By In Stuff

Ballot 13: Sammy Sosa


Sammy Sosa

Played 18 years with four teams

Seven-time All-Star and MVP winner hit 609 homers and topped 60 three times. 58.4 WAR, 28.0 WAA

Pro Argument: Hit 292 homers in five-year span, no one else is even close.

Con argument: PED questions, relatively low average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

Deserves to be in Hall?: Depends on your view of era.

Will get elected this year?: No.

Will ever get elected?: less than 5%.

* * *

There are, I think, two basic arguments for keeping pre-drug testing PED users out of the Hall of Fame. We’ll say up front that Sammy Sosa has consistently denied using steroids and the reports of a failed drug test were both illicitly leaked and came from a test only intended to determine if drug testing should be triggered. Everyone can, and will, draw their own conclusions.

First, let’s talk PED arguments in general.

The first argument against allowing PED users in the Hall is what I would call the “Authenticity Argument.” It is based on the belief that players only became Hall of Fame players BECAUSE of their steroid use. Bob Costas is a big advocate of this argument. The premise is that the player’s PED-infused career is inauthentic, that the player likely would not have been Hall of Fame caliber without cheating. Mark McGwire would be a good example of this, his career was in the tank, he hit .201 one year, he missed the better part of two seasons because of injury.

And then he went on to become the greatest home run hitter the game has ever seen.

The argument: McGwire’s career was inauthentic, he was destined to be, say, Nate Colbert or Big John Mayberry or Pete Incaviglia or someone else who hit with power as a young man and then faded away around age 30. The argument is that PEDs MADE Mark McGwire great.

OK, so that’s argument No. 1 – the authenticity argument.

Argument No. 2 is what I would call the “Morality Argument.” It is based on the belief that it doesn’t matter if the player would or would not have been a Hall of Famer without steroids … by using drugs they cheated the game, cheated those players who chose not to use, cheated the fans who so desperately want to believe in baseball and compare numbers through the years and so on. Tom Verducci is a big advocate of this argument. Barry Bonds would be a good example. He put up a Hall of Fame career BEFORE the common narrative has him taking steroids. I don’t think there are many who would argue that Bonds, without steroids, is anything but one of the 25 or 50 greatest players in baseball history.

The argument: It doesn’t matter how good he was, he cheated the game, he cheated history, he illegitimately passed Henry Aaron on the all-time home run list. The Hall of Fame is baseball’s greatest honor and Barry Bonds does not deserve that honor.

There is some power in both arguments, but both have counterarguments too. The authenticity argument requires us to rewrite history. Baseball wasn’t like the Olympics or the Tour de France. There was no drug testing. People in and around the game did not actively or passively discourage steroid use. Every incentive – money, fame, peer pressure, competitive fury – pushed players toward PED use. We do not know who did or did not use — and I suspect we are kidding ourselves to think we do – nor do we do have a great handle on what the PED effects actually were.

You might remember that Chad Curtis once estimated that 40-50% of players used steroids. Victor Conte estimated that at least half of baseball was using steroids in 2012, that’s after testing. Jose Canseco estimated that 85% of players used steroids. Heck, there were 103 positive steroid tests in 2003, after America had grown disgusted by it all, when players KNEW they would be tested (and we also know that many PEDs do not show up in drug testing so it’s likely the number of users was substantially higher).

All of this certainly paints an incomplete picture … but it also mocks the very idea that we can go back into the past and, with a surgeon’s knife, cut out the bad stuff. There are no refunds. The game happened as it happened. I don’t know how many people used steroids in 1998 and neither does anyone else. I suspect it was a lot and that we would be shocked by some of the names. Someone else might suspect it was a few bad apples and we have a pretty good handle on who they were. The one thing we do know for sure is that Mark McGwire was the only one of them to hit 70 home runs.

The second argument, the morality argument, doesn’t ask to rewrite history so much as ignore it. Professional baseball began with cheating, with baseball teams surreptitiously paying players under the table in order to beat amateur teams. And cheating – or at least bending the rules – has been baseball’s dance partner from the very beginning. Babe Ruth probably corked his bat. Ty Cobb definitely gambled on baseball games and probably was part of a plan to throw one. Whitey Ford cut baseballs. Gaylord Perry spit on them. Henry Aaron and Willie Mays among just about every good player of their time tried amphetamines. Mickey Mantle used steroids in an effort to recover from injury. The list goes on and on and on from the smallest bits of cheating – stealing signs, beanballs, illegal equipment, any and every kind of illegal supplement – to the largest.

Players have always – ALWAYS – pushed the edge in order to win, in order to keep their jobs, in order to make a name for themselves in the game. Give them a chance to push the edge with no chance of getting caught … I think we all know where that will lead.

This is not to say that counterarguments are more powerful than the original arguments, by the way. That’s a matter of opinion. That’s WHY we argue. But here is something I would say: People rather nimbly bounce from one argument to the other and that’s not cool.

Follow this argument line:

  1. Person A makes the authenticity argument against Roger Clemens (If it had not been for his unnatural aging, he wouldn’t have had a Hall of Fame career).
  2. Person B counters by saying that Roger Clemens is so far above the Hall of Fame line that it is ridiculous to argue that steroids made him a Hall of Famer.
  3. Person A says, that doesn’t matter, Clemens cheated the game (Notice we have switched to the morality argument).
  4. Person B counters by saying that many have cheated the game. The Hall is filled with spitballers and amphetamine users, just for starters.
  5. Person A says, no, steroids are different and more powerful than any other form of cheating (We have switched back to the authenticity argument).
  6. Person B counters by saying that Clemens’ greatness was apparent and recorded long before he is accused of anything.
  7. Player A says that doesn’t matter, he’s the worst kind of cheater (back to the morality argument).

And round and round we go.

What will surprise you, perhaps, is that I’m sympathetic to the authenticity argument. I know some people here think that I just love steroid users, and that’s OK, I learned a long time ago that people will think what they want to think.

But I have spent a lot of time thinking about the steroid era of baseball. And one thing I firmly believe, looking back on the players of that time, is that we must look at them in context. For instance, in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s — when only 13 players managed multiple 40 home run seasons and four players hit 50 — 500 career home runs certainly made for a strong Hall of Fame argument. Five players hit 500 in those three decades – Aaron, Reggie, Schmidt, Killer and McCovey – and, yes, they all surely belong in the Hall of Fame.

OK, but since 1990, FORTY-FIVE different players have multiple 40 home run seasons. SEVENTEEN different players have hit 50.

And in this era, no, 500 home runs does not mean the same thing.

We know this instinctively. Take two pitchers.

One won 203 games with a 3.38 ERA.

The other won 182 games with a 2.28 ERA.

Who was better? You already know that it’s a trick, that I have used pitchers from different eras to give a false illusion. The first pitcher is Roy Halladay, who was a great pitcher in a crazy hitting era. The second is Ed Reulbach, who was a fine but ultimately forgotten pitcher from the Deadball Era.

We have learned to look at Deadball Era pitchers as their own thing … and I think we have to do that for power hitters in the 1990s and 2000s. Whatever magic numbers there once were for the Hall of Fame, like 500 home runs, they are not applicable to the new era.

