More Bonds Thoughts

So, I wanted to go a little bit deeper into my thoughts on Barry Bonds — we begin with the comments from Brilliant Reader Shagster:

Bonds and Clemens chose to cheat. Then they made even worse choices to hide it. Like the rest of us they have to live with the consequences of their choices. Based on their paychecks, I think they’re still ok with it. The story of their choices, and the consequences of those choices, is told every day they are not in the Hall. Heck, by you.

Once you or some other silly writers put them in, then they stand as a record, and how they got there goes away. Don’t take my word for it;. Ask King Tut how it works. Entombed. Enshrined. (Enigma). Remind me again the names of all those other pharaohs?

Said another way. Lets put the kid who cheated and became valedictorian ahead of the kid who worked his ass off/was simply smart. Once first kid was caught, he trashes the teachers and kids around him. Hey, a 4.0 is a 4.0! Amazing! … Kid gets to remain valedictorian?

Should we cry any tears for Bonds and Clemens? You can try to make it so, but there is no requirement that they be enshrined in the Hall. They made choices. There are consequences. … In terms of the their relevance to baseball, as it stands their story is told every time it is pointed out that they are not in, I think most of us are ok with it too. Sure beats enshrining them for it.

Some fair points in here (though I immediately thought of Ramses as the most famous Pharaoh) but what struck me about this is something larger than a point-by-point disagreement. It’s something I’ve been trying to get my arms around for a while now … this comment I think helped me focus on it.

I’ve think that many times in sports and life, we get into arguments and it never registers that we are not actually arguing about the same thing. This happens a lot in marriages. The argument rambles all over the place because the points of the debate have not been clarified. People will argue back and forth about a point that they generally AGREE upon because they can’t quite get to the point they DISAGREE upon.

This Clemens and Bonds in the Hall of Fame argument, I think, is a good example. I think Bonds and Clemens belong in the Hall of Fame. Shagster (representing the majority opinion, I think) disagrees with me. But where is the disagreement? Where specifically is the dispute?

The most obvious point of friction would seem to be about cheating itself. Shagster (and from here on I’m not referring specifically to Shagster but using him as a general opinion) might argue that he just has less tolerance for cheating than I do — that this debate comes down to how seriously you take cheating. And let’s say up front it IS possible that Shagster has less tolerance for cheating … but it’s also possible he doesn’t. I don’t like cheating. I don’t like cheaters. I get comically grumpy when I see people cutting in line. I don’t believe cheaters should get away with their cheating, and I certainly don’t believe they should be rewarded for their cheating. If Shagster and I disagree about the evils of cheating, then it’s a very small disagreement. I’m all for harsh punishments for cheating.

So,I don’t think that’s really where we disagree. Well, where else could the argument be? It could be about the specific KIND of cheating Bonds and Clemens did. There probably is a bit of divide on that one. Shagster — and again, I’m referring to the overriding point of view and not Shagster’s specific opinion — is that cheating at baseball in the 1990s is like other kinds of cheating, like cheating on a test. Shagster did explicitly compare Bonds and Clemens to the kid who cheats to get a 4.0 GPA.

And it’s true: I don’t think this cheating is quite the same. The kid who cheats to get the 4.0 GPA presumably s in a situation with clearly defined rules, harsh punishments and an unquestioned moral base. Cheating is seen as just about the worst thing he can do academically. There are mechanisms in place to catch him. If he’s caught, he will be thrown out of school. This is as close to a clear-cut world as we are capable of making.

Baseball in the 1990s was nothing like this. Bonds and Clemens did not “get away” with using PEDs (we are working on the assumption that they did). There was nothing to get away with. Nobody was trying to catch them. Even if someone had been caught by mistake, there were no defined punishments in place. This is my big problem with how people view the Wild Wild West show that was baseball then — we have focused more or less all of our energy on the PLAYERS who cheated. But in my view, the whole game was broken.

1. Steroids and other PEDs were accessible.
2. There was no testing in place so the chances of getting caught were tiny.
3. There were no explicit rules and no punishments in place even if they did get caught.
4. By choosing NOT to use PEDs they were accepting the probability that they were going to face a huge and perhaps insurmountable disadvantage.
5. There was little-to-no peer, media or public pressure to not use steroids.

Under these conditions, there’s no surprise that players used. If we would somehow find out that 90% of players used PEDs of some kind, I would just kind of nod and say, “Yeah, sounds about right.” If there’s a road in America where people KNOW there are no highway patrolmen, many people after drinking would use that road. If there’s some special hotel where people KNOW they won’t get caught, many people would pay exorbitant room rates and cheat on their spouses. If there was a secret way on the Internet to manipulate ATMs and get free money with no chance of anyone finding out, many people would rob banks.

That’s not to downplay how wrong it is to drink and drive, how immoral it is to cheat on your spouse, how criminal it is to rob a bank. In the end if you get caught, you will pay a price. But the system was broken … even more than the extreme examples I offer because I think there was tacit ENCOURAGEMENT for players to use PEDs before the public knew or cared.

But to our larger point … I don’t think this is where our disagreement lies either. We might disagree on division of blame for the PED mess but I do think the evidence points to Bonds and Clemens cheating. And I have no problem at all with there being consequences for their cheating. If those consequences are tainted legacies, so be it.

So where is the real disagreement?

Let me throw out a third possibility. The Hall of Fame — and by Hall of Fame, I’m referring specifically to the plaque room of the greatest players — can be thought of as different things.

The Hall of Fame exists to honor the best players ever.

The Hall of Fame exists as a historical record of the best players ever.

These two sound alike, but they are two different statements. When it comes down to it, I think this is the core of our argument. Shagster thinks the Hall of Fame is the first thing. And I think the Hall of Fame is the second thing.

Most of the time, the concepts of identifying the greatest players and honoring the greatest players do not conflict. Take Greg Maddux. He will get inducted this summer, and this is both a historical marker (designating Maddux as one of the greatest pitchers of all time) and a great honor (celebrating Maddux for being so awesome). In his case, it doesn’t matter because he’s so deserving of both. The tension comes when you have a player who is clearly one of the best ever but who has done something that makes him (in many people’s minds) undeserving of the honor that goes with the Hall of Fame.

This is the case with Bonds and Clemens. As players, no matter how many value points you want to take off for PED use, Bonds is one of the greatest everyday players and Clemens is one of the greatest pitchers. At the same time, if you believe they used PEDs, then you may strongly believe they simply don’t deserve the honor of going into the Hall Fame.

The Shagster thinking puts the honor first. They don’t deserve to be rewarded so they don’t go in.

I put the history first. They are all-time great players and should be recognized as such in the Hall of Fame.

Of course, nothing is black and white. I’m well-aware that the Hall of Fame is a great honor — the greatest honor many have called it — and I’m not 100% comfortable with Bonds or Clemens (or Pete Rose, for that matter) being up there on induction day and having teary-eyed reminiscences about their baseball lives.

But I think the history is the main reason for the Hall of Fame to exist — otherwise, why would you induct people 50 or 75 years after they’re gone? The Hall of Fame, in my view, should feature the greatest players in baseball history; and as people who love baseball we should work hard to identify those players, even if they spent their careers in the Negro Leagues or in Japan or in the 19th Century. Some of them were wonderful people. Some were crummy people. Some cheated to get ahead. Some played with the utmost sportsmanship. Some sullied the game. Some defined the game. I think if they were the very best players, they should be remembered as such.

And I think that’s the disagreement. I expect a pretty overwhelming majority of people disagree with me; they see the Hall of Fame as an ultimate reward for a game well played and a baseball life well lived. I suspect if we were starting all over again, someone like Cap Anson would not get elected because of his role in segregating baseball. I imagine Ty Cobb would get elected but at a much lower percentage than the 98.2% he received because Cobb was a tough character. I imagine Gaylord Perry would not get elected, seeing how he used spitballs, and Don Sutton and Whitey Ford might have some trouble with their scuff-balls, and Mickey Mantle might get dinged for trying steroids in 1961 and so on. And if somehow we would get at the truth, I imagine we would find a surprising number of players in the Hall of Fame who used PEDs to improve their games.

I’m not saying this stuff doesn’t matter. It does matter. I’m not saying it isn’t cheating. It is cheating.

I’m saying that to me the Hall of Fame plaque room should reflect the real story of baseball and not some fairy tale we tell ourselves. As long as people have played baseball people have cheated. They have corked bats and spit on baseballs and spread vaseline on baseballs and mixed dried monkey testicles in their drinks and popped amphetamines and used steroids and wired elaborate methods of stealing signs and play acted to fool umpires. If there’s a way to cheat, players find that way.

I don’t want Bonds and Clemens and even Rose in the Hall of Fame because I think their character merits it. I think they should be in the Hall of Fame because they were among the greatest players in baseball history. If you see the Hall of Fame, first and foremost, as a reward … then sure, I understand exactly why you don’t think Bonds and Clemens belong. It seems pretty clear to me that this is the place where we disagree. We see different Baseball Halls of Fame.

168 thoughts on “More Bonds Thoughts

  1. MikeN

    These guys are all in the Hall of Fame. Walk around and you’ll see them. They just don’t have a plaque. That you are including Pete Rose weakens your whole argument. The rules against gambling were well known.

    Reply
      1. bellweather22

        The rule, in fact, says that the consequence for gambling is that they player will become permanently ineligible. The HOF has, along with baseball, determined that permanently ineligible players won’t be put on the HOF ballot.

        Reply
          1. bellweather22

            You’re mistaken. Rule 21D had been in place for decades. What changed in 1991 was a rule that made those permanently ineligible also ineligible to be on the HOF ballot. It was more making it an official rule, rather than unofficial policy for the HOF. It, in effect, took the HOF off the hook for making a decision about Rose.

          2. Tampa Mike

            Bellweather, you are proving his point. He said there was no rule that gambling would keep you out of the HOF when Rose gambled. Permanently ineligibility had nothing to do with the HOF.

    1. Jake Bucsko

      MikeN, I’ve written the same a few times. If Joe is arguing for the Hall as a historical musuem, mission accomplished. They’re in. They’re just not enshrined in the plaque room, and I think I’m okay with that.

      My only reservation is that we don’t, and never will, know who juiced and who didn’t. If Sir William Blackstone were a baseball fan, he might say it is better for ten steroid users to be inducted into the Hall than one clean player not make it in because of baseless suspicion. So I guess I’m saying I don’t know what the heck to think.

      Reply
    2. AdamR

      MikeN, just to be clear, the rule about gambling applies to MLB. As Joe has pointed out numerous times, the HoF is independent of MLB and there was no rule preventing one from being eligible for the HoF for being banned from baseball for gambling.

      Reply
      1. MikeN

        I don’t see how that helps your case. If you think Pete Rose should be let in after violating that rule, then the sport might as well fold up. I realize 100 years is a long time, but the impact of gambling was decided to be pretty severe.

        Reply
    3. Michael Petry (@Mike_Petry)

      I think it was really two different arguments. 1) PED players weren’t doing anything against a known rule. 2)Even those who had willingly broken the rules should be in, because he doesn’t see the HOF as a reward, so much as a record of the games’ great players.

      Reply
      1. Douglas Bisson

        There may be no explicit rule. But if the Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball are independent of each other, why has Joe Jackson failed to appear on any ballot? In truth, the HOF is dependent on MLB to a great degree. Without access to MLB memorabilia, there is no museum. Remember, it is the National Baseball Hall of Fame AND Museum. It is disingenuous to suggest that the HOF can ignore MLB’s “wishes.”.

        Reply
          1. Not Jennifer Gibbs

            Although he received votes and was not explicitly ruled ineligible, I don’t think that Jackson’s name ever appeared on a ballot. It is my understanding that the HOF voters were not given ballots with candidates’ names on them until the late 40s and that those ballots only had the names of players who had retired within the preceding twenty-five years, which excluded Joe Jackson. Before that, the voters were just told to write down the names of those for whom they wanted to vote (and some voters did indeed select Jackson).

