Joe Morgan's Plea to Ban Steroid Users from the Hall of Fame is Simplistic and ReactionaryA jarring thought occurred halk me recently: Many people who never covered a day of the Steroid Era are voting for the Hall of Fame. On my first ballot, for instance, was Ken Boyer, who played his last steroids baseball hall of fame sports illustrated when I was in grade school. Back then, players remained eligible up to 20 years after their last season, a window since reduced to Illudtrated have to understand the unique context of that era. Four years ago, I wrote about why I would not vote for any player known to be connected to performance-enhancing drugs.
Joe Morgan's plea to ban steroid users from Hall of Fame is simplistic | jmhw.info
Mark McGwire could hit home runs with a frequency exceeding even that of Babe Ruth. His prodigious shots won games and helped to heal the wounds caused by the first players strike ever to wipe out a World Series. After spending the summer of engaged in a home run chase involving not only Sammy Sosa but also baseball history itself, he was hailed as a hero for his ability to connect with the game's past even as he surpassed Roger Maris's seemingly-unbreakable single-season home run record that had stood for 37 years.
Years after McGwire retired, the meaning of the home runs that so many had cheered changed. Many of the same writers who once exalted him turned against him over suspicions that performance-enhancing drugs had fueled his exploits. As the game belatedly cracked down on the proliferation of PEDs in , increased attention was drawn to his involvement with the drugs. For some voters, his appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot turned the task of filling it out into an arduous one, the beginning of a decades-long confrontation with the consequences of the industry's reluctance to fix the problem in a more timely fashion.
McGwire's admission that he had in fact used PEDs during his playing days further fueled the furor. Nobody has all the answers on how the Hall or its voters should deal with the question of PED usage among candidates.
The institution itself is content to leave the issue in the hands of the voters ; Hall president Jeff Idelson has pointed to the clause in the voting rules that refer to a player's integrity, sportsmanship and character.
That conveniently ignores, however, both the fact that the clause was penned by a commissioner who upheld baseball's color line for nearly a quarter-century, and that it has been invoked so rarely that the institution long ago became a rogues' gallery of sign-stealers, spitballers, racists, Ku Klux Klan members, Prohibition-era alcoholics, cocaine users, amphetamine users, spousal abusers and sex addicts.
Some voters have adopted a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to PED-associated candidates, refusing to vote for players upon even the whiff of suspicion; actual evidence isn't even necessary. For others, actual proof of the infraction and its timing matter. Still others are content to skirt the entire issue, viewing the so-called Steroid Era as a less-than-flattering part of baseball history just as segregation was and remaining focused on on-field performance under the prevailing conditions of the day.
Within that range are many nuanced positions, all of which have in common an iron-clad guarantee that someone, somewhere disagrees with them. He peaked at He was the 10th pick of the draft by the Athletics and spent most of his two-plus years in the minors playing third base with an. He manned the hot corner poorly during his late debut, but the A's finally wised up and moved him across the diamond for his official rookie season. In a year where home runs spiked above 1.
The slugging duo, soon nicknamed the Bash Brothers , led Oakland to three consecutive pennants from to '90, though the impact of that dynasty was diluted by bookending upsets in the World Series—the first at the hands of the Kirk Gibson-inspired Dodgers, the last via the Nasty Boy Reds.
The Athletics' lone championship of the period came via a Bay Area series against the Giants that was interrupted by a major earthquake. McGwire earned All-Star honors in all three years, but his raw homer totals, rate stats and WAR values fell off until , when he hit. Though he placed in the league's top three in homers for five of his first six years, McGwire's batting averages continued to decline.
He bottomed out in McGwire rebounded to hit. Finally somewhat healthy in , he began one of the greatest sustained power runs since Ruth, bashing an AL-best 52 home runs in just games and slugging a league-high. The next year, he made a run at Maris's single-season record despite a midseason trade to the Cardinals whom La Russa now managed keyed by his pending free agency.
McGwire hit 34 homers before the July 31 trade and reeled off 24 more in his final two months, but a game drought on either side of the deal cost him the record. Against the widely-held assumption that he would return to southern California for his next contract, McGwire chose to stay in St. Spurred by a challenge from Sosa and under intense daily scrutiny from the media more on which momentarily , he set the single-season home run record with a jaw-dropping 70 in He also established a new National League benchmark for walks with 21 were officially intentional, but you can be sure a lot of those "unintentional" walks were as well.
McGwire followed up with 65 homers in , but his struggles with plantar fasciitis soon took their toll. Though producing at a rate comparable to his season. In some obvious ways, McGwire's numbers are Hall of Fame caliber. His rate of home runs per plate appearance, 7. His career homers rank 11th on the all-time list , his.
Add to that 12 All-Star appearances, four league leads in home runs and a whole lot more of what Bill James called " Black Ink "—leagues led in important categories—and you've got a pretty decent Hall of Fame case.
Aside, that is, from his. Much of that was because McGwire also added 1, walks to that total 41st all-time. Boil that all down via WAR and you get a case that's less than definitive. Due to injuries, the —95 strike and his retirement after his age season, McGwire's year career featured just 10 seasons of at least games played. Not surprisingly, his His peak score is much closer at 0.