Which brings us, finally, to Sammy Sosa. Start here: He was an absolute joy to watch in the 1990s. He had that contagious smile, that boundless energy, and that glorious home run swing. It wasn’t just home runs for Sosa at first. By Defensive WAR, from 1993 to 1997 – before the home run thing began – he was not just a good outfielder, he was an excellent one. He was a fast baserunner who stole as many as 36 bases in a season. And he hit with power – 33 homers as a 24-year old, 36 homers two years later, 40 homers the year after that.

All these wonders came with various costs. He struck out a lot. He more or less never walked. His career batting average entering the 1998 season was .257, his OPS+ was 107.

Then, in 1998, he transformed into a whole other player. It’s kind of striking to look at his advanced stats. He immediately became a sub-par outfielder. He immediately became a negative base runner.

Only now, suddenly, he hit everything hard. Everyone knows about the 66 home runs, but his batting average jumped to .308. His walks almost doubled. He had never had a .900 OPS for a season (though he had come close in 1994). He had a 1.000 OPS in 1998 … and would for the three years following.

For four years, from 1998 to 2001, Sammy Sosa hit .310/.396/.662, averaged 61 homers, 90 walks, 149 RBIs and 125 runs. It was mind-boggling. While Barry Bonds broke baseball and Mark McGwire played Superman, Sosa was like this bold, wonderful life force for baseball. His story of coming from nothing is touching. The way he tapped his heart and sent kisses tot he sky was wonderful. He was all that was good about the game at least for a while.

In 2002, everything came down a notch but he still led the league with 49 homers and 122 runs. That was the year Rick Reilly made news by asking Sosa to come take a voluntary drug test. The wonder was gone.

Then Sosa hit 40 homers, 35 homers, 14 homers … and he was out of baseball.*

*He did come back for one more year with Texas, managed his 600th homer, and retired from the game.

So what do you make of it all? For me, Sammy Sosa’s Hall of Fame case begins and ends with home runs (and the various stats that go with home runs ike runs and RBIs). He is one of the greatest home run hitters in baseball history. And … he offers almost nothing else offensively.

Here’s what I did – I looked at the 250 players who have gotten 8,000 plate appearances since 1901. And, for all of them, I took out their home runs just to see what else they did.

Sosa had the eighth lowest batting average, the ninth lowest on-base percentage and the seventh-lowest slugging percentage of all of them. Here are the OPS bottom ten when you take out home runs.

  1. Adam Dunn, .530
  2. Graig Nettles, .538
  3. Joe Carter, .539
  4. Sammy Sosa, .539
  5. Lee May, .542
  6. Gary Gaetti, .543
  7. Andruw Jones, .544
  8. Harmon Killebrew, .544
  9. Jose Canseco, .549
  10. Alfonso Soriano, .557

Now, I’m not really trying to take away Sosa’s home runs or anyone else’s – I’m just making the point that without the home runs, Sosa didn’t contribute very much. A look at that list of 10 is illuminating. Adam Dunn, well, we know he was a home run and walk guy entirely. Nettles was a fantastic defensive third baseman, which is why there are still those who push his Hall of Fame case. Joe Carter hit one of the most famous home runs in World Series history. Andruw Jones has an argument as the greatest defensive centerfielder since Willie Mays. And so on.

I would say the two people on the list who have Hall of Fame credentials based entirely on their home runs are Sosa and Harmon Killebrew. Sosa did offer a bit more in defense and base running than Killebrew but, in the end, we’re splitting hairs. It’s like saying that Edgar Martinez was a little bit faster than Frank Thomas, which might be true but doesn’t help his Hall of Fame case.

I think Harmon Killebrew should be in the Hall of Fame. And I am not voting for Sosa. Why? Well, there’s your context. There’s your authenticity question. The eras were different – if you neutralize their numbers, Killebrew hit 581 home runs and Sosa 595, almost no difference at all. Killebrew led the league in homers six times — even tying Carl Yastrzemski in ’67, the year Yaz won the Triple Crown. Sosa led the league in homers twice. It was just a different time.

And Sosa probably used steroids. He had that humiliating appearance before Congress. He definitely corked his bat. I don’t think any of the things Sosa did should eliminate him as a Hall of Fame candidate. I am not making the morality argument. I don’t think Sosa did anything that numerous other players of the time did.

But I think if you add it up, what we know and what we can deduce, you can come to the reasonable conclusion that it was only by pushing the edge and taking PEDs that Sammy Sosa hit enough home runs to be considered a Hall of Fame candidate.

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97 Responses to Ballot 13: Sammy Sosa

  1. Alter Kacker says:

    Thanks for a very helpful breakdown of the steroid-era arguments. I haven’t seen it put that way before, and it will help me clarify my own thinking about it.

    When did baseball actually adopt rules against steroids/HGH/etc.? I know mandatory testing is fairly recent, but were there rules against it before then? I would have a very hard time using either the authenticity or the morality argument against a player for things that weren’t against the rules.

    • Rob Smith says:

      BTW: steroids were specifically on the banned substance list starting in 1991. Testing, however, didn’t begin until 2003. But if you’re specifically looking at the “rule”, 1991 & beyond…. steroids were banned.

      • McKingford says:

        A rule that is not collectively bargained is not a rule. Even Fay Vincent, author of the 1991 memo, acknowledges that it was of no force and effect.

        Steroids, therefore, did not become against the rules until the 2006 JDA.

        • invitro says:

          There’s a general rule of humanity that says that doing something that is very harmful to yourself is immoral, and doing something that is very harmful to others is unethical. This rule doesn’t need to be collectively bargained, it just exists. Also, steroids were made illegal in 1988.

          • Tom says:

            So, playing footbal then is both immoral and unethical. Pratically every sport that involves physical activity will ultimately damage your body, so then it must be immoral, and in most contact sports, you will eventually injure somebody else, so they must all be unethical.

          • invitro says:

            “Pratically every sport that involves physical activity will ultimately damage your body” — I don’t believe this, but I’ll listen to any evidence that is presented. Just speaking for myself, I played plenty of physical sports, and they improved my body, they didn’t damage it.

            “and in most contact sports, you will eventually injure somebody else” — I don’t believe this either. And even if it were true (in boxing, probably), the factor of consent prevents it from being unethical. With steroids, players did not consent to being forced into a situation were they were required to use if they wanted to be their best.

          • SDG says:

            That’s not a good argument because players have always done things that are harmful to themselves and others. Chew tobacco. Headhunting. Dirty spiking. Training so hard you injure yourself or get dehydrated. Getting injured and keeping it quiet so you don’t get bounced, possibly causing long-term damage to your body.

            And that’s just baseball. I don’t think it’s a “general rule of humanity” that doing something harmful to yourself is immoral. Is everyone who overeats an immoral person?

            Steroids are harmful for many reasons. That makes it all the worse that the owners and the commissioner didn’t crack down on them. They are culpable too.

          • invitro says:

            “Is everyone who overeats an immoral person?” — Not all levels of overeating are very harmful to health, and doing one slightly immoral thing does not make one an immoral person.

    • invitro says:

      From … ‘The popular myth is that before testing, steroids in baseball “weren’t illegal” (in fact, their use was made illegal by the federal government in 1988 unless prescribed to treat a medical condition), were “not against the rules” (a 1991 memo by commissioner Fay Vincent specifically prohibited steroids)…’

      • David Nieporent says:

        (1) Illegal under federal law does not mean illegal in baseball.