    4. Herb Smith

      Posnanski SPECIFICALLY stated that he was talking about the plaque room. Every Bonds/Clemens/Rose hater uses this straw man: “Hey man, those guys are already IN the HOF.”

      So is Eddie Gaedel.

      Reply
  2. Yeager

    I have been waffling on this issue for years now, but this piece really crystallized it. I am now fairly certain based on these arguments presented that I am in the “don’t put Bonds and Clemens in” camp now. I reserve the right to flip flop yet again.

    Reply
  3. ClintT13

    Mays, Mantle & Aaron all took PEDs (greenies). Anyone who opposes the induction of Bonds or Clemens must surely want the three legends I mentioned thrown out … right?

    Reply
    1. bellweather22

      Stop it. It’s a ridiculous comparison and it should embarrass anyone who makes it. Greenies are wrong, but the benefit gained is questionable. Fortunately players today have legal stimulants that they use for pick me ups, which don’t have as many physical downsides that might harm a player like amphetamine use did. I’m pretty sure you’re not wanting to equate energy drink users to steroid users. Steroid use benefits, however, are enormous and well documented.

      Reply
      1. Ed

        I’ve never seen ANY documentation of steroids benefiting someone in a specific baseball related way. If it exists, I’d be interested in seeing it. Of course it helps build muscle mass, helps recovery, etc. but I haven’t seen anything that shows it actually makes someone better at hitting or pitching. I HAVE seen some evidence that it really did not help with those things at all, but it’s not anything I’d hang my hat on because it’s not a real scientific study.

        And yes, the fact that it could help extend the careers of players like Bonds and Clemens (or what about someone like Randy Johnson?) is not a minor thing. It increases their counting stats and definitely increases the chance of HoF induction. But I’m talking about increasing the underlying talent/ability. I’ve definitely never seen anything to suggest that taking steroids was some sort of magic pill that would turn someone from a .250 hitter with little power into a .320 hitter with 40 HR power. Some of the names of guys who tested positive are proof of that.

        Also, does that mean your argument is based only on benefit gained and not on any morality? So that if it turns out someone was taking something highly illegal for years because they thought it made them better at baseball but it actually had no effect, you’d be fine with them making into the HoF even though they were DESPERATELY trying to cheat?

        Reply
        1. Ed

          By the way, that last paragraph is an honest question; I’m not being snarky. I want to understand your position.

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          1. Greg

            Isnt Brady Anderson the easy riposte to your second to the point you make in the second paragraph? Or better yet….Barry Bonds? Is it normal to double your HRs in the last 5 years of your career — go from hitting 30-40 to 73?

        2. Darrel

          There may be no scientific study because I’m sure the logistics of that would be difficult not to mention morally questionable. It seems you would have to be slow on the uptake however to suggest that adding 30 pounds of muscle would have no effect on a hitters HR production. All you have to do is take a mental picture of a prototypical HR hitter(I see Frank Thomas by the way) and compare that to say Wade Boggs. Add those 30 pounds to Boggs and you don’t think some of those doubles become HR. Give Boggs 10 HR extra per year and we are not talking about him as a “just” a Hall of Famer but as an All-time great.

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          1. Patrick Bohn

            We don’t know what would have happened to Boggs if he had 30 more pounds of muscle. We can’t just pretend we would because it’s easier than asking for someone to provide data.

        3. Dusty Baylor

          Hi…Brady Anderson would like to discuss that with you, Bonds never hit more than 46 HR’s in a full season, and then suddenly at age 36he improves to 73 HR’s? McGwire and Sosa same thing..prodgious HR hitters who are suddenly hitting 15-20 more a year than ever before.

          Reply
          1. flcounselor

            Except for the year that Roger Maris hit 61 home runs, he never hit 40 home runs in a season, and only two other times did he even hit more than 30.

            I guess that proves it, huh?

          2. Chad

            Maris hit his at age 26 in an expansion year in a friendly park for a lefty. Not quite the leap from 46 to 73 at age 36.

      2. Doug

        Are you making a moral argument or aren’t you, for Pete’s sake? From a strictly moral point of view, both greenie users and steroid users broke the rules by using chemicals to increase their performance and gain a competitive advantage. From a moral point of view, they’re comparable offenses, regardless of how much it helped them, and it’s essentially a historical accident that players in the 80s and 90s had access to better cheating chemicals.

        I know steroid use just OFFENDS people in a way that greenie use doesn’t. But I don’t see how it’s morally any better or worse, insofar as both are pretty equally cheaty. If what you care about is the fact that steroid users are morally wrong because they broke the rules and breaking the rules is just wrong and should not be honored – which is the way that a lot of people want to define this thing – from that point of view, it’s difficult for me to see where that distinction enters.

        Reply
      3. senorpogo

        Have you ever done amphetamines? The advantage they could provide for athletes are pretty obvious. In fact, from an interview with an unnamed MLB pitcher from Fangraphs:

        “The next step would be to get an Adderall or another ADD medication. Legal amphetamine prescriptions are how I circumvented drug testing. Now I had a “medical issue” which required Adderall. When I stood on the mound while on Adderall, everything faded away except for the catcher’s mitt. No crowd noise, no distractions. It was almost like being in the Matrix. Although you were sped up, everything slowed down.”

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      4. wordyduke

        To know how much benefit anyone got from steroids, you’d have to, for starters, know when he began use and how much he took, at what intervals. Then you have to be able to compare his performance to what he would probably have done without the steroids and to what benefit other steroid users obtained.

        But we don’t know for sure who else used, in what amounts, for how long. There’s an enormity we don’t know. And we’re going to exclude from the Hall, forever, the most accomplished players about whom suspicions are most publicized? For cheating which was common, not against a specific baseball rule at the time, and despite these players failing no tests?

        Suppose we concede the Bonds and Clemens got “substantial” benefit after date X. What about their accomplishments prior to that date? What about the fact that we can’t measure “substantial’? What about the near certainty that some lesser player who also cheated will get into the Hall because he got enough votes but didn’t get enough suspicion?

        I’m with Joe on this one.

        Reply
      5. Beffenette

        This is simply wrong. I would argue that amphetamine usage has far more direct benefit to baseball-specific skills than does steroid usage.

        Reply
        1. Dusty Baylor

          Then you are smoking crack. Where are the big jumps in performance from Mays, Aaron, Mantle, etc? Where was the extended peak performances?
          I’m not defending the use of amphetamines, I’m saying that obviously there is more benefit to becoming stronger, having more endurance than being more alert temporarily.

          Reply
          1. flcounselor

            So, you are cool with cheating just so long as there are no “big jumps in performance.”

            It’s clear now that you are on board with cheating as long as the results are a bit more subtle.

            It’s just like if you wife and neighbors don’t notice you screwing your secretary, you remain in good standing for the Husband Hall of Fame.

            Way cool!

      6. flcounselor

        Talk about a “ridiculous comparaison” – you just equated using illiegal amphetamines with energy drinks.

        With that, you have certainly ceded any semblance of credibility on the topic that you fooled yourself into believing that you had.

        Reply
        1. Chad

          What is amphetamine?

          Amphetamine is a stimulant and an appetite suppressant. It stimulates the central nervous system (nerves and brain) by increasing the amount of certain chemicals in the body. This increases heart rate and blood pressure and decreases appetite, among other effects.

          Amphetamine is used to treat narcolepsy and attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity (ADHD).

          Energy drinks are defined as soft drinks, which contain ingredients, such as
          caffeine, designed to boost energy and offer metabolic or central nervous system(CNS) stimulation. Another popular ingredient in energy drinks is guarana. Did you know that 3-5 g of guarana provides 250 mg of caffeine? Guarana seeds contain three times as much caffeine as coffee beans!

          Other than the obvious in that amphetamines are illegal, that doesn’t sound like a ridiculous argument to me.

          Reply
          1. Scott

            Sarin gas increases the amount of certain chemicals in your body. It also kills you until you’re super dead. Not all chemicals are created equal.

            Yes, amphetamines increase heart rate and BP, decrease appetite, yada yada. And yes, caffeine is also a stimulant. But that doesn’t mean they are equivalent. There’s a reason one is over the counter and one is only available by prescription.

            There are opiates so strong they are only used to tranquilize elephants. Try confusing that with your grandpa’s vicodin. Then you’ll understand why amphetamines aren’t caffeine.

          2. james

            Wow. There’s a lot of crap between the comment I was trying to respond to and the end of this thread. Suffice to say that Scott’s attempt to make an the analogy that sarin:vicodin as amphetamine:caffeine is extremely ignorant. Please don’t listen to anything he says ever again.

    2. Dusty Baylor

      Greenies make you more alert for short periods of time, ultimately resulting in a crash where the body must rest. It is nowhere near the same as taking steroids or HGH to allow you to train harder, longer, and recover quicker…altering your body, and allowing 10-30 pounds of muscle to be added.

      Reply
  4. bullman

    might as well put Shoeless Joe in too. only performance matters, not cheating, rule-breaking or how you produced your performance? love your stuff, Joe, but can’t say that I am with you on this. also, just because the HOF potentially made mistakes with Whitey, Sutton & others, doesn’t make more errors the fix to the problem. what would be the historical message?

    Reply
  5. Robert H.

    Joe, I think one thing you’re overlooking is that many people believe that Clemens and Bonds performed as well as they did ONLY because of steroids. That if they hadn’t used, they would not have been so historically great. I think that’s just false; they might not have been quite as good, but they still would have been all-time greats. But I know people who steadfastly believe that Bonds and Clemens would have had borderline stats at best without steroids.

    Reply
    1. jposnanski Post author

      That is a much, much easier argument to have. I don’t think most people want to be on the side of the argument that steroids are the only reason Barry Bonds was a great player. That’s a losing argument.

      Reply
      1. bellweather22

        I think you are missing the point that steroid use distorts the historical record that you say you value. If you take out the years when players used PEDs, and still feel that they are HOFers, then that’s a fair argument. Otherwise we’re guessing what they may have done without PEDs in the years in which they used. The other issue, of course, is whether we believe that almost pathological liars, like Bonds and Clemens, are actually being truthful about the period of time they used. For Bonds, the physical changes before/after may back up his timeframe claims. For Clemens, it’s not as clear cut.

        For me, these are the only two that you could possibly argue that they should have been HOFers because they already had a strong case before they used. I’m not sure I agree with it, but there is a legit argument to be made, as opposed to a McGwire who used during the years that made his numbers gawdy and potentially HOF worthy.

        Reply
        1. Richard Aronson

          A beanpole rookie named McGwire hit 49 homers but could not stay healthy. McGwire had some gaudy numbers before he became the (healthier) muscle bound monster late in his career. I believe he turned to steroids to stay healthy; the on field results were an almost embarrassing side effect.

          Reply
          1. bellweather22

            73 HRs is an embarrassing side effect? Yeah, McGwire looked really embarrassed hugging his son and high diving the Maris family on national TV. Come on. Really?

          2. Darrel

            Staying healthy and on the field is kind of an important aspect to becoming a Hall of Famer no?

        2. Jason Ray

          Just a quick nit-picking comment about the “pathological liars” accusation because I’ve seen it many times and think it’s a big jump. I believe that most people who’ve done something that they would be ashamed of people knowing about would lie about it. Then once they lie about it, to admit it would also admit to lying about it initially, so it gets more difficult to come clean the longer the lie goes on.