Given both, he falls short of the JAWS standard by 2. Under normal circumstances, you could make an argument that McGwire's shortcomings regarding JAWS are outweighed by the honors and the league leads and the Black Ink and the fame, but with McGwire, the circumstances are anything but normal.
The elephant in the room is his association with performance-enhancing drugs. His chase was interrupted when AP reporter Steve Wilstein noted the presence of androstenedione—a testosterone precursor that was neither banned by baseball nor declared illegal without a prescription until mid —in his locker.
Pariahdom followed—for Wilstein, not McGwire. Fellow writers, some of whom called Wilstein "unprofessional," accused him of "inventing a scandal" and creating "tabloid-driven controversy. Less than a week after Wilstein's article ran, The New York Times ran an editorial expressing concern over "uncertainties about androstenedione's impact on the body" and any view of McGwire's potential record as tainted:. Our view is that this is an unproductive line of argument, not so much because androstenedione is legal in baseball but because even the experts who believe the substance could build muscle strength also say there is no evidence that it improves the eye-hand coordination required of every successful hitter.
PED allegations continued to dog McGwire long after his career ended. Canseco's book Juiced detailed stories of the two Bash Brothers injecting each other with steroids. Details of McGwire's chemical regimen dating as far back as —involving Winstrol and other steroids well beyond andro—turned up that spring via reports pertaining to an early s FBI investigation called Operation Equine. The Congressional hearings that followed later that spring featured a tearful McGwire refusing to answer questions about his usage, declaring , "I'm not here to talk about the past.
Even then, many weren't satisfied with his explanation that he took the drugs for health purposes, not to hit home runs. We don't know the extent to which PEDs enhance baseball skill, because direct scientific studies on the effects of the drugs simply haven't been done.
Hundreds of players—far more than we will ever know—took PEDs over a period lasting longer than two decades before they were outlawed on the major league scene. Based on the names we do know via positive tests, the Mitchell Report, law enforcement investigations and so on , no uniformity of effects have been found; scrubs who took them largely seem to have remained scrubs, and stars remained stars.
It is possible to theorize, via the literature of the studies that have been done with regard to strength training, how they might translate to baseball. From to '92—a very stable period of time for home run hitting—2.
In , that number jumped to 3. That period, not so coincidentally, was one of rapid change throughout baseball, featuring expansion, new ballparks, a crackdown in the enforcement of the strike zone and changes to the baseball itself. You simply can't point to home run spikes and definitively declare them an effect of PED use; far too many other factors are at play. That baseball took so long to institute a means of punishing and hopefully preventing PED usage was a product of a complete institutional failure.
It seems rather clear that players who used them were violating both federal laws and baseball's rules in addition to taking advantage of lax enforcement of those rules, all in an attempt not always successful to gain an edge on their competitors. They were able to do so in large part due to the reluctance of owners and the commissioner to enforce rules that had been in existence since the early s, or to prioritize pushing for more stringent rules. After the strike, owners were more interested in winning back fans by any means necessary, and home runs became the big gate attraction.
Writers who glorified the new power kings the McGwires and Sosas and failed to report the entirety of the story—whether via direct challenges such as Wilstein's or more indirect means—were part of that institutional failure as well. All of which is to say that the PED problem in baseball went well beyond individual players. Many Hall of Fame voters—who were among the reporters who were part of that failure—are now the ones who purport to sit in judgment of those players, applying a retroactive morality that ignores their own complicity in the story, as well as the timeline via which baseball actually began to crack down.
Having studied the matter extensively in the service of writing over 20, words for two chapters in Baseball Prospectus' group book Extra Innings some of which I've attempted to distill above , I've come to the position that timing matters. Before , baseball was a mess for the way it battled the encroachment of PEDs in the game. Even as MLB began to pay lip service to cleaning up the sport, the incentives—higher salaries for players who produced more, greater attendance for teams and thus greater revenue for the industry—favored maintaining the status quo; some would argue that they still do.
I'm not saying that we should reward players for using PEDs by uniformly electing them to the Hall of Fame. Instead, we should acknowledge that PEDs were part of the way the game was played for a long, long period of time, before the industry wised up. Voters should distinguish between use that came during baseball's "Wild West" era—generally without proof, since systematic testing didn't occur—and use that came after testing began and penalties were imposed. The focus shouldn't be on who did which drugs and whether they helped, but on who the best players of the era were, and whether they stack up to the all-time greats as they played under the conditions of their time.
Via that, I'm comfortable in saying that the weight of the statistical record suggests McGwire is a borderline candidate. Among the more subjective criteria one might call upon to swing the decision either way are points that enhance his case, and points that detract from it. I suspect he will struggle for support in this process. Please enter your email address associated with the account so we can help reset your password.
Quickly He wasn't able to crack Cooperstown in his 10 years on the writers' ballot, but can Mark McGwire earn a Hall of Fame spot in his first year on the Today's Game slate, or will his PED-tainted past continue to weigh him down? By Jay Jaffe November 29, Answering the basics, five big questions.