        (1b) Not all steroids — for instance, THG (colloquially known as “the clear”), which many players were accused of using — were illegal under federal law, anyway.

        (2) Fay Vincent’s memo was directed to the clubs, not the players, for good reason: he had no authority to set “the rules” for players, because that was a matter for collective bargaining. There is no evidence that players ever even *saw* this memo.

        (2b) Contrary to popular belief, Vincent did not issue a special memo to set rules about steroids. Both aspects of that are wrong; the memo was not about steroids per se, and was not purporting to set a rule.

        Rather, Vincent just sent a memo reminding clubs of baseball’s generic drug policy, that the use of illegal drugs or controlled substances, including steroids and prescription drugs for which people don’t have prescriptions, is forbidden. This memo was about the recreational use of drugs — not about so-called “cheating.” In other words, to the extent this memo had any force at all, it was lumping steroids in with cocaine and pot, as substances for which users would be forced to undergo treatment if caught using.

    • SDG says:

      The whole PED argument reminds me of that Red Barber line about how if you break a written rule, people will think you’re clever, but if you break an unwritten rule, people will hate you. People seem madder and Bonds and Sosa, McGwire and Clemens, than anyone is at Manny Ramirez. The baseball community, in attitude if not rhetoric, is starting to treat PEDs like spitters, tolerated and even winked at as long as you keep it discreet and aren’t a dick about it.

      I have no idea what this means for a future Hall.

  2. Wes Tovich says:

    All of what you say is true here. And I’m still for Sosa going in. I think there’s just too much–609 homers isn’t something you easily ignore and keep out of the Hall. Its how I’ve changed in my view of the whole roid thing-I think its clear about everyone was using them that could between say 93-2009, and Sosa just did it better. Hard for me to see him not being inducted somewheres along the line. Even if he’s as artificial as a Kardashian.

    • SDG says:

      Maris also had a good-not-great career, minus the 61 year (and the year before that). He never got serious consideration. The steroids are a double-edged sword. The fact that everyone was juicing means what he did is less impressive in his own era. Sosa burned bright but short, and normally I’m a peak person, but I think there has to be more than, basically, 4 years.

      Also, I think it’s kind of great when individual achievements aren’t held by the all-time greats. I love that Maris has the pre-steroid homer record over Mantle or Greenberg. I love when the World Series MVP is some nobody or when average players hit the walkoff homer that wins the playoff.

  3. Ajnrules says:

    Well put. Every time somebody asks a Bonds/Clemens voter “Why not Sosa?” I’ll show them this article.

  4. Rob Smith says:

    I think the counter argument Joe made against the authenticity argument is not the right argument. It was presented in an illogical form often using conjucture & false logic. Using the idea that Victor Conte and Jose Canseco ESTIMATED that half, or more, of baseball used steroids is a complete non fact. In both cases, it’s also self serving. Conte was just saying, in effect, that he was just one of many suppliers & just giving the players what they were doing already. In other words, he wasn’t doing anything that wrong. Laws be damned. Canseco was making a similar argument, that he was doing what everyone else was doing (not so wrong) and he had books to sell. Now I think when the two of them had first hand knowledge of specific users (i.e. Canseco’s book mentions & Conte’s actual clients), I’d consider that. But neither had any way of knowing how many players across 30 teams, and both leagues were actually using.

    But, let’s say that half the league was using. None of us has any way of really knowing one way or the other, but let’s say half just for argument sake. Now the counter argument here is that there were a lot of OTHER inauthentic players at the same time as McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, etc. Since “we can’t know” who else was getting inauthentic results, and perhaps some users are now in the HOF…. and further because “we can’t know” who else used greenies or some other elicit substance 50 years ago, and some of them are in the HOF, then we shouldn’t hold it against the players who got caught.

    This is a completely illogical argument. Of course “we can’t know” everyone who used an illicit substance anymore than the police can catch every bank robber. We can’t know every person who started a charity completely for self interest & used funds for their own benefit. We can’t know everyone who cheated on their wives.

    So, using the PED case, since we can’t know everything obviously, we can only look at those who we DO know took illicit substances. This is the logical argument. It’s not, since we can’t know everyone who used, we do nothing. That’s illogical. We can only take action on things we know, or have strong evidence is true.

    And it’s tricky. Because of spotty to non-existent testing, we know plenty of players got away with it. We only have a few that have a positive test to know for sure. We have a few more that have admitted it, or made legal arguments (like Bonds) that conceded that they used (though “unknowingly”). So, HOF voters (and fans & bloggers) have to look in between for other possible evidence. That leads to some, probably very unfair, whisper campaigns, like with Bagwell and Piazza. You also have to decide whether to use the partially leaked list of the 1998 pre-tests (evidence or phony?) You have to also look at players that got caught up in scandals like BALCO. It’s all very gray and the tendency is to look at it like “hey this is crazy! How do I judge who used and who didn’t? How do I figure out how much they benefited. So, screw it! I can’t do it! I “can’t know” everything, so I’ll just forget about PEDs altogether.” But that’s not the only option. We can look at those with strong evidence that they used and decide how it impacted their careers.

    There is one voter, who I forget their name, who does something I fully agree with. He lines up their steroid narrative time line with their numbers. He then essentially “siphons” off stats that he can look at and see were influenced by steroids. The best example is Bonds. He started using in 1998. So, stats during the time he used steroids, 1998 and beyond, were “siphoned” off and disregarded for HOF voting purposes. Now keep in mind, Bonds still has HOF stats without those years. So, this guy voted for him. That voter didn’t make the moral argument, nor does it dismiss his whole career because of use during part of his career.

    I think there is room to make nuanced arguments without throwing out all suspected PED users, nor giving a pass to all those where there is strong evidence (real evidence) that they used. To me, not trying to parse the evidence is lazy. Yes, it’s hard. But if you have a HOF vote, aren’t you supposed to be looking at all the evidence & not just pull a “Murray Chass” and turn in a blank ballot? It’s OK to require a high level of evidence, though & decide what you’ll accept and not accept. IMO, whisper campaigns are not evidence. Positive tests are. Evidence from scandals should be strongly considered. Court cases absolutely should be considered for both for and against evidence. You can draw the line wherever you want. You can even say that you don’t have a problem with PED users. But trying to dismiss the PED issue by waving your hand and saying “we can’t know. We can’t catch them all”. That just drives me nuts. I personally believe people shouldn’t leave High School, or at least College without taking a logic course. It would change who we elect. It would change the world.

    • David Nieporent says:

      You write that this is illogical because “Since we can’t catch everyone, we shouldn’t act against the people we know did wrong” is flawed.

      But you’re making exactly the error Joe wrote about: confusing the authenticity with the moral argument. As a matter of morality, you may be right: we punish people we catch, even though there are other people we don’t catch, because the existence of the latter doesn’t make the former less immoral. (There are counterarguments to that, but I won’t get into them.)

      But as a matter of AUTHENTICITY, your argument doesn’t apply. Authenticity says, “McGwire’s numbers are artificially inflated beyond those of his peers because he was using steroids and they weren’t.” McGwire, for example, wouldn’t have won 4 HR titles; the clean guy behind him would have won some of those. But if the last part is mistaken — if they were also using — then that argument falls by the wayside. So if we don’t know who was using, we have no way to judge whether McGwire had a supposed steroid-fueled advantage over them.