          I know I have been a liar at times, but I’m not a pathological liar. I think sometimes people have unfair expectations for truth. An example that I always thought was interesting was George O’Leary’s lie on his resume that lost him the Notre Dame job. I’ve actually lied on a resume when I knew that I could do the job, but that I wouldn’t even get an interview without specific experience. George O’Leary’s lie, if I remember correctly was to get an earlier job, but one that he was forced to carry over into future resumes because he would have to admit to the initial lie if he changed his biographical sketch. Again, liar? Yes. But, I think just like Clemens and Bonds, not evidence of pathology.

          Reply
    2. jvsavage

      Agreed. That’s another big point of disagreement. I don’t think that there’s good evidence that steroids really helped their performance much, but others do. I think there was a change in the game’s conditions (the ball, most likely) that led to the offensive explosion that people are attributing to rampant steroid use. I could buy that steroids led to an extension of players’ careers, but both Clemens and Bonds would have gone down as all-time greats even if they had more normal arcs.

      Reply
      1. Jason Connor

        Are you serious, Savage? The top six spots on the single season HR list are all held by known juicers. If it was ‘just the ball’ in 1998-2001, then why don’t we see the non-juicer power hitters? Because it wasn’t the ball. It was the juice.

        Reply
        1. Mike

          All of them – Bonds, Sosa, McGwire, Luis Gonzalez – were relative “beanpoles” (to borrow someone else’s word) before they used. You can’t really believe that all that muscle mass didn’t help move the bat through the zone faster than they could previously.

          Reply
          1. bellweather22

            Apparently some koolaid drinkers think that steroids and unprecedented power output is some sort of cosmic coincidence. You can’t argue with people like that.

          2. jvsavage

            Why would muscle mass help them move the bat through the zone faster? I think being heavier would help them drive the ball further, but not to all that great an extent.

        2. jvsavage

          Very serious. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I think a lot of people were juicing, and power hitters were doing it more. But changing conditions in the game (the ball, primarily) were what drove the HR numbers up.

          Reply
    3. Carl

      I am half w you. Bonds,before 2000 had 445 HRs, 460 SB and 1455 Runs to go with a 288/409/559 slash line and 103.3 BWar. Add in 8xAS, 3xMVP and 8 GG and that is a HoF member, if not up as the top 5 of all time.

      Clemens is another story though. Before he joined the Blue Jays he was an aging pitcher w a 192 – 111 record and a 3.06 era (sure to rise as he aged further) w 3 20 win seasons in his career and who had 2 losing records in 4 years. To me, the Clemens through ’96 is similar to Roy Halliday who had a 203 – 105 w a 3.38 era and 3 20-win seasons.

      Clemens might have made the Hall, might not have. Depended on the tail of his career as pitchers w <200 wins tend to not get in and pitchers w 220-230 wins tend to also not get in. Consider Tiant, K. Brown, D. Martinez, David Wells and David Cone. His age-33 most-like pitcher was Dwight Gooden,who did not get in. To me, Clemens would have been a somewhat borderline case and steroids pushes him into the "no" rather then enshrinement.

      Reply
      1. Theo

        Correct me if I’m wrong, but the earliest accusations against Clemens are from the 1998 season, as in, after his fourth Cy Young Award. Plus, he wasn’t really doing that much worse in Boston before he left, it was mostly people paying too much attention to wins.

        I think any argument that Clemens wasn’t a Hall member before using steroids are specious at best, and full-on revisionist at worst.

        Reply
  6. jposnanski Post author

    You are back arguing the first two points. You think the Hall of Fame plaque room should have a historical message. And I think it should record history as it happened.

    Reply
  7. Darrel

    Joe, maybe my argument is different from both you and shagster. You want to argue that they are historically great players and as such belong. My argument is that because of their steroid use we can’t know if they were historically great players or chemically enhanced frauds. I think it is most likely some middle ground but that you take the numbers at face value and I think the numbers can’t be trusted is where I think our difference lies.

    Reply
    1. Jason Y

      For the most part, I think many people believe that Bonds didn’t start taking steroids until 1999 or 2000. Somewhere in that time frame. It’s been suggested that he started after the McGuire/Sosa homerun race in ’98. If that assumption is correct, then let’s look at his career up until that point, from 1986-1998 (13 years) he compiled a .289/.408/.557 slash line with 403 2Bs, 411 HRs, 1216 RBI, 445 SBs and 300 more walks than strikeouts (not including IBB). To this point, he had an average OPS+ of 163.

      For comparison sake, the average Hall of Fame hitter had a .303/.376/.462 line. In total numbers he would have been
      25th in HRs
      71st in RBI
      21st in SB

      So I would say it’s pretty clear that even without the steroid cloud, Bonds would have a HoF caliber career.

      Clemens career could be summed up similarly I’m sure. So while they might not have had careers as long as they did without steroids, or have reached some of the milestones they did without them, it would appear foolish to claim they weren’t already great players without enhancements.

      Reply
        1. Theo

          Clemens was a four-time Cy Young winner before being linked to any steroids, so again, a little hard to argue he was undeserving.

          Reply
          1. Carl

            Theo,

            The first link to Clemens is the first season after he left Boston/ He was a 3x Cy Young. Difference is 2 Cy Youngs, 41 wins and almost 600Ks.

  8. Blake

    Joe: If the Hall exists just as a historical record, then elections are unnecessary. Lee Lacy is in the Hall of Fame. I saw his baseball card there. He played, he had statistics, and they’re on the back of his baseball card.

    Reply
    1. jposnanski Post author

      I think the plaque room is a historical record of the greatest players ever, best we can identify them. The museum is a separate thing. The “Barry Bonds is already in the Hall of Fame” is fine as far as that goes, but it’s not what we’re talking about.

      Reply
      1. Dave

        But Joe, if your argument is predicated upon this notion of of the Hall “telling the history of the game” then why is it not enough for Bonds, Clemens, Rose, Shoeless Joe, etc. to be in the museum portion? Obviously the plaque room is, by definition, an individual HONOR. Otherwise there would be no point to voting players in individually.

        It seems to me the purpose of the Hall of Fame, writ large, is to tell the story of the game’s history, good, bad, or otherwise. The whole process of individual induction to recognize individual achievment is intrinsically different. If a player’s individual importance to the history of the game is an important part of that individual analysis, then why dont you push to induct Curt Flood?

        Reply
  9. AJKamper

    This reply is a bit of a tangent, I suppose, since it’s not the question of whether the HoF is an honor or a historical artifact. (I tend to trend towards “honor,” otherwise there wouldn’t be a formal induction process–it would just be a museum. Just saying.)

    But I think much of the reason that Bonds and Clemens are treated so differently is precisely because EVERYONE cheated. In other words, the entire feel and aura of baseball changed for those ten or so years. It was so distorting to the way the entire game was played–unlike the greenies era, arguably. Bonds and Clemens aren’t being ostracized for who they were, but because they are emblematic of this entire episode.

    Reply
    1. jposnanski Post author

      Good points. I could counter your “why are there formal inductions” with “why do we induct people who are dead, some for 100 years?” We induct them because it’s a celebration; but I don’t think that’s the REASON for the Hall of Fame.

      And I would agree with your point about Bonds and Clemens being emblematic of the time. And I would agree with the fact that steroids and HGH had a more obvious impact on the game.

      Reply
      1. AJKamper

        Well, we give posthumous medals too, and that’s sure as heck not for the historical record. Our society honors dead people all the time, for reasons that are somewhat opaque to me, but they nonetheless exist.

        Mind you, even considering the HoF as an honor, I’m still for inducting the steroid crowd, because they played the game really, really well, and that’s what I think it should honor. But I’m in the minority there.

        Reply
      2. Eli

        Joe: You keep referencing this canard of “well then why do we induct prople who were dead for 100 years?” Is not the answer simply that their individual greatness – relative to their peers – was overlooked? It is not because of their unique relationship to the history of the game.

        Reply
    2. gregghirshberg

      I disagree. I think they are viewed as the poster boys of the era, but the fact that they were such jerks is a big factor for all the hate. They were polarizing players long before “PEDs” became commonly discussed.

      I also think it’s about the records they broke. Baseball has done this before. Maris faced death threats and had an asterisks on his 61 for a while. Aaron needed protection as he closed in on Ruth’s record. Baseball writers and fans are romantic in nature, and we love the idea of certain numbers having a deeper meaning.

      Reply
  10. BHO

    Well put Joe. I share your “historical record” view and dislike gaps in that record, no matter the asserted justification for excluding a player. If there is no reasonable basis for disputing a player’s sustained excellence on the baseball field, he should be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Of course any flaws relevant to that player’s baseball days are entirely fair game for his plaque: they too are part of the historical record. There’s a different home for those who were entirely upstanding individuals on and off the field – it’s called Heaven.

    Reply
    1. Darrel

      Historical record as a concept is, I believe, a bit of a strawman. History has and will always be written by the victors. This theory that “history” is some unvarnished version of truth is just patently false. As a thought experiment consider if Nazi Germany had won WWII. Would the Holocaust be viewed the same way in historical document. Now obviously that is an extreme example and I am in no way equating the steroids issue with the Nazi’s. The point is simply that history is not some infallible all encompassing truth. This thought that because there are numbers that say X means we MUST believe in those numbers without context bothers me.

      You tell me we must enshrine somebody because of the numbers. I say the numbers aren’t real and I don’t trust them. You tell me I have to trust them because those are the numbers….and around and around we go.

      Reply
  11. Brian

    I would bet that every single player who has been enshrined in Cooperstown would call it a great honor. Joe, and others like him, want to simply avoid the hard moral question of honoring guys who clearly cheated by coming up with a different narrative.

    Reply
    1. gregghirshberg

      Of course it’s a great honor, I don’t think Joe is avoiding that fact at all. If you want to exclude everyone who was a jerk, or cheated the game in some way, go for it. And if you want to exclude someone who set records during a questionable era, great, do that. But then take Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth out of the hall. A racist and a womanizing drunk, who put up great numbers in a segregated league, which would now be illegal. How is that different than excluding a couple of jerks who took PEDs in a time when it was so widespread? Because we know they cheated? Really, what tests did they flunk, and what rules were in place at the time of their “cheating” ways?

      Make it a moral question, that’s a great conversation to have. But if it’s the morals we object to, it would be morally wrong to care more about their approach to the game than how others approached life.

      Reply
      1. Eli

        We not to stop framing this as a moral question. Morality is wrong word. Abrogating the rules of the game is different from being an immoral person generally. We should just HOF candidacies based on a player’s professional record. Cheating at the game is CLEARLY a part of that professional record. To argue otherwise is inane. Being a drunk, or a racist, or a womanizer is irrelevant to a player’s professional record. Just like there is no reason to remove OJ Simpson from Canton, there is no reason to remove Ty Cobb or Babe Ruth from Cooperstown.

        You need to engage with the issue of violating the rules of the GAME – not life – that the HOF honors. The bottom line is that steroid use improves performance. Bonds’ career statistics are the clearest testament to this point. He hit 73 home runs at 40. He averaged about half as many per year before he began using. To just blithely sweep that under the rug seems to elide the fundamental issue that steroid use IS a bigger transgression than greenies, or spit balls, or corking one’s bat. Steroids ARE more distortive and impactful with regards to individual performance.

        For the record, I would put Bonds and Clemens in the HOF because they were so insanely good for their entire careers that the steroid boost was unnecessary from an HOF perspective. But to me, the steroids debate is not really a Bonds/Clemens debate. It is a McGwire/Palmeiro/Bagwell, etc debate. The guys who are a lot closer, who inflated their numbers, and who cheated the game’s rules (whether “codified” or not) in the most historically distortive way possible.

        Reply
        1. Xao

          “You need to engage with the issue of violating the rules of the GAME – not life – that the HOF honors”

          So as long as a player took a PED that wasn’t banned by baseball, you’re good with it then? It’s worth noting that we have yet to see any proof that steroids actually improve performance in baseball. Sure, it’s intuitively obvious, but we don’t live in a universe where that constitutes proof (see: anything involving the word ‘quantum’). Thus, you can’t claim that ‘steroids ARE more distortive and impactful’. Well, you can claim it, there just doesn’t seem to be any data supporting your claim.

