by Paul Semendinger
January 23, 2024
Every year I get to vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Well...I don't get to vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, instead I get to vote for Internet Baseball Writers Association of America's (IBWAA) Hall of Fame . (It's not quite the same thing, but still...)
For our ballots this year, we were permitted to pick up to 12 candidates for the Hall of Fame, but I chose only five. I am sure that my picks will cause angry responses, frustration, outrage, and confusion. That always happens with a Hall of Fame vote.
The five players I chose were: Adrian Beltre, Joe Mauer, Andy Pettitte, Manny Ramirez, and Alex Rodriguez.
The more I thank about the Hall of Fame though, the more I want to make it a bigger Hall. I voted small, but in retrospect, I think, going forward, I have become more of a bigger Hall of Fame guy. I know there are some who disagree, but once the likes of Harold Baines and Ted Simmons got in, keeping out vastly superior players became problematic. That though isn't the focus of this article. That's a topic for another day.
In regard to who I voted for this year, most readers won't have much to say about the first two names on my list. Those names won't create much of a reaction at all. Sure, some people might disagree for one reason or another, but the other three names are the ones that will cause some to argue and debate. The fact that I included the last two names on my list, for some, will cause outrage. I know... we go through this every year.
Yes, Manny cheated. Yes, A-Rod cheated. I get it. They used PEDs. That wasn't right. They were caught. Many will say that they don't belong in the Baseball Hall of Fame. I get it, and for a long time, I agreed with that line of thinking.
I hated the steroid era. I hated seeing cherished records broken by chemically enhanced players. I didn't like what the sport was becoming. I hated having to tell my young sons that some baseball players, players whose cards they collected, were cheaters. (We stopped collecting the cards of those players.)
But a few years ago, in regard to the Hall of Fame voting, so much changed.
In 2017, Bud Selig was elected to the Hall of Fame. Bud Selig. When the Commissioner of Baseball, who oversaw that entire PED era is in the Hall of Fame, it becomes very difficult to have any sort of consistency and exclude the players who were great under his watch. Selig was responsible for creating the conditions under which those players thrived. He helped create the culture that encouraged the cheating.
If Selig is in the Hall of Fame, he's there, in large part because the stars of the day, the same ones being excluded from the Hall of Fame, brought fans to the sport. Selig's success is tied, hand-in-hand, to the success of the excitement brought about with all the home runs and the bigger players, and the like. They cannot be separated. If Selig is in the Hall of Fame, the players that helped create his fame also deserve to be there.
In addition, when there are managers (Joe Torre and Tony LaRussa) who won pennants, World Series, glory and fame by playing the supposed steroid guys who are also in the Hall of Fame, it becomes hypocritical for the Hall of Fame to exclude the players who contributed to their fame and who were also products of that era. Once the managers from that era, the very ones who penciled the steroid player's names into the lineups , were enshrined, it also became time to put in the players.
For most of Mark McGwire's career, his manager was Tony LaRussa. McGwire has been excluded from the Hall of Fame.
Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez have been excluded from the Hall of Fame. Joe Torre penciled Alex Rodriguez's name into the lineup more than 600 times. A-Rod won two MVP Awards under Torre's watch. Roger Clemens went 77-36 (a .681 winning percentage) in his first go-around with the Yankees. He was a major part of two World Championships. He won a Cy Young Award. Throughout all of that, his manager was Joe Torre.
I think it is fair to state that some of LaRussa's fame and some of Torre's fame came because of players like Mark McGwire, Alex Rodriguez, and Roger Clemens among others who were accused of using performance enhancing drugs.
It's also safe to say that every team had PED players. It's almost impossible to argue that the Commissioner of Baseball and the managers at the time didn't know any of this. They were all part of the same era, the same game.
It seems clear that other managers will follow LaRussa and Torre into Cooperstown. Once he won a World Series last year, the baseball community was almost unanimous in saying that Dusty Baker will be a Hall of Fame manager. Barry Bonds' manager when he had his greatest seasons was... Dusty Baker. How can Dusty go in while Bonds is out?
I believe that Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa, and Dusty Baker are Hall of Fame managers. They deserve to be there. But then, so should the great players they managed. They are all part of the same dynamic. A manager's success comes because his players perform well. It's impossible to argue that Torre, LaRussa, and Baker would have been as successful without Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, and others. They can't be separated. And, let's be clear, each of those teams had other players accused of cheating who also contributed to those teams' successes and the fame of their managers.
It all seems like selective outrage to me. If there is a standard, it should have been evenly applied. It hasn't been. If the players aren't worthy of being in the Hall of Fame, then the managers who played them also shouldn't be worthy - and the Commissioner of the game during the time when steroid use was most prevalent also shouldn't be in.