  5. Jason says:

    Wow, the passive aggressive battle wirh a certain baseball writer at a certain magazine is real, ha ha. I’ve got Joe slightly ahead but slumping on this topic.

  6. Jake says:

    This is essentially how I feel about McGwire. Without home runs, there’s no argument. Feel that’s borne out by his HOF votes. His numbers have steadily declined, nearly halved since his first year on the ballot, while Bonds and Clemens have seen their numbers rise.

    • SDG says:

      I suspect that Bonds/Clemens will be the floodgates. No other user (for whom there is more evidence than “bacne” or “was Caminiti’s teammate”) goes in until the two big ones, the two arguably-greatest players. Once they’re in, it becomes easier and easier to vote for the next users. The ones for whom there’s more direct evidence, the ones whose numbers aren’t as great. Then it gradually becomes more and more normal until no one cares any more.

  7. Doug says:

    Pretty sure I completely, 100% agree with everything here. I agree with the points on steroids, and I agree that Sosa probably was not good enough to be a HOFer. Thanks for laying it out so neatly, Joe.

  8. Marshall says:

    I think I’d lean towards putting him in the HoF–a 10-win season tips an otherwise borderline case for me.

    Joe says he thinks we would be “shocked” by some of the players who used steroids. For me, there is no player from the last 30 years for whom a revelation of steroid use would register even mild surprise. Greg Maddux was one of my very favorite players. It wouldn’t surprise me if he used. Griffey, Jeter, Chipper, etc. Now, I’m not suggesting that any of these guys used. I have no idea. But none would surprise me, and it irritates me a bit when people suggest that we know these guys (and others) were “clean.”

    • Ben says:

      Greg Maddux is my favorite player of all time, and I’ve been saying the same thing for years.

    • invitro says:

      ‘it irritates me a bit when people suggest that we know these guys (and others) were “clean.”’ — What about guys who openly and forcefully campaigned for drug testing? It’s a little hard for me to believe that these guys would do this and at the same time be users themselves.

      • Marshall says:

        Are there many of these guys out there? My favorite player growing up was Frank Thomas, who was outspoken against PEDs, and I think even campaigned for more testing. I’d like to think he was clean. But I can’t say I’d be shocked if I found out he used.

        • invitro says:

          Probably not many. I think Schilling and Walker might be in the group, without looking anything up. But as Jeremy shows me below, this may not mean all that much.

      • Jeremy says:

        David Ortiz did just this, if I recall correctly. He was incredibly outspoken against PED use and still come up with a positive test in 2003.

      • moviegoer74 says:

        Really? It is? That’s surprisingly naive of you, invitro. Don’t you remember Rafael Palmeiro pointing at Congress? Or Lance Armstrong attacking anyone who dared suggest he wasn’t clean? It seems to me that forcefully campaigning for drug testing is quite an excellent cover for a user.

    • SDG says:

      That’s part of the problem. We can never know who the users were (which is one of the reasons I don’t understand only caring about the big bulky HR guys). Any method of punishment (especially post facto when we can only go on rumor) is going to let some users in the Hall and keep some clean people outside it and ruin their reputations.

      It depends what you think the Hall is for. Is it to honor the best players or is it also a tool used to serve the game by keeping it clean. We believe keeping Pete Rose out is justified because it prevents gambling. Which raises two questions: would keeping PEDs users out of the Hall prevent steroids in the first place, and is it enough justification? Is the Hall designed to honour the best players or the cleanest ones?

  9. Brad says:

    Maybe this will influence some of you, maybe it won’t. In the mid-90’s, I, like many of us, played rec league softball. I also spent a fair amount of time in the gym, lifting. I also took the supplement, creatine, to enhance my muscle mass. In one year, I went from being a decent hitter, with warning track power, to a guy who smashed balls all over and out of the local ballpark. The creatine made the difference. Now I understand there’s a lot of difference between creatine and steroids. Steroids are absolutely more powerful (and dangerous). But this little two year creatine based foray led me to be firm in the opposition of PED users like Bonds, Sosa and McGuire. I believe those players, when clean, were 30-40 HR per year type guys in their prime. And 30-40 per year is a great number. The steroids though gave them enough extra mass and bat speed to turn another 40-50 balls, which normally would have died in the outfield, into home runs. Thus their HR totals are artificially inflated. I view Bonds as a cheater. Hank Aaron, IMO, is still the legit Career HR champ.
    Bonds had one off season where he put on 25 lbs of muscle. Anyone who’s done any serious weight lifting knows that this is impossible if you are clean. Sosa and McGuire both put on serious mass. The swimmer Dara Torres broke several world records after the age of 40 in her return to the sport. Was she clean? I seriously doubt it. Her shoulders and arms gave her away. She never tested positive, but I don’t put much stock in that. Bonds avoided detection for several years even though he blew up like the Michelin man and his cap size jumped two sizes. I’m okay with those players being left out of the hall.

    • invitro says:

      What are the health risks of using creatine? (Whatever amount of creatine is necessary for a pro baseball player to get a significant performance boost.) Is using it legal?

      • Brad says:

        Creatine is a legal supplement you can buy at places like GNC. It’s a super high protein powder with one dose equivalent to eating about twenty steaks. I stopped taking it because I was worried about running that much protein through my liver, four to five times a week, plus you have to drink a ton of water or you start cramping up. I’ve never heard of any short or long term health effects, unlike steroids, which is well documented. I’ve known steroid users who have died of heart attacks and cancer that I’m certain was related to the steroid abuse. It’s nasty stuff (steroids). BTW, once I stopped taking the creatine, I regressed back to a warning track power hitter. It was fun while it lasted though.

        • invitro says:

          Thanks for the info.

          • sbmcmanus says:

            That info is substantially incorrect. Creatine isn’t a protein, and it’s not a high protein powder. It’s a less complex chemical compound than a protein, and of course is not naturally occuring like proteins in food. From a training perspective it might be useful to think of it conceptually as a “super protein” since it serves the same purpose in training (building muscle mass and strength) but it’s equally dangerous to just think of it as a protein source.

          • Ben says:

            Yeah I wouldn’t listen to that guy. His post is full of misinformation and speculation.

            Lots of info on creatine around, I would start with wikipedia, or here:


    • David Nieporent says:

      His cap size didn’t jump two sizes, and increasing cap size is not a symptom of steroid use anyway.

  10. Are we forbidden from holding two anti-PED arguments? I’d have thought employing both a moral and authenticity argument makes a case stronger rather than weaker.

    • Doug says:

      I don’t know about what’s forbidden. I think it is good to be clear-headed about which argument you’re making, and not cross the streams between them, which does happen all the time – where, like Joe says, people will pivot seamlessly between the two arguments. And I think it’s pretty tricky to figure out how the two arguments interact, because they have quite different justifications. Each argument is saying something about the Hall, and the two things don’t necessarily have a ton to do with each other.

    • SDG says:

      It’s impossible to hold both arguments simultaneously. If you hold the authenticity argument, then the moral argument can’t apply. If the point is we don’t know how many HRs Barry would have hit and we can’t trust the stats, then what does it matter to impugn the character of someone we can’t consider anyway. You can’t say, “It was deeply wrong, so wrong we must pretend it never happened, oh, and also, it doesn’t matter.”