          Reply
          1. Tom K

            Let me take Xao’s point a step further.

            Isn’t it about time someone considered the possibility that Bond’s greatness is being overlooked? Consider the achievement of nearly doubling one’s season-high home run total, at an age typically marked by steep decline, and doing so despite the impediments that steroid use may present? (I mean, we just don’t know.)

    2. Doug

      To me (as someone who broadly agrees with Joe) it seems like the position that we should not honor steroid users in the Hall is equally “avoiding the hard moral question by coming up with a different narrative.” It’s just that, in this case, it’s not just the narrative of the 90s that’s being changed; the 90s are being talked about in a way that redefines the whole of baseball.

      The fact is that baseball has had cheating throughout its long history. It’s had immorality throughout its long history. These are intrinsic parts of the game. They don’t just exist on the margin; they’ve always been central to it. There are plenty of great players who cheated or tried to cheat in the Hall of Fame. There are plenty of great players who did immoral things, or were bad people. But we honor them because, in the context of their times, they were great players. And I think the same is true of Bonds and Clemens – in the context of their times, they were great players, and that’s why they should be in the Hall of Fame. Yet there’s an outrage that attaches to them at the moment that doesn’t seem to attach to any other ambivalent figures.

      The narrative of history that’s being created where the steroid guys are cheaters in a way that is unique and unprecedented seems to me wrong. It’s a denial of history, it attempts to overwrite history. Part of its massive appeal, I think, is that it seems to say “Before this, things were good. The game was pure, and clean, and players were great, mighty men which were of old.” It plays into and plays off of an idealized, romanticized version of baseball history. It drags one group of players down more than it ought in order to lift another group of guys up more than it ought. In that way it’s kind of unfair to both of them.

      To me, the hard moral question isn’t so much how we address the steroid users. The hard question is how we address the whole history of baseball. How we address gambling and hard play and racism and greenies and collusion and cheating of all kinds, and the great evil of the game that was segregation, and how we address the fact that the game isn’t set off from the world in some pure heaven but is part of the world. Taking the steroid users and treating them as uniquely bad simply ignores that moral question. In my view – which I know is not the popular one around here – the steroid users are simply a part of the continuity of baseball. And, again, that’s why they should be honored. Falsely denying that continuity accomplishes nothing.

      Reply
      1. bellweather22

        Cobb, Ruth and possible amphetamine users in the 60s and 70s have already been voted in or out. It’s done. To some extent, they were viewed through the lenses of their times. So let’s not muddy the waters about what might happen today. It’s over. In fact, today, a positive amphetamine test might, in fact, impact the HOF voter perceptions. The question here is whether steroid users, especially where production was clearly heavily enhanced, should be in the HOF. Or whether PED use highly distorted their career numbers.

        Reply
        1. Doug

          Sure, but I’m not just talking about the HoF here; I’m talking about the way that we think of these players in general. And I’m saying there’s a level of outrage and moral condemnation that attaches to steroid users that does not attach, in general, to amphetamine users or to spitballers or what have you. It’s as much about the way in which we remember the game as it is about whether or not they’re voted into the Hall of Fame. And I think there is a double standard in our memories, and that double standard is the kind of overwriting of history that I’m not comfortable with.

          To put it another way, maybe, if people legitimately think that Bonds and Clemens would not have had HoF careers without steroids, that’s one thing. It’s an extremely dubious claim, but fair’s fair. If they think that the Hall should be a moral place and they’re prepared to condemn players through the past who did similar things, fair enough. But I feel like a lot of people want to treat steroid users as something fundamentally outside the continuity of the game, separate from everything that went before, and that is what bothers me.

          Reply
      2. deepscribe

        That’s close to the most fair way that anyone has put this matter. The HOF is a part of baseball history – and like life – we can’t just go back and rewrite history. That said, historical figures have had statues pulled down, or records changed because we know more today. The Iraq War is an excellent example. Once we know more in life, we sometimes go back and change the record 180 degrees to reflect the new reality.

        That said, it seems to me that fans, writers and so on are loath to look at Babe Ruth as undeserving because he is so REVERED. I would suspect that a case can be made to exclude just about every HOFer if we could have a view of their private lives. Folks cheat on taxes, wives, steal towels from hotels all the way up to federal crimes.

        Where do we draw the line? Some guys we know some things about, other guys kept their private lives padlocked. I think THAT is at the crux of the debate. We just don’t KNOW who did what. Those that we do know of who cheated in the past are considered not quite as guilty, and those who cheated recently should have known better…I guess.

        Then again, was it cheating if there was no baseball rule? Can you really honor a guy who cheated on his family but put up all-time great statistics and played the game the ‘right way’? I don’t think anyone wants to define the HOF with a priority of honor or historical record because that’s quite a slippery slope.

        I say let them in with a few words about the era, their alleged transgressions and let history finish it off. The part about the HOF being a historical record trumps the honor, because there is no honor without the statistics. Thousands of nice guys have played the game, but if they couldn’t hit, then nobody cares.

        Gotta put them in…

        Reply
  12. Nick

    Cheating requires breaking a rule. Were there rules against steroid use when Bonds and Clemens were (allegedly) using them? If not, then we can’t even accuse them of cheating.

    Reply
    1. Coolio

      This is such a dumb argument. There are very good arguments that steorid use was against baseball’s rules. They have been set forth ad nauseum here before so I wont recite them again. But what about the fact that steroids were ILLEGAL. As in using them contravened Federal law.

      Let me ask you this, it is game 7 of the WS this fall, A’s against Cardinals. Wainwright is going to pitch. Billy Beane poisons Wainwright before the game. Would that qualify as cheating? After all, there is no formal provision in the rule’s against it!

      Reply
  13. EnzoHernandez11

    Across the entire history of baseball, players have looked for an edge. Pitchers loaded the baseball; hitters corked the bat. Nearly everyone popped greenies. Coaches and shortshops and sometimes even outfield cameras stole signs. It was a cat and mouse game: you did what you could get away with in order to win, and everyone more or less accepted or even encouraged this.

    Gaylord Perry was a Padre in 1978 and 1979. We all knew he was throwing spitters. We all WANTED him to throw spitters because we all wanted him to win, and we knew that that was the only way it was going to happen (the guy was 40 years old by then). We also understood that if he was ever caught, he’d be tossed from the game or maybe even suspended. Sometimes the cat catches the mouse; it’s all part of the game, or at least it always had been.

    So my reaction to the whole steroid controversy is: Why this? Why now?

    I blame Barry Bonds. I don’t blame him for juicing. I blame him for hitting 73 home runs in 2001. Back in 1998, the wonderful summer of McGwire and Sosa, we all thought we were seeing something special and incredible that we would share with our grandchildren for years to come. Barry took that away just three years later, in that joyless way that Barry did most things (and, of course, nobody can ever look back fondly on the later summer and early autumn of 2001).

    And then, just a few years later, Bonds took down the other great baseball moment of many people’s childhood, Henry Aaron’s 715th home run. By then, of course, views on steroids had already hardened and millions viewed Bonds’ 756th HR as the theft, rather than the breaking, of a record.

    Anyway, that’s my theory. If Barry Bonds hits 47 home runs in 2001, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. The steroid mess would have been dealt with more quietly and we’d have all moved on. And Bonds and Clemens and McGwire–hell, probably even Sosa–would be in the Hall of Fame.

    Reply
    1. sb m

      I think this is true. Bonds is hated for destroying the illusion – instead of being able to pretend that Sosa (and to a lesser extent McGwire) was an all-time great slugger, Bonds exposed them as being artificially elevated to historical levels but making it crystal clear to everyone that the historical standards were not applicable anymore. People sure don’t like having their delusions torn down.

      Reply
      1. wordyduke

        I suspect the illusion of 1998 really annoyed Barry. He knew that when Mark McGwire was selected as one of the 25 greatest players of all time that he, Barry, was a better player than McGwire. But Mark had benefited from PEDs and Barry hadn’t. Yet.

        Reply
  14. gregghirshberg

    Is it because they cheated the game, so that makes them individuals of poor character? What about those who cheated on their wives? Or is it because they broke the law? Carlton Fisk was recently arrested for driving under the influence, if he’s convicted, should he be removed?

    Or it’s because they cheated the game? I get that. But what about everyone who took greenies? Or scuffed a ball, used too much pine tar? No, it’s because they cheated (even if there weren’t technically rules against whatever they may have done) and they had great success, or we’d be just as upset by the fact that Hank Aaron used greenies.

    The Hall of Fame situation exists because these writers feel it’s their job to protect the sanctity of the game. But if they did their jobs, we would have known of PED use long before Canseco’s book. Meanwhile, when someone flunks a test in the NFL, no one bats an eye. Brian Cushing wins the ROY, flunks a test and they vote again. He wins the ROY again. These baseball writers aren’t trying to protect the game, they think they’re bigger than the game. It’s simply a power trip. And the PED stories in baseball gained so much attention, because they kept serving it up.

    But baseball reaped the rewards, and continues to do so. They aren’t looking to give back the money they made off fans flocking to see Bonds or Roger, or anyone else. Is Mike Lupica donating the money he made from selling “Summer of 98″. No, that’s all legitimately earned income.

    Bonds and Clemens took PEDs, and they were jerks. But they were the best of their generation, and perhaps ever. So any Hall of Fame that excludes them, loses any integrity it may feel it has.

    Reply
    1. Bookbook

      + No, it’s because they cheated (even if there weren’t technically rules against whatever they may have done) and they had great success, or we’d be just as upset by the fact that Hank Aaron used greenies.+

      Hank Aaron had some small amount of success in his own rights. (And we don’t know how much greenies helped.)

      I think, societally, we’ve become addicted to righteous indignation, and unwilling to put up with the cognitive dissonance that adults used to know they had to live with. Politically, it can be seen as well.

      Reply
  15. Chris H

    I think one thing that particularly infuriates about Bonds is the way his cheating (if that’s the term for taking advantage of vague rules) has forever messed up the record book. I actually care about this more than the Hall of Fame, and perhaps the Hall of Fame argument is thus a kind of proxy for a record book argument. What I want to know is, how many home runs (and RBIs, walks, etc., but mostly home runs) would Barry Bonds have hit if he had not been juicing? Where would he rank? Ahead of Mays? (Maybe.) Ahead of Aaron? (I’d say doubtful.)

    We’ll never know that. But equally, we can’t pretend those home runs never happened. And so the list of home run hitters has Barry Bonds’ name at the top like a crayon mustache on the Mona Lisa. And if the Hall of Fame *is* the historical record, then it’s a historical record that seems hopelessly distorted whether Bonds is there or not.

    I think that’s a lot of what we’re talking about when we talk about Barry Bonds and the Hall of Fame.

    Chris.

    Reply
    1. Darrel

      I think this is spot on. The All-time HR record used to be this iconic thing. Even casual sports fans knew what the number was and who held it. This was one of the things that made baseball so great. 714. 755. Everybody knew what you were talking about. I’m a huge baseball fan and Bonds’ career was entirely in my lifetime and I was 30 when he broke the record. I also have no idea how many HR he ended up with.

      Reply
  16. ceolaf

    1) I would put this a different way.

    Some thing that enshrinement in the HOF is an endorsement of the player, and others think that it is a recognition.

    2) I don’t think that anyone would seriously argue that steroid and other PEDs were not common through the “steroid era” (or however we want to refer to it). They might argue about percentages, but no one is going to say they were not a big part of baseball.

    3) And so, the question really — and inevitably — turns into a question about how one feels about the era, rather than just particular players. Do you want to recognize the era for what it was, or do you want, instead, to show your condemnation for the era.

