Sosa, there were countless other users who never came close to touching their successes. Certainly these performance enhancers allowed the best hitters of their generation to reach rarified heights they could not have otherwise, but they would have remained the best without them.

Keeping players out of the Hall of Fame does not accomplish anything. It just ends up hurting the fans, who never get to celebrate their induction. As a Mets fan, every year Piazza does not get inducted just makes me more discontent. It does not bring about any justice or comeuppance, nor does it allow for any type of redemption. It does not change anything. It does not change the fact that the steroid era happened, on the watch of many of the current voters, and was glorified at the time.

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