      One thing I think Joe left out was the deterrence argument. Namely, that PEDs are so bad, that they make a mockery of the idea of sport, that they create an arms race where players (and eventually children) will be forced to use to keep up, that they taint the record books, etc., and so we must go scorched-earth on any user, even if he’s just suspected. This is the Landis argument: Yes, Bonds deserves to be in the Hall of Fame if we go by his on-field performance, but if keeping him out is what it will take to stop baseball from becoming the WWE, that’s what we have to do. We have to punish the steroid guys as hard as we can to prevent future players from using. That’s what it took to stop gambling (with one exception who’s been debated to death around here), that’s what it will take to stop PEDs.

  11. Darrel says:

    Love the way the arguments are laid out. I just have one quibble. Why can’t I be against inclusion into the Hall for BOTH of the reasons Joe mentions? Why do I have to pick one? I don’t want PED users in the Hall because I do not trust the numbers are reflective of their true ability AND I am turned off by the cheating that robbed baseball of its history and clean players the ability to make rosters/all star games/HoF etc. I can hold more than one idea in my head at the same time.

    • Doug says:

      Part of the problem is that – it seems to me – if you think cheating’s wrong, then cheating should be wrong. The authenticity argument seems to undercut the moral argument: if cheating can’t be rewarded, then why should it matter how effective the cheating was? It doesn’t make sense to me to differentiate between cheaters based on how effective their methodology of cheating was, because it’s basically a historical accident. It’s not like cheaters who didn’t use PEDs respected the rules more. They just didn’t have access to means of cheating that were so effective. They did the best they could to disadvantage non-cheating players.

      It doesn’t have to do with the distinction between the moral and authenticity arguments, but I also wanted to say that I really strongly disagree with the idea that there’s some kind of a break in the continuity of the game. I don’t agree that PED use robbed baseball of its history. PED use is a part of the complex history of baseball, just like segregation and game-fixing and a million other things. It changes how we think about the game, we have to take account of it, but it does not radically change baseball. It’s one thing that happened. That’s how I feel about it.

  12. Pak says:

    Thanks Joe. I like the differentiation of the 2 arguments. I also tend to the authenticity issue. I do think that both Bonds and Clemens were HOF worthy prior to their likely steroid starting point, and my only real beef with their possible election is their plaques would be dominated by their exploits post steroids. When I see the vote totals for them, the only thing I don’t understand is why someone would vote for (or against) one of them but not the other. Sosa & McGwire are only up for HOF consideration because of their using.

    • Karyn says:

      One argument I can see for including Clemens but not Bonds is that Bonds definitely used, but the actual evidence for Clemens using is kinda sketchy. We all assume he did, but it’s never actually been shown that he did.
      I can see someone drawing that line. I’m not sure why someone might go for Bonds but not for Clemens, though.

      • Pat says:

        It depends on the line you draw. But if you throw out the part of their careers after as best as we can tell they started using (Clemens with Canseco in Toronto, Bonds post-new hat size), you could make the argument. Bonds’s HOF case was already made (400 HR, 400 SB), whereas Clemens’s (192-111, 3.06 ERA, 2,500 K) was impressive but possibly marginal to the actual Hall.

      • SDG says:

        I think we all want some genius in a lab coat to come out and say, “Here’s what everyone used, when they used it, and what their stats would be if they’d played clean.” And then we could have neutralized stats for everything and really know who the real Home Run King is. But that’s never going to happen. No matter where we come down on the argument, there is going to be a great deal of uncertainty when it comes to evaluating players, and this is true regardless of if you use the authenticity or morality arguments.

      • Shonepup says:

        I think the evidence against Clemens is pretty darn strong – at least as strong as the evidence against Bonds. No matter, they both belong in the Hall.

    • Doug says:

      People might choose not to vote for one of Clemens or Bonds for off-field stuff – things besides performance or PED use. I can certainly see arguments people might make about why they would refuse to vote for either one, although I don’t agree with the position at all.

      • Karyn says:

        Really? I can’t see a non-PED related argument against either Bonds or Clemens. What do you imagine might be one?
        I’m not trying to snark you, I understand that you yourself are not making such an argument.

        • Doug says:

          Bleh, I got confused with Clemens’ and Schilling’s off-the-field stuff for a second – my apologies. With Bonds, if I recall correctly, there were allegations of domestic violence in one of his divorces, which as far as I know are entirely unsubstantiated but might matter to some voters.

          • Karyn says:

            Oh, yeah, I see that. I mean, I’m a liberal whack-a-doo but I don’t think Schilling’s silly remarks should count against him in re: the Hall of Fame.
            The Bonds DV stuff. That’s hard for me. It wasn’t proven as a criminal conviction, but she did testify to it in their divorce proceeding, and there was a police call during their marriage. Based solely on that, I think it likely that he did hit her. But Bobby Cox beat is wife too, and he’s in the Hall. I don’t know. I don’t know what off-the-field crime would rule a guy out for the Hall of Fame for me. I don’t know if I could make a bright line rule about it. It’s a tough one.

          • invitro says:

            I don’t know if it’s a good argument, but here’s what I do with off-the-field crimes and HoF voting. My use of “character” is restricted to the question “did this player’s life in his sport enhance or detract from the state of this sport?” I don’t think Cox’s spousal abuse hurt baseball one iota. But I think NFL players may be getting pretty close to being identified as typically being committers of domestic violence, and that damages the state of pro football. Well, maybe. Or, during the Pittsburgh drug trials era, a group of baseball players were very close to tarnishing the general reputation of baseball as a haven for drug dealers and abusers. Well, maybe. In any case, the PED/steroid users *definitely* hurt the general reputation of baseball, and that’s a big reason why I (probably) wouldn’t vote for them.

        • moviegoer74 says:

          I think there is a defensible argument for voting Bonds but not Clemens. A couple, actually.

          1) A voter will vote for PED guys but only soncider their pre-PED numbers. I can see a hardliner thinking pre-1999 Bonds had done enough already to get into the HOF, but pre-Toronto Clemens was just short.

          2) A voter will vote for PED guys but make a mental adjustment to reduce the PED-enhanced numbers. Basically, this guy is giving Bonds credit for all his pre-1999 numbers, plus a “best guess” as to what Bonds would have done from 1999 on had he been clean. So maybe he thinks a clean Bonds would still have gotten to 600 HRs. So even if he thinks pre-1999 Bonds comes up just short of the Hall, he votes Bonds in. The same guy thinks Clemens was completely done before his Toronto rejuvenation. So he thinks ALL of Clemens’s Toronto and later numbers are bogus So if he’s of the opinion that Clemens’ pre-Toronto career is just short of the Hall, he doesn’t vote Clemens in.

          I’m not saying I buy either of these, just that they could defensibly be made.

          • David Nieporent says:

            No defensible argument could be made that Clemens was “completely done” before his Toronto years. The only such argument would have to rely on W-L record, and that’s not defensible.

        • SDG says:

          Not that I subscribe to this argument myself, but a non-PED argument against either of them would be that they are both, as far as I can tell, assholes. Bonds (allegedly) beat his wife. Clemens (allegedly) committed statutory rape and (definitely) threw a shard of wood at Piazza in a manner completely unsupported by both the rules of baseball and any standard of ethics (and was inexplicably not punished for it).