    ***********************

    Many players, but Bonds particularly, excelled in a era (i.e., by the norms of that era) that many people want to make clear their condemnation of. It is not just about Bonds, but about the too common culture of accepting cheating.

    To enshrine such players — Bonds in particular — would be to honor the player, and thereby accept the era for what it was. They do not want to endorse the era, and therefore cannot accept honoring the player.

    ***********************

    And that brings us to what baseball — and perhaps sports generally — means to so many people. Baseball is a fairy tale. Baseball history is a set of myths — filled mostly with heroes and heroic deeds.

    For so many very many people, baseball history is not about complex human beings. It is about mythic heroes. Not complex and contradictory 21st century anti-heroes and villains-we-love. No. About simpler heroes.

    Not a simpler times, though baseball might be able to reassure us that times used to be simply. But about simple good men who tried hard and achieved heroic deeds with honor. To question their honor would be to question their heroism.

    And who wants that?

    But we don’t get simple sports heroes any more. It’s mostly the media, of course. Rather than stirring profiles of our heroes that tell us all about the obstacles they overcame, we have exposes about their continued flaws. The media throws at us that these are not simple archetypes or mythic heroes.

    The era of simple heroes that we can root for without guilt or doubt? That’s gone.

    Who wants to endorse an era full of doubt, complexity and second-guessing? Who wants to honor players who figured out how to be the best at *THAT*?

    To honor Bonds, or Clemens, or so many others, would be to endorse the end of mythic heroes in our own time.

    I don’t know exactly how many people would want that, but I’m fairly certain it’s damn few.

    Reply
    1. Richard

      “Rather than stirring profiles of our heroes that tell us all about the obstacles they overcame, we have exposes about their continued flaws. The media throws at us that these are not simple archetypes or mythic heroes. The era of simple heroes that we can root for without guilt or doubt? That’s gone.”

      Agreed. Somewhere along the way, we lost something valuable. The ability to believe that people can be honest. I’ve read that Henry Aaron once tried “greenies”, but decided not to use them since he didn’t like the way they made him feel. But people (as evidenced by other comments here) will flatly proclaim that he did use them regularly, as well as every single player of his era.

      It’s very disheartening to see how prevalent this cynicism is. There’s no one we can trust anymore. Not the media, not the government, not anyone. Yeah, there are a few shysters out there. But there are far more good, honest people who try do the best they can.

      “We can destroy ourselves by cynicism and disillusion, just as effectively as by bombs.” – Sir Kenneth Clark, _Civilisation_

      Reply
    2. Doug

      I agree that this is where a lot of the difficulty comes from.

      But I don’t think it’s a valid reason for leaving Bonds out of the Hall. I don’t think ignoring Bonds and Clemens is the proper response to this problem. The thing is that baseball was ALWAYS this way. Baseball was NEVER the pure fairy tale. This has always been the world we were living in. It’s just that it never got to a point where we had to realize it before.

      You can’t just ignore that reality and continue living in a dreamland. We live in a world full of doubt, complexity, and second-guessing; we always have. You can’t root without doubt or guilt anymore; you have to be conscious of these things. But that’s not a bad thing, and rooting is still possible.

      Reply
  17. McKingford

    I think this is an important discussion about the context around when Clemens and Bonds used PEDs. Here’s another thing, which I’m sure is bound to stir things up further: PEDs were not actually illegal at the time Bonds and Clemens took them.

    I realize that in the purist camp there are those who put all of their stock in the 1991 memo by Fay Vincent banning all illegal drugs (which, arguably, included steroids). But this memo did not have any force. As a matter of labour law, the regulation and prohibition of performance enhancing drugs was the subject of collective bargaining. An edict from the commissioner’s office did not make is so. There’s a reason that people like Joe are right that we need to distinguish “violations” that took place before and after enforcement mechanisms were put in place (so that violations by Manny and Palmeiro might be viewed in a different light), and that’s because until they *were* put in place, not only did Vincent’s edict have no force and effect, it was simply invalid.

    The regulation and enforcement of PEDs are terms of employment, and as such are the subject of collective bargaining. Vincent’s 1991 memo attempted to circumvent this process. And the very fact that his edict came without any enforcement or penalty provisions is almost surely a tacit admission that the edict was worthless and of no real consequence. The commissioner regulating the use of drugs (PEDs or recreational) by edict, in labour law, is no more valid than if he had eliminated the minimum salary or reduced roster sizes to 24 players.

    So not only was baseball really unconcerned with PEDs at the time Bonds and Clemens may have partaken, PEDs were not even illegal. Bonds and Clemens broke no rules even if they took them. There, I said it.

    Reply
    1. Boxcar Billy

      I completely agree with you here, Mckingford. The 1991 Vincent memo is a flimsy argument at best. But if we consider induction more of an ‘honor’ than anything else do we need PEDs to be illegal to have them as a criterion for voting? I realize they are not not part of the criteria but under the character clause they have been interpreted as such which sets some kind of precedent.

      I don’t think Bonds and company were cheating or breaking the rules of baseball (and they were clearly HOF’s before their alleged use). But I understand why people are uncomfortable with the notion of honoring them through the HOF induction.

      Reply
  18. gogiggs

    When I was a kid, I was, really, really hyperactive, bouncing off the walls, driving everyone crazy, hard to be around hyperactive.
    So they gave me drugs. Without those drugs I couldn’t stay focused enough to be in class (or so they said) and do all the listening, studying and test-taking that all the other kids did. With the drugs, I got skipped ahead a grade, sent from that grade to an even higher grade for certain classes and got test scores that blew away everyone in my school.
    Those same drugs would get you suspended from the NFL or MLB.
    So what I’m saying is Shagster’s cheating student analogy is a bad one. Actual students are routinely rewarded for doing the same thing that athletes are penalized for and for doing something not meaningfully different from what Bonds and Clemens did. If you don’t think there are valedictorians out there taking stimulants so they can stay up studying longer and focus better and taking supplements that are intended to improve their memories so that they can perform better on tests, well, you’re just wildly wrong.

    Reply
  19. William

    I rarely weigh in, but felt compelled to say this: Joe, you completely changed my mind on Bonds and Clemens with this post, but not at all in the way I think you intended. I used to agree with you on the final point, about the plaque room being for the best players.

    But then you made the comparison between Bonds and Clemens cheating and how people would screw around on their wives or drive drunk as long as there were no consequences. I have to say: One, I think it’s wrong of you to assume that most people would do those things if they could get away with it; I certainly wouldn’t. And two, if what Bonds and Clemens did is similar to that, yeah, I don’t want them inducted into the Hall of Fame.

    Reply
    1. thoughtclaw

      He didn’t say “most,” he said “many.” There’s an enormous difference between the two. I agree, I don’t think most people would do those things. But I definitely think many people would.

      Reply
      1. wordyduke

        Agreed, thoughtclaw. If “most” would do it, that means I acknowledge that I might. If “many” would do it, all my neighbors might, but I wouldn’t.

        Reply
  20. kaufmak

    As far as history goes, it doesn’t need to be in a museum, specifically one in Cooperstown, NY. Clemens and Bonds are part of the historical record. Their accomplishments are listed in books, web sites, video archives. The have been recorded. Also to state that the HOF is the only source of baseball history is to discount any other resource that we have. Is Doc Ellis in the Hall? yet he is still remembered. One building can’t hold all of baseball history and I don’t think the Hall tries to. To use your specifications, a plaque in the Hall is an honor, Clemens and Bonds are already historical figures.

    Reply
  21. ericanadian

    I,ll be interested to see how all these writers blocking Bonds and Clemens vote when Bud Selig’s name comes up on the ballot. It’s pretty hard to argue that any player had as much involvement in cheating the fans during the steroid era as Selig did. Will he be met with the same roadblocks to entry?

    Reply
    1. Darrel

      Hate to engage in some Canadian on Canadian violence but it drives me absolutely nuts when people play the Selig card. Joe of course being the biggest offender. Bonds and Clemens are princes and Selig is of course the bad guy. Really? As a reader pointed out earlier the commissioner’s office was unable to just issue an edict enforcing drug testing and punishment. But of course we all know that baseball had the run of the MLBPA during this time. They won on all the issues. Never lost in court. Could do exactly as they please with absolutely no opposition.
      No wait, I remember some guy named Don Fehr who at the bidding of the players stalled, delayed, and generally fought drug testing until dragged kicking and screaming into a deal. But Selig is totally 100% to blame for the whole mess. When will I learn.

      Reply
    2. NevadaMark

      Are you kidding? Selig will be inducted. If the have to, they’ll create a special committee for him. It’s a forgone conclusion.

      I believe that the writers who vote annually on players for the HOF do not, in fact, vote on non-players.

      Reply
  22. James

    Why are we having this argument? I am a fan of going to sporting events or watching on TV and being entertained. I find it more entertaining if people run faster, hit home runs farther, jump higher, throw faster fastballs, etc. If I went to a game in the 60s, I would have been pretty bummed if Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle had to sit out a day game because they needed a greenie to get up for it and decided not to take it. I say, let everyone use. It’s still an even playing field, and in the 90s everyone was using anyway.

    Reply
  23. Bruce

    The “historical record” thing sounds like moral gymnastics to me. If you want to look up Bonds’ and Clemens’ historical records, you can start with MLB.com. I’m sure there are one or two other places to dig up historical information.

    Reply
    1. Dave

      For Bonds–
      http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/b/bondsba01.shtml

      For Clemens–
      http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/c/clemero02.shtml

      Please note the, for most players, normal decline after age 30 for both of them. Then note the huge performance spike for both of them corresponding to Bonds growing a larger head and Clemens being told he was washed up by the Red Sox.

      Without those spikes, would they have been voted into the HOF? They had careers that for 10 years were certainly on that trajectory–they were both very, very good, very good–but then they both began to fade. Until…

      The answer to the question is debatable.

      Reply
  24. Boxcar Billy

    As always this is a thoughtful piece that helps us move beyond some of the recent shrill moralizing that has come to define this debate. But like MikeN I’ll have to disagree with the second part of your argument, Joe.

    The Hall, of course, is a museum charged with representing the game’s past. But no one is talking about removing the memory of Bonds’ and Clemens’ feats. To my understanding they are already a part of the Hall. Perhaps they could be better represented but reserving a plaque is not the only way to do this. Likewise, their cultural memory is well preserved as any well-spent afternoon surfing YouTube will tell us (love those videos of early 2000 Bonds). Also, baseball has not removed them from the record books. No MVP’s or Cy Young’s have been confiscated; no All-Star honors scrubbed from the Mid-Summer classic’s game logs. In fact baseball has refrained from placing asterisks next to their accomplishments (progress!). And as McGwire has shown (and as Giambi will soon) admitted PED users are even being welcomed back into the game! So in every meaningful way but one–voting them into the Hall–baseball has incorporated and acknowledged PED users as part of the game’s past and has moved on.

    Given all this I’m not sure how we can extract the ‘honor’ part of what it means to be inducted into the Hall. Clearly it represents some kind of honor and are we really punishing players by withholding that? The opposite of ‘honoring’ is not ‘punishing’. I have no doubt that some misguided baseball scribes view it as just punishment (the awful faux Bagwell debate is a good example). But many degrees of separation exist between ‘honoring’ and ‘punishing’. Perhaps if PED users were being erased from the record books and being refused jobs they are clearly qualified for then voting for them would carry on a more moral dimension (i.e. righting a wrong by acknowledging their greatness). But that’s not what is happening. Instead a majority of baseball writers–most of whom I disagree with most of the time–has decided this honor will be withheld. And like Bill James said after Bonds’ and Clemons’ first round of balloting, I’m okay with that. Maybe not forever but at least for now.