There is also credible speculation that some players in the Hall of Fame were users. it seems that they just didn't get caught. David Ortiz seems to have tested positive in 2003. Yet he is enshrined. There is speculation that others in the Hall of Fame, players celebrated each summer, also used steroids. I can't justify keeping some players out because they might have used, when others who also might have used are already in. Maybe some players got out before testing. Maybe others simply cheated better. When caught, for example, Andy Pettitte admitted to trying out a steroid. He claims he didn't do it a lot, like some players. Maybe he didn't. Maybe he did. Is he being kept out of the Hall of Fame because when confronted (or caught) he told the truth? Can we honestly state that all of the players from the Steroid Era currently in the Hall of Fame were not users?
Again, it seems like some players are being held to vastly different standards than others.
I have reached the point where I don't withhold my Hall of Fame votes for the steroid guys. That ship has long since sailed. I know many will disagree with me on that.
I wish the players never cheated. I wish it never happened.
I also hate that excellent players, players whose statistics might look better if not compared to the cheaters, a player like Bernie Williams, are so far from the Hall of Fame because they were clean. Bernie Williams probably won't ever get into the Hall of Fame. It seems so unfair. And on many levels, it is unfair. But this is the game they were all part of - and this was the game they all played - and they all made untold millions of dollars playing the game and not calling out the cheating. I also don't recall hearing many players at the time, except for Jose Canseco, Ken Caminiti, and maybe a few others, decry what was happening in the sport. Others had to know, but they turned a blind eye to it all. The cheating helped make them all more famous and wealthy, even if they weren't cheating themselves. That's a hard truth.
Also unspoken is the fact that not all players who used steroids were great. A lot of fringe players were caught. I know the argument - they had to use in order to keep up. I get it. I'm sure it's true. The other part of that that isn't spoken much is the fact that if so many players were cheating, it is difficult to imagine that all the so-called clean players were all clean. Were they so gifted, so great, such outstanding players, that they rose to untold heights against chemically enhanced super players without any help themselves? Maybe. I would like to believe that. I want to believe that. I want my baseball heroes to be heroes in every way. But that question still lingers. And it's very difficult to explain away.
And there are players in the Hall of Fame who have used other illegal drugs. For example, if amphetamines helped get a player "up" to play, that, by definition, is a performance enhancer. If the player wouldn't have been able to compete without the drug, by definition, it enhanced his playing. How often were those drugs used to get a player in the lineup where his performance impacted games, pennant races, and his own stats - some of which helped secure his place in the Hall of Fame? No one knows. But to state that those drugs didn't impact the game is being completely untruthful.
We also know that players in the Hall of Fame were users of all sorts of drugs. Tim Raines was named in the famous Pittsburgh Drug Trials (and so was Dusty Baker). Fergie Jenkins was "arrested at Exhibition Stadium...when Customs officials had discovered that (he) had smuggled approximately $500 worth of cocaine, marijuana, and hashish in his suitcase." These are not the only Hall of Fame players, of course, with drug histories. The argument that different drugs didn't help them is hard to accept. The additional argument that their use only affected them and no one else is also hard to accept. There are always others impacted in these situations. The drug use of those players had an impact on the game. To argue otherwise is, again, being completely dishonest. If the drugs helped the player focus, or stay calm, it had an impact. If the drugs hurt the player's performance, they also had an impact.
No one is saying that the PED players were all good people or good teammates, or anything like that. All we can go on to judge their candidacy is their playing career - what happened on the field. Some of the PED players were difficult to root for. Some I always rooted against, but that doesn't make them not Hall of Famers.
Finally, it also seems that the character clause, when it is cited, is only used as an argument to keep players out of the Hall of Fame. Dale Murphy is a border-line Hall of Famer. By all accounts, he is a Hall of Fame human being. The character clause hasn't been able to elevate him into the Hall of Fame - and he is clearly more worthy than other players who have already earned enshrinement. The effects of that clause have to go both ways, or the clause becomes meaningless.
In the end, it seems that the standards for PED use are applied arbitrarily. For some players drug use eliminates them from the Hall of Fame, for others it's okay. And remember, the people in charge of overseeing the game, the managers, and the Commissioner of Baseball during that time also get a pass. It is very inconsistent to me.
The quick reasons for my votes:
Adrian Beltre - one of the best third basemen ever. A great fielder. Over 400 homers. 3,000 hits. That's a no brainer.
Joe Mauer- JAWS ranks him as the 7th greatest catcher in history. WAR has him 9th. A Top-10 player at his position is a Hall of Famer to me.
Andy Pettitte - 256 wins. 19 post-season wins. A few years ago, I came around on Pettitte. I wrote more about his Hall of Fame case here.
Manny Ramirez - .312/555/1,831. The guy was one of the greatest hitters of all-time
Alex Rodriguez - 3 MVPs, 696 homers, 2,086 runs batted in, 3,115 hits - a standout defensive player also.
And, that's that. I'm sure many will disagree.