  13. invitro says:

    Joe conveniently misses what is actually Verducci’s, and my, main argument, which I’ll call the Ethics Argument. By using PED’s, players created an environment where non-using players were forced to use, and thus do serious harm to their health*, if they wanted to continue being employed. Verducci details this argument dramatically and forcefully in his article on Dan Naulty, so there’s no need for me to say anything more on it. I will say: shame on Joe for omitting this side of the issue, unless, of course, I missed something. (I think this is an example of ethics not being the same as morality.) (* Apparently whether typical PED use by pro athletes is seriously harmful is not quite a decided matter yet. If it’s -not- actually harmful, this argument doesn’t exist.)

    • Doug says:

      I hope I’m not being rude here, but how do you square this with your position that we shouldn’t be especially empathetic towards professional athletes (particularly football players) who choose to undergo health risks in order to succeed and make lots of money?

      • invitro says:

        It’s not rude, it’s a fair and good question. I believe that the health risks football players take are *necessary* ones. I’m not a football expert, but I doubt that pro football is possible without players having tons of pain. (And I strongly advocate use of improved equipment which I feel certain could mitigate certain health risks like head injuries, if the players & league would just agree to use it.) On the other hand, the specific health risk caused by steroids/PED use is *unnecessary*. Well obviously it is, as it doesn’t exist now, and didn’t in the past, at least nearly to the extent that it did in the PED era. (I don’t claim that this is a great answer.)

        • Mike says:

          Has there been any truly extensive research on the effects of PEDs though? Especially the newer ones? I know Mark Cuban wants to fund research into it based on the fact that it might be beneficial. I think the health risks might be a bit overblown because they may be based on PEDs that we’re taken by the German olympians and football players in the late 70s/early 80s, which were basically animal steroids, which may or may not have any correlation to the drugs being used today.

          • invitro says:

            Probably not. I guess we know that at least some of these drugs are potentially beneficial in certain doses, as we do prescribe them. I’ve been prescribed steroids once, my dad is currently taking them, just very small/brief prescriptions though. And I take amphetamine (Adderall) by prescription, which I feel benefits me greatly. I have a feeling though that the doses of steroids that players took were way beyond theraputic doses. Canseco talks about doses a bit in Juiced, how he took the “right” doses, while certain players took way too much, or didn’t balance the ingredients of the steroid “cocktail”, which apparently is important. I do feel fairly secure believing that the typical MLB regimen was unhealthy, but I’m not certain of that. And more research is usually always a good thing, in my philosophy. 🙂

      • invitro says:

        I’ll say also that my opinions on PEDs/steroids are not strongly held ones. I can easily see both sides of the issue, I regularly alter my opinions on it, and I could easily shift them further as I read more evidence and facts. I don’t have any problem with Joe having his own opinions on the matter… it’s a tough issue, and I certainly haven’t criticized Joe’s selection of PED-enabled players for the HoF, and I don’t think that most of the steroid users were necessarily bad people. But I -am- a little upset with Joe for not including what I feel to be the real force of Verducci’s argument, which is that PED users damaged the health of other, usually younger and less powerful men.

    • SDG says:

      I wrote about this upthread. The deterrence argument. Steroids need to be eliminated from the game as a matter of policy. I agree with that. Of course, this argument is only valid if you believe that keeping (confirmed? suspected? successful?) steroid users out of the Hall prevents steroids from being in the game. I bet plenty of players would rather hold all-time records and make loads of free agent than get a plaque that sort of looks like them.

      Peter Rose is more famous out of the Hall than in it. His autographs are worth more too. I think at this point it’s especially stupid to ban Bonds from the Hall under the grounds that it keeps PEDs out of the game, but let him be a hitting coach.

  14. Mike says:

    1998 was interesting because I remember thinking Sosa was a different hitter, even before he started smashing homers (he wasn’t hitting many until he went bananas in June). But I saw him earlier that year and he was MUCH more patient, much more balanced, much more able to hold back his swing and use his power. Until then, you could make Sammy get himself out (although if he was humiliated on a pitch, he would sit on it forever until he saw it again and crushed it). But his approach was totally different in ’98. That, as much as steroids, was why he became a great hitter for those few years.

    • sbmcmanus says:

      But this isn’t an either/or thing with respect to the steroids and approach at the plate. Getting very strong physically and increasing your bat speed ALLOWS you to adjust your approach to be more patient and wait longer on pitches. It’s not one or the other.

  15. invitro says:

    “People in and around the game did not actively or passively discourage steroid use.” — From reading what players and other writers have said, I don’t think the “passively” part is true. Players didn’t openly use drugs… they hid their use of them. They did this at least in part because they were ashamed. They were ashamed because other people passively discouraged steroid use.

  16. Tim says:

    The strangest thing about Sosas career,for me, is the fact that he played two full seasons with the white sox…it’s just weird. The year he played 150 plus games was strange to say the least. Hit 15 homers, didn’t walk, struck out a ton, hit 10 triples and stole 33 bases (not at a successful rate mind you). Whenever I think of his career I always gravitate towards that season. He was a beanpole and super young then but he morphed into something completely different when he went to was gradual, true, but it’s an interesting career arc.

    • Karyn says:

      I don’t know–I think a lot of guys at age 21 haven’t come into their full strength yet. It seems a fairly normal arc of a valuable player for the first half of his career. At the ages of 24-28 (93-97 seasons) he’s coming into his own, with a couple of blips for seasons shortened by injury or labor strike.
      It’s only 1998, his age 29 season, when the rocket goes up.

  17. KHAZAD says:

    Of course there inconsistencies even with the guys that want to keep everyone out. The Costas mention reminded me of that. He mentions Mantle as an example of the time when baseball was pure, and yet Mantle was a steroid user. It is just that Mantle was a childhood hero, and the steroid era happened when Costas was entering the “Get off my lawn” age.

    I have a friend who is very against almost anyone with even unsubstantiated rumors, but can’t wait for Andy Pettitte to be eligible. Now I think that Pettitte falls short even without the PED stuff – the biggest things people mention are his winning percentage and post season record, both helped substantially by the dynastic team he played for. Oh, and my friend is a Yankee fan who loved Pettitte. When I mention the steroids he says “It was only to get over an injury and he admitted it” Sure Pettitte says it was only to get over an injury, at least after he was named in the Mitchell report, to minimize it. Just prior to being named, he said this: “I absolutely killed myself over my career to work as hard as I possibly can to be as good as I possibly can and have it done natural.” while denigrating other users.

    The point is that a big factor is whether you like someone or not. He likes Pettitte, and would vote for him despite the PEDS and the borderline case. He doesn’t like AROD, so he wouldn’t vote for him.

    I have another friend who is very anti steroids planning a trip to cooperstown to watch the Ortiz induction. Ortiz is on the border anyway, in my view, but I believe my friend will be making that trip despite very real taint. Ortiz has a great smile, a big personality, and played in Boston.

    In the end, I believe that Joe is right. We should judge the era differently. With two expansions and a postage stamp strike zone, it may have been a great offensive era without the steroids. The steroids are a fact, there are many that used them that were not named. I guarantee there were some who are touted as examples of “clean players” that used. Some of those are already in the Hall of Fame, just like others we revere who used the drugs of the time to get an edge.

    • SDG says:

      When Pettitte comes up for the vote, the arguing will be insane. His case rests on
      1. Wins
      2. Postseason dominance
      3. Character
      4. PEDs
      5. Part of an iconic team

      In other words, all the baseball controversies in one person. Same with Ortiz but replace wins with the DH. Baseball internet will be fun then.