    As for the first part of your argument, I agree with you completely, Joe, since cheating, as understood and defined by Shagster, just does not work here. Cheating on a test is not analogous to what happened to the game during what Joe has appropriately dubbed ‘the Selig Era’. To Joe’s list of reasons can be added one other point: the contractual moral obligation that seems like many shades of grey in this issue. Even the players, or their representatives through the union, did not tacitly acknowledge steroid use as cheating when they initially refused to agree to testing. The reasons for this extend beyond steroid use–the union had legitimate concerns about a possible threat to civil liberties that drug-testing in the workplace posed–but they do highlight how a culture had sprung up that players did not consider as a being a problem (the majority of them, anyway).

    If everyone is cheating in a game then the participants would realize the futility of competing. This is not what happened. All this suggests that Bonds and company did not view their actions as cheating in the same way a kid cheating on a test would. A 4.0 GPA is meaningless if everyone has one and everyone reached that score through cheating. Bonds can be said to have his own kind of 4.0 but not everyone achieved this. And did he really obtain it by cheating? Quite possibly his score was obtained through similar methods as everyone else. If his peers did not view these methods as cheating how can we expect him to?

    So maybe, as Joe’s piece suggests, we just need a new way of talking about this issue. And perhaps a new language that gets us pass the simplified notion of cheating.

    Reply
  25. Roberto

    One thing that has always bothered me is the hypocrisy of sports writers, managers, the commissioner and many fans who all turned a blind eye to what they must have known was occurring. I think they allowed it because they realized that Brady Anderson hitting 50 home runs was a great way to put butts in seats. No one knows (or apparently cared at the time) whether a handful or 90% of the players were juicing. Now, these same blind fools are appalled that players actually took steroids when there was no rules enforcement against doing so.

    Shades of “Casablanca” –

    Renault: Everybody is to leave here immediately! This cafe is closed until further notice. Clear the room, at once!

    Rick: How can you close me up? On what grounds?

    Renault: I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!

    Employee of Rick’s: [hands Renault money] Your winnings, sir.

    Renault: Oh, thank you, very much.

    Reply
    1. MikeN

      No, everyone didn’t know that. I remember being amazed at how huge McGwire’s arms were, but never made any connection. The andro thing struck me as no big deal. Even when Bonds was hitting 3 years later, no idea.

      Reply
  26. Richard Aronson

    In 1998, using steroids was not cheating by the rules of baseball. Today it is. The rules changed. Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, et al, violated the spirit of the rules under which they played; they did not violate the letter of the rules.

    This is not the first example of a rules change making something illegal in baseball. There are spitballers in the HOF. There are even a few who got in after it became illegal.

    If anything, we should all THANK Barry Bonds for juicing so spectacularly well. He demonstrated what happens when you take a HOF talent and add steroids, its effect on the record books, and why we should ban PEDs. He created the outrage that saved (until the next technological marvel) the historical integrity of baseball, the ability to compare players across eras, the imbalance caused when some but not all players are using PEDs.

    Put them in the Hall, and put “Suspected (or Known) Steroid User” before their names. Let the first sentence of their bio read “He used not yet banned PEDs to achieve results beyond normal; his record should be considered in that context.” What they did on the field earned enshrinement. What they did off the field deserves those extra comments.

    Reply
  27. Dr. Baseball

    I have difficulty the argument the specific argument that “steroids were not against the baseball rules.”

    Correct me if I am wrong, but wasn’t it against the law to use those illegal drugs in the first place? In short, didn’t the steroid users know they were using illegal drugs – even if those drugs weren’t specifically outlawed in baseball’s rules at the time?

    They had to know, at least, that they were cheating.

    I learned about steroids in the 1980′s when a kid in my high school became “huge” over the summer. People said, “He is on steroids.” The implication was “He is cheating to get so big.” We saw steroids also in Rocky IV as Drago (the bad guy) used them. (Rocky, the pure champ, lifted rocks and chopped down trees. He had no “unfair advantage.”)
    I believe steroids were mentioned in The Longest Yard (the original) as an illegal drug the “cons” could get when they played the wardens. I think they were in the 1977 film (with Arnold Schwarzenegger) “Pumping Iron.” As I recall, the implication, always, even back then, was that using steroids was cheating or getting an unfair (or illegal) advantage.

    Any player using them in the 1990′s or beyond had to know they were against the law to use or at least cheating in some way.

    No?

    Reply
    1. Richard Aronson

      Steroids are not illegal when used as prescribed. Lots of players today use steroids legally to treat injuries with the league’s knowledge; they do not use them continually to gain workout advantages, and stop when their injury is healed. If I were a doctor in a third world country with a life expectancy in the forties, I might prescribe steroids to a baseball player who would need them to take his family to a safer place. Medical ethics vary. This is a very grey issue; don’t try to make it completely black and white, especially in regard to countries where prescription laws are less strict than the USA.

      Reply
  28. frank

    Are the numbers real? What does real mean? Joe wants to know what we are arguing about, I want to know what I am even talking about. To me the language is too different between the sides. Are we trying to compare people from different generations, or only in the context of their surroundings? If everyone in the 90s had way LOWER numbers than the past, but Bonds and Clemens were still the best, would they be entitled to the hall because respectively they were the best? The two parts get confused. It is the history of the best. If the numbers are fake, then there is no context to judge the best part of the equation. The numbers exist, but are they real?

    Reply
    1. puckpaul11

      exactly. I think Joe actually got the premise we are arguing wrong. to me, the argument is: since its so obvious from their numbers, when they took PED’s, that are beyond what anyone has been able to come close to accomplishing before, can you give any credence to any of their numbers that would be historical record and truly make a judgment on how good or great they were without the PED’s? Or as frank puts it, “if the numbers are fake, then there is no context to judge the best part of the equation”. I think all players whose numbers are that suspect should be excluded from the HOF (which to me is meant to honor the best players…stats record a historical record, not a monument which is the HOF).

      Reply
  29. John C.

    “Sandy Koufax took so many steroids for his sore arm that he was sometimes “half high” on the field.”

    Discuss…

    Reply
  30. Marco

    Joe – It’s both!
    It’s a reward for the player and a historical record. In my mind the solution is simple:

    Wait until the player passes away, then put ‘em in with a line at the end of their plaque explaining why they didn’t get in when they were alive:

    Shoeless Joe: Served a lifetime ban for conspiring to throw the WS.
    Pete: Served a lifetime ban for gambling
    Bonds, Clemens, et al: Inducted posthumously due to the use of performance enhancing drugs

    Reply
  31. David Stevens

    Wasn’t it against the law? Aren’t there rules about that? I do understand the argument about the Hall as be a historical record and in many ways agree. However the argument of it was OK because they weren’t testing doesn’t really hold. I will say this, it wasn’t black and white. Very gray. We might have felt differently if in any way Bonds or Clemens were sympathetic individuals, but let’s face they were not likable.

    Reply
  32. Marco

    One more comment:
    I firmly believe that the real reason the people are outraged is not that these guys were cheating (People cheat all the time and nobody raises an eyebrow) it’s that they were too good at cheating. They defied what people thought was possible to such a degree that it was like having your nose rubbed in the lie. People prefer convenient fictions.

    There was a great Dilbert cartoon years ago where the punch line is “He doesn’t even respect you enough to tell a plausible lie”. I think this notion of “disrespect” (not of the game, of the viewers intelligence) goes a long way towards explaining the outrage.

    Reply
  33. Hardy

    I come down strongly on the history side of this debate. In the Soviet Union, they used to airbrush out Trotsky, Zinoviev and other leaders out of the photos after they were purged. A baseball museum without Rose, Bonds and Clemens is like the fake Soviet histories – it’s not what really happened. I don’t even know how to describe the museum in Cooperstown, but the one thing it’s not is a Hall of Fame.

    Reply
    1. mvandermast

      >A baseball museum without Rose, Bonds and Clemens is like the fake Soviet histories – it’s not what really happened.

      Once again:They are already in the museum.

      Reply
    2. Darrel

      I would argue the opposite. Bonds and Clemens et al. airbrushed themselves into the pictures along with Aaron, Ruth, and the other All-time greats

      Reply
  34. Rob Pittman (@RobfromBoston)

    Joe – I couldn’t agree with you more. The primary purpose of the HoF is to tell the story of baseball greatness. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were great players who won multiple MVPs/CYAs. They belong in the HoF and their plaques should forever remind baseball fans that they were PED users.

    Reply
  35. sb m

    On the issue of honoring our most respected players vs. recognizing our most accomplished players:

    I wonder if we’re going about this in a backwards and destructive way. Rather than trying to dishonor Bonds and Clemens and Rose in an indirect way by withholding a place for them in the game’s Hall of Fame inductees, why not create the Tony Gwynn Award going forward and issue it annually to 5 or so players for their positive contributions to the spirit of the game (community contributions, goodwill, etc.). Then we can forget about talking about how awful Bonds and Clemens and Rose are as people, and start talking about great Gwynn and others are as people.

    Reply
  36. JimV

    As someone who is not a huge baseball fan, but a sports fan in general, I have tended to stay out of these PED debates (like religion and politics they get very emotional very quickly. I think this is the first time I have felt inclined to get in on it.

    First a little bit of background – in the case of the baseball HOF, I am more like Joe – I think the plaque room is best seen as a history of the very best players of every era. The rest of the “museum” is a history of the game in general and some of the interesting/spectacular things that happened. PED’s can cloud some of the “who were the very best” and, as Joe said, if you can show legitimately that a player would not have put up “greatest” numbers without the PED’s, then by all means do not give them a plaque. In the case of Bonds (I am a bit on the fence for Clemens) that case cannot be made.

    Now, to the PED issue in general. In current day, we use that to mean steroids/HGH, however, any drug that can artificially improve performance is a PED. This does include the greenies of decades past – I am not saying the benefits of greenies is close to what steroids/HGH can provide, but they are PED’s.

    Steroids have existed and been widely available since at least the 60′s. Those of us old enough to remember seeing the Eastern European Olympic athletes of that era knows this. Testing was virtually non-existent so, to the rest of the world, good luck! As is often claimed, they are not illegal – in fact they are prescribed every day for the recovery of injury. In most of the world, they are a controlled substance and require a doctor’s prescription. If you find a doctor who will prescribe them, you can just walk into the drug store and get them.

    The Olympics started finding testing methods and so the science changed to make the newer PED’s not only harder to detect but more effective too. Baseball kept its head in the sand on the issue until it could no longer deny the use. Unfortunately by that time, someone who was an elite athlete pre-PED’s become other-worldly with them and broke some of baseball’s most hallowed records.

    Unfortunately at this point we have NO VALID WAY to determine who else might have been cheating. Heck, neither Bonds nor Clemens has actually failed a drug test, but we have a preponderance of circumstantial evidence and so treat it as 100% factual. I wonder what would happen if, somewhere in the not-too-distant-future, some of our sports idols (just as examples Cal Ripken and Greg Maddux from baseball; Joe Montana and John Unitas from football; Bill Russell and Michael Jordan from basketball) came out and said they used PED’s – would your opinion of Bonds/Clemens and their ilk change? If you say yes or you say no but are not willing to yank the plaques of the others from their respective halls of fame, then you have no legitimacy in denying Bonds (and Clemens if you deem his numbers worthy) from getting their plaques.

    I shall now bow out of this discussion.

    Reply
  37. VM

    As we know, this is mostly about home runs. If those records hadn’t been shattered, then I doubt we would have seen quite the anti-steroid outrage that we did.

    Who knows what affect greenies had, but, imagine the public outrage if were known during Hank Aaron’s chase of Ruth’s record that he was using greenies (I don’t know if he was at that time or not). It would have been horrific, considering the racism of the times.

    Same thing with Maris (absent the racism).

    Reply
  38. Chad Meisgeier

    The best part of this article is easily missed. That characterization of how people argue is exceptional (regardless of your HOF opinion).