  18. Anthony Calamis says:

    I am big Hall, but Sosa’s borderline to me. There’s a host of corner outfield candidates I’d prefer to see in – Vlad Guerrero, Walker, Sheffield, Dwight Evans, Reggie Smith for five. RF is completely stacked. Sosa would be at the bottom of the HoF RF heap for me, in Bobby Abreu territory.

    I don’t really care about PEDs, though. Although I’m not adverse to giving players who are perceived to be clean a “boost” if you really, truly believe they were 100% clean. The issue is borne from that last statement, though. McGriff had begun to tail off from 1995 to 1998 as a hitter: 24 HR/year, 114 OPS+ from age-31 to age-34 and then hits 30 HR/year with a 130 OPS+ from age-35 to age-38? He didn’t just stave off decline, he got better as he aged in his 30s. That’s no evidence McGriff used, but I’d not be shocked at all if McGriff, Delgado, etc. were dirty.

    I’m cool with McGriff in the Hall – and Sosa – but because they’re borderline candidates & I’m big Hall, not because I think he was definitively clean.

  19. invitro says:

    “We do not know who did or did not use — and I suspect we are kidding ourselves to think we do – nor do we do have a great handle on what the PED effects actually were.” — There are two obvious problems with this statement. We don’t know *exactly* who used and didn’t use, but who cares… it’s not necessary to know that before criticizing the dozens of players who we *do* know used. It’s like saying that we shouldn’t punish rapists until we know exactly who every single rapist is. And a similar thing with the PED effects — we may not know *exactly* what the effects were, but we do know in general that they significantly improved baseball performance on the average, and that the typical use (abuse) of them by pro athletes is significantly harmful to health. We may not know just how harmful child sexual abuse is, and how harmful it is varies from victim to victim, but we do know it’s on average a bad thing. (Please don’t get upset by my choice of analogies… I did it on purpose to show the fallaciousness of Joe’s argument, obviously not to say that PED abuse is as bad as these other societal ills.)

  20. invitro says:

    “The way he tapped his heart and sent kisses to he sky was wonderful. He was all that was good about the game at least for a while.” — I always thought Sosa was a huckster for doing this crap, and the “contagious smile, that boundless energy” too. It was at least eye-rolling. (At worst, it’s kind of like saying TV evangelists are all that’s good about religion…)

  21. birtelcom says:

    Leave aside PEDs for a moment and look at productivity in terms of hitting timeliness. Over the past 60 seasons, Sosa is 6th in total homers, but only 22nd in HRs in what baseball-reference calls “high leverage” situations (the 20% highest important game situation PAs). B-ref has a stat called “Clutch” which measures a player’s hitting in high leverage versus lower leverage situations. Among all hitters with at least 1,000 career PAs over past 60 seasons, Sammy has the lowest Clutch figure of all. He just wasn’t as good in important situations.

  22. EnzoHernandez11 says:

    I have some sympathy for the morality argument, though not the sentimental silliness about “cheating the game.” Come on: it’s a professional sport with an unbroken 140 year history of minor and major corruptions Rather, as Invitro suggested, one can argue that the real evil of steroid use was that it required other players to choose between professional survival and possibly doing permanent damage to their bodies. Nobody has a right to force another person to make that choice, and it is deeply immoral to do so. Ultimately, however, the problem with divvying out the punishment is that we have no way to distinguish between the “bad guys” who were fueled by pure selfishness and the “good guys” who used PEDs reluctantly because it was the only way they could keep up or excel. Even if we think we know, we really don’t.

    On the other hand, I am not at all persuaded by the authenticity argument. Leaving aside the issues of morality–real or imagined–it seems to me that the authenticity issue is not unlike the question of what to do about Coors Field in its pinball days. Larry Walker’s stats were obviously inflated by Coors, and we must account for this, but we must also note that his performance in Denver exceeded that of anyone else who played under the same conditions. If you want to talk about authenticity, then let’s not start at the top. Maybe we can argue about Dante Bichette.

    Likewise, even accepting that steroids amplify talent, especially with regard to power, we must still acknowledge that Sammy Sosa was able to harness that advantage in a way that no other player could (unless you want to argue that steroids turn some mediocre players into titans, but not others; this is possible, I suppose, but it is more likely that Sosa’s steroid-aided performance represented an expression of elite talent reaching its peak at just the right–wrong?–time.) So we can discount Sosa the same way we discount Walker (well, not the same way, but you get the idea) and determine that in his prime he was Harmon Killebrew rather than Babe Ruth. But Killebrew was still a Hall of Famer.

    In the end, I would not put Sosa in the Hall of Fame, but not because of either the morality argument or the authenticity argument. Instead, I would point to two things: 1) his career OPS+ was 128, which doesn’t scream “Hall of Fame” to me; Killebrew’s was 143; and relatedly 2) Sosa’s peak, and great as it was, was far too short to qualify him for Cooperstown. Turns out that he wasn’t Harmon Killebrew; after normalizing era, he was more like Don Mattingly or Dale Murphy.

    • Go Indians says:

      So under your definition, is Bonds a “good guy” because he only used steroids because he believed that Sosa and McGuire were muscling into his territory as the “best player in baseball” through using steroids or a “bad guy” because he was being selfish (wanting to be known as the best player)? Certainly, he didn’t cause anyone else to have to use in order to get or maintain a job.

      Bonds was a very late adopter of steroids (5+ years after the anointed beginning of the “steroid era” and probably 15 years after it really began) and only used because other players were using, yet is the poster boy for the anti-steroid hysteria. Clemons fits the same definition of a late adopter, but is the other poster boy. People can’t seem to get riled up with the people who first started the steroid era causing all the other players to start using, but gravitate to the best players who used, even thought they played clean for years when lesser players were using.

      • invitro says:

        “Certainly, he didn’t cause anyone else to have to use in order to get or maintain a job.” — I would guess the opposite: since Bonds was the #1 player in baseball, and it was clear what happened to his performance when he started using, he became a walking PED advertisement, second only to McGwire and Sosa. I’ll bet he caused lots of MLB players, and lots of non-pro athletes around the world, to start using. But I do understand your point, and probably Bonds shouldn’t get as much ethical blame as the early adopters, or the players in the union who prevented MLB from implementing drug testing for so long.

        • Go Indians says:

          I’ve only ever seen the idea about forcing other players to use in the context of borderline players using in order to get or keep a job. If some of the borderline players are using, then the other borderline players are forced to make the decision to use or not to use. Players already knew steroids helped them, so Bonds using didn’t cause a single player to have to make a decision that they weren’t already confronted with.

          • invitro says:

            If that were true, then neither Bonds nor any of the HoF candidates would’ve used, because they weren’t in danger of losing their jobs. I didn’t mean to limit the harm done as players who needed to use to have a job; also harmed were the players who wanted to be All-Stars, or on playoff teams, but knew their chances were diminished significantly unless they used. And whether steroids help is not a black/white issue, the degree to which it helps matters also. And every player who has ever used and seen his stats go up increased the evidence for other players of what steroids can do. I suspect plenty of players looked at Bonds and said something like “hmm… steroids don’t just help a little, they help a lot, more than I think… I really better start using if I ever want to be able to compete with these guys.”