    Reply
    1. sb m

      This is very true. My wife and I ONLY argue when we get twisted in knots where neither one of us knows what they other person is actually arguing about. That’s how we know it’s a good marriage – as soon as we figure out what the argument is about, it takes about 30 seconds to come to an agreement and move on.

      Reply
  39. deepscribe

    Isn’t this debate so much like downloading licensed songs back in the early aughts? Napster was great and there were no rules. Recording companies dont go after the people who WERE illegally downloading music. Hell, I downloaded a few thousand songs way back then, and once it became punishably illegal I ceased. People who do it today are liable to the judge and rightfully so.

    Reply
  40. Mike

    If they have to go in, let’s put them all in together, in the same year and at the same ceremony, and by themselves, so that no one else might get their day overshadowed by PED controversy. Won’t that be fun? Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Sosa, Palmeiro, Bagwell… who else should be there? Maybe Bud Selig? Not sure.

    Reply
  41. Dave E.

    Joe, I haven’t run through all the comments, but my late reaction is that you are precisely right about the nature of the disagreement, but that I agree with the other guy.

    I am FINE with steroid users being in the museum. They are part of the game, part of its history, all that stuff. Tell their story. There are all kinds of exhibits in the HOF relating to players who are not “in” the hall. That is the “historical record” part of the HOF to me.

    But the only reason to “elect” anybody in is to honor them. So, should they be given that honor? That is a good debate.

    Reply
  42. Crout

    This is easily solved. Just give Bonds a normal sized head on his plaque and Clemens a normal sized neck. Boom. Both sides are happy.

    Reply
  43. JBiggs

    I’ve read through most of the comments, but not all, so I apologize if I make a point that has been previously made.

    The romanticization of the numbers in baseball and the way the records stand is something that has become crazily out of whack. I will never understand why so many struggle with placing numbers in context.

    Babe Ruth was outhomering entire teams for a season. That either speaks to his relative greatness (overwhelmingly accepted) or to his lack of the level of high quality competition that existed in subsequent seasons and eras due to better scouting, integration, etc… (largely ignored by a much higher percentage of baseball fans than should) or any number of other factors.

    Very rarely do you see casual fans try to explain why nobody has a career average of .350 anymore. Were hitters in the early 1900′s better than current day hitters? Are their approaches different? Are the playing fields the same? Are we comparing apples to apples? Or are we trying to compare apples to oranges?

    Baseball in the 90′s was played in different context than it was in the 60′s. Baseball in the 60′s was played in different context than baseball in the 30′s. We can make guesses as to who was better, but we’ll never actually know for sure. These games aren’t played under the scientific method, there is no control group. All the factors, whether it be the ball, the competition, the field of play, the equipment, the training methods… they’re all different and each set of components is going to skew the results. Hell, we can’t decide if Mike Trout or Miguel Cabrera was the best player in the AL for the past 2 years.

    It’s fun to try to compare players across eras and decide who was better, but we can’t get so sanctimonious when it comes to these numbers. If they were truly meant to be compared and held up against each other, then we would have kept the rules absolutely stable and not allowed parks to vary in size, etc… We have to be smart enough to figure out what the context of said numbers was and have the skill to be able to figure those nuances out to compare players against each other if we so choose… you can’t just blindly take the numbers and say player x was better than player y because he hit more home runs.

    Anyway… my major point is that we have to figure out how to evaluate the 1990′s and early 2000′s. We’ve done this before. The BBWAA and Veteran’s Committee didn’t do a good job of sorting out the 30′s. A .320 career average isn’t as impressive when the league hits .305, but I digress. We’ve had to figure out the offensive jump of the 30′s, we’ve figured out the pitching dominated 60′s to a degree. We’ve been able to contextualize the 70′s and 80′s. Why is this so difficult? It’s just another math problem.

    Reply
    1. Carl

      It’s not just another math problem. The problemis who was on the juice – take X% away and who was not – do not touch the number. If HR’s went up 25%, and a juicer hits 35% more HRs do we take away 25% from the known juicer? Leaves more than he deserves.

      Since we don’t know who was on and who wasn’t, and the different types of juice and their impact,how can we reliably subtract a %? Why subtract anything from someone who wasn’t on the juice? Let’s assume Jeter was clean. Recently Joe, by using run-scoring data of their times, stated that in the context of their times Lou Whitaker was comparable to Derk Jeter. How so? Because the era subtracted 20% of Jeter’s offense.

      Reply
  44. Hal 10000 (@Hal_RTFLC)

    I don’t think the analogy to someone cheating on a test really works. I’m not sure there is a baseball equivalent to that. Cheating on a test means copying the answers or something. You can guarantee success. But you can’t do that in baseball. No matter what advantage you may have — legal, illegal, moral or immoral — you still have to get on the field and play. I could take all the steroids in the world and I still wouldn’t be able to get a curveball. PED’s gave players an advantage in competition but didn’t transcend competition. A more apt comparison, in the school test context, would be someone who gets a few extra days to study or were to take a drug that improves his memory.

    The difference is not between Barry Bonds hitting 762 home runs and Barry Bonds hitting 0. It’s between Bonds hitting 762 home runs and maybe 700 (assuming a *huge* advantage to PED’s). That’s why I tend to fall on the “grade them on a curve” side of this debate. Discount the performance for their enhancement, sure. But let’s not pretend these players wouldn’t have been great without enhancement.

    Reply
  45. Hal 10000 (@Hal_RTFLC)

    PS – The gripping hand is that one day we will find out there are players already in the HOF who used PED’s, including some who wouldn’t have gotten there without them. When that happens, the entire argument is going to collapse.

    Reply
  46. Tampa Mike

    “That’s not to downplay how wrong it is to drink and drive…”

    Actually, that is exactly what you are doing Joe. Even if there is no way to get caught, it is wrong to drink and drive. Punishment and morality are not tied in that way. The same thing goes for PEDs in the 90′s. Baseball was not testing for it, but steroids were and are an illegal substance in the United States unless prescribed by a doctor. Therefore, steroids were illegal to use in baseball even though baseball was not testing for them.

    Morality dictates behavior regardless of punishment. You are doing yourself a disservice Joe. If you see someone on the street drop their wallet, a moral person would alert them. There would be no punishment for saying nothing and keeping the money.

    Reply
    1. bpdelia

      I’m constantly utterly amazed at the amount of people who equate illegality and immorality. One has very little to do with the other. Without getting to deeply into a discussion of metaphysics and philosophy let me just make a couple of points through example.

      I take drugs fairly regularly. Illegal drugs. I find them mind expanding, fun and I vehemently oppose any effort to regulate my consciousness. My mind is a sovereign nation. My use of drugs, provided I do no harm to others, is illegal but not in any way immoral. In fact it would be immoral for me not to do drugs based upon cultural norms and/or laws I disagree with.

      Second let’s look at American hero Rosa Parks. When she refused to give up her seat and go to the back of the bus that was ILLEGAL yet profoundly moral. Ghandi and MLK engaged in illegal activity every single day. The founding fathers behaved illegally and, in fact, TREASONOUSLY.

      I have pretty set views on this issue. I think they should have plaques that unambiguously describe the controversy for the same reason I think middle school lessons about American foreign policy in Asia and south america should begin with units on the gulf of Tonkin and the overthrow of Trujillo etc.

      I firmly believe that when their is a disagreement about information the default position should always be to provide more information.

      And I think it’s EXTREMELY important to make sure we understand illegality and immorality are not automatically interchangeable.

      Reply
  47. aaron

    My thoughts are these. The majority of players in the 90s used PEDs. They were likely encouraged, not overtly, to do so on most clubs. There were players prior to the 90s who used PEDs. We will never truly know everyone who did and who didn’t. So, if they were the best players, put them in. Clemons, Bonds, whoever. (I don’t like either one of them.) Players, and managers, gamble. A lot of them. On everything. Yes, even MLB games. Rose was wrong. But he was one of the best players. Put him in. (I don’t like him either. He blew me off as a kid wanting him to sign my baseball at a Reds game.)

    Reply
    1. bpdelia

      On this point let me just say this. I don’t want to be to r specific because I don’t want to out anyone. But in 1993 I played division I college baseball in New York. Of been all county three times in high school etc. At this school a future major leaguer played to my right on the infield. After the first season in my exit interview I was given a packet describing the work I needed to do in the off season. It was a set of bullet points. I was, then as I am now, 6’1″ 185.

      The first bullet read: gain twenty pounds of lean muscle mass.

      This was supposed to be accomplished in three months. I knew guys who used. And if I’d had the money, and if it hadn’t become crystal clear that I was about to max out as a DI starter, I’d have done it without qualm.

      The guy who played to the right of me was a spectacular talent. My sophomore year this guy had added about 15-20 pounds of muscle and went from a great player to an absurd player. Easily increasing his draft range by 15 rounds. His power went up.

      As a big leaguer he continued using and developed into an occasional all star power hitting middle infielder. He was named in the Mitchell report incidentally.

      Steroids certainly do work. They do increase bat speed, the do increase contact speed by adding mass.

      His use was not immoral. It’s what he had to do.

      Reply
  48. Evan

    I’m not sure the Hall of Fame “history” argument makes even rudimentary sense. History as an active field of discourse would be a joke if it relied on plaques and ceremonies. These material rewards are honors, folk stories, cultural celebrations (perhaps public relations), but that is all. History is too big and complex, too hard to erase and too difficult to make to give something like a Hall of Fame induction the kind of moral and metaphysical weight Joe is trying to give it. It’s a romantic idea but, I think, a silly one.

    Einstein’s achievements would be remembered with or without the Nobel Prize.

    Reply
  49. Sween

    I agree with Tampa Mike. What seems to be forgotten in all of this is that steroids without a prescription is against the law. It does not matter that baseball did not specifically ban them, the steroid users were breaking US law, as were the greenie poppers of the 60s, 70s, and 80s

    Reply
    1. wordyduke

      Wouldn’t the appropriate consequence for breaking US law be conviction in a US court and sentence handed down by a US judge?

      Why do we have a bunch of sportswriters doing the punishment, based on their guesses about who did what for how long and how much benefit they got?

      Reply
      1. Brian

        Uh, because it’s THEIR institution. Their vote determines who gets in. I don’t necessarily like that – I wish fans could vote, for example – but that IS who votes on the HOF. Does that answer your question?

        Reply
  50. Ed B

    The argument that a player would be erased from baseball history if not enshrined in the HOF didn’t seem to apply to Shoeless Joe. To me, enshrinement is an honor. I can certainly see why many feel that “known” PED users aren’t worthy. I personally find the line hard to draw for who is and isn’t worthy, but reluctantly can abide with the most apparent PED beneficiaries (Bonds and Clemons) having a similar unworthiness stigma as Rose and Shoeless Joe.

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  51. Cliff Blau

    “The Hall of Fame exists to honor the best players ever (or)
    The Hall of Fame exists as a historical record of the best players ever.”

    Neither is the case. According to Jeff Idelson, president of the Hall of Fame, the purpose of the Hall of Fame is to honor people who’ve been elected to the Hall of Fame. It has nothing to do with who the best players were.

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  52. Paul

    Joe–

    Great work as always. Here’s why I don’t agree.

    The HOF treats induction as an honor, obviously. You say yourself that you’re “not 100% comfortable with Bonds or Clemens (or Pete Rose, for that matter) being up there on induction day and having teary-eyed reminiscences about their baseball lives.” It’s that speech, that podium, the deification of the dude’s life and career, that makes it obvious this is an honor. It’s silly and overdone, but to claim that HOF enshrinement is less honor and more historical notation overlooks both the whole week’s festivities and the root of the word “enshrinement.”

    Let’s extend that valedictorian metaphor (in a manner I read somewhere before–don’t remember where). Let’s suppose the school had an atmosphere where cheating were expected: the teachers and the principal would give a wink-wink and leave the room for every test. Most kids would cheat, as you rightly point out. But now, suppose there’s one kid in the room who refuses to cheat. While the other kids are all passing each other, the answers, he/she is insisting on trying to remember the answers from last night’s cram session. He/she finishes HS career a 3.7 GPA. In my book, the 4.0 kid is still the valedictorian, but does not deserve any honor associated with it (like a scholarship, for instance).

    Many people do what James Frey did–lying is a part of our culture–but he took away the honor (and the money) of an Oprah book club appointment from someone else. “Everybody does it” doesn’t mean the dude deserves any kind of honor.

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  53. Mike

    Points 1 through 5 apply equally to chicken for Boggs and Fruit Loops for Mickey Tettleton. Why then did we know about those performance-enhancers at the time they were using them, but Bonds and others chose to go to great lengths to hide the use of their performance-enhancers?

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  54. Bob Lince

    >>Bonds and Clemens did not “get away” with using PEDs (we are working on the assumption that they did). There was nothing to get away with. Nobody was trying to catch them. Even if someone had been caught by mistake, there were no defined punishments in place.<>I’m saying that to me the Hall of Fame plaque room should reflect the real story of baseball and not some fairy tale we tell ourselves.<<

    Fine. Just one thing. Please call it the Hall of Records, or the Hall of History, or The Baseball Museum. Please call it anything but the Hall of Fame. In so far as I understand the English language, you don't put infamous people in a hall of fame.

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  55. Bob Lince

    “Bonds and Clemens did not “get away” with using PEDs (we are working on the assumption that they did). There was nothing to get away with. Nobody was trying to catch them. Even if someone had been caught by mistake, there were no defined punishments in place.”

    Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems to me that this is a wee bit disingenuous.

    It it’s so, why didn’t Bonds use those concoctions earlier in his career? Why didn’t Griffey Jr., supposedly, use them at all? Why have all those who’ve been accused of PEDs denied using them? And if their use, finally, is admitted, it’s done we the lowering of eyes and the gnashing of teeth — with the realization that they who were famous are now infamous?

    If nobody was trying to catch them, why did the reporter who spied the container-of-whatever in McGwire’s locker write up the discovery, and why did it become one of the biggest sports stories of the year? A story which was probably the beginning of the end of the PED era.

    “I’m saying that to me the Hall of Fame plaque room should reflect the real story of baseball and not some fairy tale we tell ourselves.”

    Fine. Just one thing. Please call it the Hall of Records, or the Hall of History, or The Baseball Museum. Please call it anything but the Hall of Fame. In so far as I understand the English language, you don’t put infamous people in a hall of fame.

    Reply
    1. Brian

      Totally agree. Joe’s argument really slides into sophistry here. So if the SEC isn’t trying to catch corrupt financial institutions then the actions of those institutions are de facto legal?

      Reply
  56. wogggs

    If not for the character clause in the Hall of Fame instructions would anyone even care about this? Also, keep in mind that clause was put in to help a guy get in (Joe knows who this is, I can’t remember) who didn’t really have a HOF career, not keep people out. If I had a vote, I think Bonds and Clemens would be in, Sosa and McGwire out. The difference being, the former two are HOF’ers even if they never take steroids, the latter two’s entire case appears to be built on steroid aided accomplishments. I would be willing to adjust my stance if I could remember when baseball officially banned steroids. If it was after Sosa and McGwire had already put up HOF numbers, maybe they go in, too. How can I not vote for someone on the basis that they used a substance that wasn’t banned at the time it was used?

    Reply
    1. DM

      Hi Wogggs,

      The player that you’re trying to think of who was reportedly behind Commissioner Landis’ efforts to put in the “character clause” was Eddie Grant who was a mediocre third baseman in the early 1900′s, long before he released “Electric Avenue” in 1982 :)

      Grant was Harvard educated, died in World War I, and the thought was that Landis felt he was the kind of person who exemplified what it meant to be a Hall of Famer, despite his lack of baseball accomplishments.

      The exact wording of rule 5 is:
      5. Voting: Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played

      I agree with your statement that it’s quite possible that the character clause (which came about in 1945, and was not part of the original guidelines), rather than designed to keep people out, was intended to broaden the pool. It may have been designed to allow voters to consider a wide range of people, talents, abilities, and accomplishments, rather than being used as a device to exclude, which is how it is often implemented in practice. If Landis felt that Grant would be a viable candidate, it certainly wasn’t based on his ability, record, or contributions to his teams, so obviously in his mind, those didn’t exclude him. In other words, I don’t think it’s necessary for a Hall of Famer to necessarily “pass” all 6 qualities outlined in rule 5, but that voters should consider all of them and make a balanced judgment.

      Reply
  57. Brian

    Regarding the distinction you make – “The Hall of Fame exists to honor the best players ever” vs. “The Hall of Fame exists as a historical record of the best players ever” – the first one is almost undoubtedly the most accurate description of the institution. Otherwise I’m not sure how you explain the character clause in the voting rules, or the value-laden pageantry surrounding the induction ceremonies, or the fact that the HOF has a research library and records wing that’s distinct from the hall of honored players, or how your explain the HOF’s mission statement (“honor excellence within the game”), or how you explain the development of several entities (from the Macmillan Encyclopedia all the way up through Baseball-Reference.com) that do a tremendous job with the “historical record” side of things (which obviates the need for the HOF carrying that burden), etc., etc., etc. I thought your last post was persuasive. This one seemed to take several steps backwards.

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  58. moeball

    Joe – you made a comment above:

    “I don’t think most people want to be on the side of the argument that steroids are the only reason Barry Bonds was a great player. That’s a losing argument.”

    I’ve got news for you, Joe – that’s EXACTLY what this argument is all about, and has always been about, and not about someone’s interpretation of what the plaque room represents. Of course, getting inducted to the HOF and getting a plaque is a huge honor and not getting one is a huge disappointment. You discredit yourself by arguing otherwise.

    Case in point – between 1990 and 1999, Barry Bonds won 3 MVP awards (in a 4 year stretch, no less, with a 2nd place finish in the year he didn’t win in 1991), plus several other years where he was in the running for the award. Ken Griffey Jr., meanwhile, had 1 MVP award and 1 second place finish. Junior had a slash line of .302/.384/.581 with a 152 OPS+. Bonds managed a .302/.434/.602 for a 179 OPS+. The OPS+ figures take into account that Bonds not only had better raw numbers than Griffey, but did it in more difficult home parks to hit in. Oh, and Junior stole 151 bases while Barry stole 343 bases. Barry was a better hitter than Junior, a better base runner than Junior, and at least as good a fielder as Junior. True, Junior played CF while Barry was in left, but in terms of actually fielding the positions well and preventing opponents from scoring runs, Barry did at least as well or better by every system of fielding measurement available. So Bonds was clearly the superior player in every facet of the game, yes?

    Yet, somehow, at the end of the decade, Junior was the one picked by the fans for the All Century team and Bonds was not. Publications picked Junior as the Player of the Decade for the 1990s. How did this happen that no one realized Bonds wasn’t just the better player, but significantly better? Well, first of all, the obvious elephant in the room is that Griffey was well-liked and Bonds wasn’t. Furthermore, Junior hit more HRs, 382 to 361 and had more RBI, 1091 to 1076. They had the same batting average, so Griffey had better triple crown stats overall.Therefore Griffey must have been the better hitter, right? (By the way, here we are in the year 2014 and the vast majority of baseball writers and fans STILL believe that HRs, RBI and Batting Average are the most important measures of offensive performance, despite all the massive amounts of evidence to the contrary. The last couple of AL MVP votes have conclusively proven this. Joe, we live in a world where most people really believe that 2+2 = anything but 4. But I digress.) And Griffey won all those Gold Gloves playing the more difficult position defensively, so he must have been a better fielder than Bonds, right?

    You see, Joe, based on how Bonds was viewed at that time, no one realized just how great he truly was. He actually had already done enough at that point of his career that if he had retired after the 1998 season (his last “clean” season per the “Game of Shadows” book), he still should have easily been elected to the HOF. At that point he was sitting on 100 career WAR per Baseball Reference, with almost 75 career WAA. You know how many position players in history had done better, going all the way back to 1876? 12. 12 players, all of them the usual suspects of all-time inner circle greats. Barry Bonds was already an all-time inner circle great by the end of the 1998 season. But no one in the BBWAA at the time even remotely believed that and neither did many fans, so had he retired at that point and never had his so-called steroid years that followed, he still wouldn’t be in the HOF today after several years of being on the ballot. In fact, after I post this, someone will follow up with a post about how you can’t even consider assessments such as WAR or WAA as valid anyway so that’s no evidence at all that Bonds was a great player, which just further proves my point about how incredibly underrated Bonds was.

    In other words, the very thing you are saying people can’t possibly be arguing – that “clean” Barry Bonds was NOT a great player without the help of steroids – is EXACTLY what 90% of the population believed at the time and it is exactly what the Bonds “No HOF” arguments are really all about. I would say that % of “no, Bonds wasn’t that great” believers has gone down since 1999, but it is still way more than half of all BBWAA writers and baseball fans that still believe this. They believe to this day that Bonds was “good” without steroids, but not “great”, and certainly not HOF-worthy.The “no HOF” people are saying they don’t think Bonds was a great player without help from his chemistry set. The “yes HOF” people such as yourself are saying yes, Bonds was a great player with or without chemical help.

    And that is exactly what this argument has always been about.

    Joe, you may think the “NO’ people are making a losing argument, but it’s an argument they are currently winning by a huge landslide. Your side may win the argument eventually, some day far off into the future, but it won’t be any time soon.

    Reply
    1. Chad

      I think your argument that Bonds still wouldn’t be in the HOF today had he stayed clean and had a normal decline is ludicrous. People liked Griffey because he seemed to play the game with joy and be a good teammate, while Bonds came off as a surly dick. People WANTED to like Griffey. 15 years ago I thought Griffey was better, but not by much. As sabermetrics has evolved, we know that Bonds’ far superior OBP as well as other advantages made him a better player than Griffey, and that would be obvious now as well. Bonds would have, in my estimation, ended up with offensive numbers similar to, and most likely better than, Frank Thomas. Thomas waltzed in on 1st ballot, and that’s not even considering the huge edge Bonds had in the field and on the basepaths.

      Bottom line: The fact that Griffey was more likeable and popular than Bonds does not mean that Bonds wasn’t recognized as great, and wouldn’t have easily reached 75% of the vote. You can’t make a case for exclusion based on 1 other player.

      Reply
  59. knot2l8

    If the HOF exists as a historical record of the best players ever, why have an election? Just use WAR or some other objective measurement to rank all the players and draw a line above which players get in.

    Dewey Evans.

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  60. BDF

    Tremendous hedge there at the end. The talk all along is about the HOF as a historical record, then you subtly shift at the end to the HOF *plaque room*. The HOF can be a full history, including all the ugliness of racism, cheating, steroids, Bonds, Clemens, etc. And it can simultaneously honor specific individuals with induction into the “plaque room.” It’s not either/or, as I think you recognize by the switch at the end.

    I do think your distinction is useful and important. But I think there’s another distinction that explains this more fully: The sabrmetrically inclined are of the “it’s meaningless if it can’t be measured” camp, a dominant strain in contemporary epistemology (think about the mania for Big Data). The effects of steroid use can’t be measured, ergo they want to ignore them. The non-sabrmetrically inclined are comfortable with things that can’t be measured because they don’t conceptualize the world that way, ergo it’s easier for them to weight steroid use more heavily. There’s no intrinsic reason why the sabrmetric camp should fall so heavily on the “induct them all” side and the “traditionalists” (for lack of a better word) fall on the “keep them out” side. So I think this dynamic is a big part of what’s really at play.

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