      • EnzoHernandez11 says:

        Go Indians: I guess what I’m suggesting is that unless you can locate Patient Zero (Jose Canseco? Mickey Mantle? Some guy in the 70s that you’d never suspect?) or at least Generation Zero, it isn’t really possible to distinguish between the “bad guys” and the “good guys”. Now, you can, of course, argue that they were all bad guys if they took steroids, irrespective of their motivation, but I think that position puts you at war with human nature. If you’ve worked all your life to be a major leaguer–or a superstar, or an all-time great–and you find you’ve fallen just short, you’re probably going to do whatever it takes to close the gap between failure and success, whether that involves steroids, corking the bat, greasing the baseball, or popping amphetamines. That’s especially true if 1) you know that the people pushing ahead of you are juicing; and 2) you know that your employer is aware of the problem and doing nothing to police it. Though I believe that it’s immoral to force that decision on others, I don’t think that even the first generation of steroid abusers chose to juice up with an intent to harm anyone else. That’s why I put the scare quotes around “bad guys”. So in the end, almost every steroid user was both perpetrator and victim; it’s hard to build a morality argument around that premise.

        • Go Indians says:

          Thanks for the response. I agree with your nuanced conclusion. This level of thought adds needed context over the black and white absolutism normal in the steroid argument.

          • invitro says:

            I hope we can at least agree that *someone* did something really wrong. If someone disagreed with that, I think they’d also have to be in favor of stopping drug testing and letting players do whatever they wanted to do. I currently think the main bad guys were the players in the union that blocked testing for so long. Those guys partially blocked non-users from MLB, which I think is almost as bad as the guys who blocked blacks from MLB.

          • EnzoHernandez11 says:

            Sure, a lot of people did a lot of things that were wrong during this period. I hope I didn’t sound like I was arguing otherwise. Fear, ambition, greed and all the rest drive countless people to make questionable–or even terrible–moral decisions. I would never suggest that these people were blameless, but I think their behavior needs to be understood in context. And when you add the fact that players could take these actions with 100% confidence that they would never be caught or punished, well, you’ve created a situation that guarantees that steroids would turn from a possibility to a competitive edge to a near-necessity.
            And I don’t know that it makes sense to separate between those who “needed” steroids (the AAAA bench warmer) and those who didn’t “need” them (Barry, etc.). They are, after all, driven by the same motivation. Jeremy Giambi is no more entitled to a spot on a major league roster than his brother Jason is to a career as a superstar. They did the same thing for the same reason; Jason simply had more talent.
            As far as the union goes, I always wondered why the users held sway over the leadership rather than the folks who wanted to stay “clean”. They were, after all, members of the same association. My sympathy for the union position does go this far: they probably assumed that Selig and company could not be trusted to deal honestly and competently with any testing regime. And given how quickly someone in MLB headquarters leaked the names of those caught juicing during the supposedly confidential, anonymous testing program in 2003, it seems as though that distrust was validated. Again, this doesn’t excuse the MLBPA; but it does add context to their actions.

    • SteveW says:

      You write: “we must still acknowledge that Sammy Sosa was able to harness that advantage in a way that no other player could”
      I don’t think this is necessarily true. Isn’t it just as plausible that Sosa was working with a better pharmacist/medical team and had better quality steroids, better dosing, a generally better regimen, or whatever? I think this is the argument against Lance Armstrong: sure, everyone in cycling was using PEDs, but Lance benefitted more then most because he and his team had the most advanced operation. Certainly it’s true that steroids don’t affect all players equally, but it is undoubtedly also be true that not all players were doing steroids to the same level of sophistication.

  23. shagster says:

    That’s it? Those are the best argumens for including PEDS in the Hallt? Fallacy 1. Everybody cheats (prove it, without citing steroid users, profiteers generalizations as the sources*), so then Fallacy 2. cheating is not a crime. Check the definition of cheating. Speeding. Murder. Any offense. Pick. None of those include a phrase that says multiple instances change the definitions, make right to occur, or make acceptable to repeat. Fallacy 3. Little enforced, so the implication is it’s OK if players did it. Really. So cops are the cause for high homicide rates.

    Hmm. Glad the writing is there to fall back on.

    *bc, you know, improving their social standing by maligning others is no way in their interests whatsoever

    • invitro says:

      “So cops are the cause for high homicide rates.” — Don’t a lot of people on the left believe this? I think our Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, just released a report on the Chicago police dep’t, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it said this: that they were the main persons responsible for the explosion in Chicago’s murder rate.

  24. Adame says:

    When you took out the home runs did you take out the attempts also? If not it will seriously slant the numbers.

  25. Cornelius VanDerDecken says:

    I hated the 98 HR race but at least McGwire was being himself, the 49 HR rookie, at a heightened level. Sosa was a whole new player — he went in style from Ivan Calderón to Jimmie Foxx (though he had been roughly as good as IC and was never nearly as good as XX), So Sosa, more than Mac, drove home the absurdity of the thing. At least, that’s how I remember feeling at the time.

  26. Crazy Diamond says:

    Sosa in the HOF? No. Next!

  27. Breadbaker says:

    Deep in the article, there is this quote, “There are no refunds.” To me, that is the essence of the steroid argument, reinforced by the vote to induct Bud Selig of all people into the Hall. Baseball has only one set of records, and they include every game in which every alleged violation of rules occurred, and there are no refunds. Ken Caminiti’s appearance in the 1996 playoffs and 1998 World Series does not change that the Padres were there, or that the teams that lost to the Padres still lost to them, and there are no refunds for watching games in which Ken Caminiti played (I pick on him because he’s the most prominent person to admit to steroids for a purpose other than selling a book, compare Canseco, Jose).

    And the reason there are no refunds is why I am disgusted at Selig getting in the Hall of Fame. The owners were not just complicit in the steroid era, they made bank on it. And despite knowing now that they were selling us a bogus product, a product where the success of the team on the field could be strongly affected by which of the players were defying the rules, they kept every dime from contests that were supposedly legitimate athletic contests between athletes whose skills were based on natural ability, not the equivalent of professional wrestling or weighlifting in the bad old days. And Bud was the ringmaster. And is happy today to take his “honor” and to put all the blame on the players, when the fact is that after the 1994 labor stoppage and his cancellation of the World Series, baseball needed a shot in the arm and “The Summer that Saved Baseball” was a real book title about the McGwire-Sosa home run race.

  28. Brian says:


    Would you mind putting in links (or books) to the following for Babe/Cobb/Mantle? I’ve heard the references, but never knew if they were true or not.

    Babe Ruth probably corked his bat. Ty Cobb definitely gambled on baseball games and probably was part of a plan to throw one. Whitey Ford cut baseballs. Gaylord Perry spit on them. Henry Aaron and Willie Mays among just about every good player of their time tried amphetamines. Mickey Mantle used steroids in an effort to recover from injury.


  29. Brian Fowler says:

    Here is my thing on Sosa and McGwire.

    They both probably don’t belong based on their careers. But I feel like their contribution to the game is Hall of Fame worthy. I know a lot of writers have tried to revise history and credit Ripken’s streak, but anyone that lived through the summer of ’98 and is being honest knows that Sammy and Big Mac saved baseball, brought it back from the edge of the strike cliff, etc

    That’s a Hall of Fame achievement, in my mind.

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