Sadly, we still find ourselves in baseball’s Dark Ages. There is proof that we may be nearing our Age of Enlightenment. Bud Selig’s assertion that there have only been eight positive test results in the past three years is one solid example that we’re moving in the right direction.
But, with every name that is leaked from the list of players that came up positive in a random test taken in 2003, we are dragged deeper into the dark hole of depression as we wonder, when is this going to end.
The tests were administered in 2003, before there were any banned substances. The idea and agreement behind the tests were simple: If more than 5% of the baseball population came up positive for steroid, they would institute mandatory random sampling with an actual banned substance list starting the following season.
Well, 104 names appeared on the list. A list that was supposed to stay completely anonymous. In fact, there were two lists. One with names and numbers, and one with corresponding numbers and sample results. They were supposed to stay separate. This was agreed to by all parties. No retribution, no penalties.
We all know how that worked out. Now, whether the entire list should now be released or not is another story for another day. For the record, I think it should not be. In fact, I think whoever is leaking it should be found and severely punished. That test was taken in good faith that the names would never be released. The names on that list should not be subject to any penalties, either punitive or public opinion.
The Mike and Mike Show on ESPN Radio had a great analogy a few weeks ago: Imagine if you were at work and you took a random survey on the state of your company and your boss, and you put some derogatory things on there, because it was agreed that the results would only be used to make the job site better and nothing would be used against anyone. Then you were called into your boss’s office and fired because he didn’t like what you wrote. Same idea. OK, I paraphrased some, but you get the point.
Anyway, that was then. This is now. Alex Rodriguez is the first BIG name to leak, several years after the list was put in a safe somewhere and forgotten about. Now, a couple of months later, we hear another major name, Sammy Sosa.
Rodriguez was certainly on his way to the Hall of Fame prior to his name being leaked. He still may be. Sosa was questionable, despite his many accomplishments. For the past several years people have been publicly and privately questioning his actual involvement in the steroid scandal. And let’s also not forget that he’s been caught cheating before, with a corked bat.
That got me thinking: Of the many players who have been linked so closely to the steroid era, will any of them really go into the Baseball Hall of Fame? They only need 5% of the vote to remain on the ballot, and they can be on the ballot for 15 years. 15 years is a long time for people to mellow a little. Hell, they finally let Jim Rice in, and the Baseball Writer’s of America seemingly hated him for years. But the Hall of Fame is tough. Don’t forget, neither Tris Speaker nor Cy Young got in until their second ballot.
Let’s start with the Poster Boy for the Steroid Era (no, not Jose Canseco, he has no chance), Barry Bonds
For the sake of argument, and I don’t know where else to start, let’s say that he was clean prior to the ’98 season. He was named NL MVP in 1990, ’92, and ’93 (came in 2nd in ’91). He earned a Gold Glove every season from 1990 – ’97 (except ’95) and won a Silver Slugger every season from ’90-’97 (except ’95). He was named to every All-Star Game as a starter except for ’91.
He hit over 30 HR seven times in that time period, and over 40 HR three times. Bonds led the league in OBP four times and was in the top 5 four other times in this period. He was already well on his way to a HOF career. If he is found guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice, there is no way he is ever getting in, no matter how many HR he’s hit or how many bases he’s stolen. Public opinion being what it is, he may never see the inside of Cooperstown anyway, even if he has a ticket.
Prior to the 1998 season, Sosa had already proven himself to be a HR hitter. He shot 36 of them in both ’95 and ’97, and 40 in ’96. But it wasn’t until the ’98 season that he went nuts. After that, he started hitting in the 60’s. Very suspect. 1995 was a pretty good season for Sosa. He hit 36 HR and had 119 RBI. He earned his first Silver Slugger Award and was named to his first All-Star Game. But, prior to his “bulking up” in 1998, a Hall of Fame player he was not.
His multiple 60+ HR seasons (only player in history with three 60+ seasons, ’98, ’99, and ’01) will be forgotten just as quickly as he forgot how to speak English when being questioned by Congress in 2007 about steroid use. Plus, his outright lying to Congress will not endear him to anyone voting for him from 2013 until he finally falls off the ballot.
Mark McGwire is really our test case in potential HOF players and how receptive the voters are to them. Thus far, they appear to be pretty unreceptive, and getting more unreceptive as time goes on. In 2007, McGwire’s first year on the ballot, he received 23.5%. No where near the 75% of the vote needed for induction, but way more than the 5% needed to remain on the ballot. This past ballot, he received 21.9 % of the vote, 10 votes less than the year before. Not a good trend.
Unlike other players that we’re talking about here, it’s nearly impossible to say when McGwire possibly started enhancing his body. It seems that he was always huge, even way back when he was part of the Bash Brothers in 1989 with fellow Oakland A’s admitted steroid abuser Jose Canseco. But, we do know that McGwire has always been a powerful homerun hitter. He hit 49 HR in his rookie year, to go with 118 RBI and .289 average. Of course he was Rookie of the Year with numbers like that. 49 HR by the way, is the most ever by a rookie, and the most since Frank Robinson hit 38 HR in his rookie season of 1956. Still amazing.
The bottom line is that it is highly unlikely that McGuire will ever find his way into Cooperstown. Like Sosa, he will forever be linked to the steroid era, if not remembered as a major player in it. He will be lucky to stay on the ballot for the entire 15 year period.
OK, again, for the sake of argument, let’s say that Rocket started taking PEDs in 1998 when Brian McNamee began as his trainer in Toronto. So, before that, he had a hell of a career. Between ’87 and ’88 he had 32 complete games. In 1986 he won 24 games, the most in the AL, and was ranked 1st in ERA (2.48) and won both AL ROY and AL MVP honors. Over the next six seasons, he ranked first in ERA three times and in the top five every other time. He finished 1st again in wins in ’87 and then again in ’97, and won the Cy Young Award in ’97, ’91, and ’97. On April 20, 1986, Clemens had a 20 strikeout, 0 walk game against the Seattle Mariners.
But, although the fact that Clemens lied to Congress hasn’t been proven yet, it is more than likely that it soon will be. Over the course of the past year, Roger Clemens has talked himself deeper and deeper into a hole that he cannot get himself out of. For whatever reason, he has decided to deny all, and continue denying despite any proof that may or may not have been brought forward.
This will be his ultimate undoing and this is what will certainly and sadly keep him out of Cooperstown. Of all of the people that we’re talking about here, Clemens is the one who most likely would have had a chance to still be elected to the Hall of Fame had he been more forthcoming. Had he not been so hard to believe, so unconvincing, not unlike his (former??) best friend, Andy Pettitte, who Clemens claims “misremembers” what their conversation really was about, he may have still had a glimmer of hope. Now, no chance.
This might still be too fresh, too new, to render a reasonable judgment on. The other problem is, we don’t know anything yet beyond that he came up positive on a urinalysis from something on the banned substance list that may or may not have been a female pregnancy hormone, depending on which report you read. If it was this particular hormone, then the only use for it, aside from aiding in fertility, is to help a man kick-start his testosterone after a steroid cycle. So, since we can safely assume that Manny wasn’t trying to get pregnant, well…
Anyway, one thing we do know is that he is probably the greatest right handed batter in the past 25 years, if not longer. With 533 HR and a career average of .325, he joins a very, very exclusive list of players with more than 500 HR and a batting average of more than .310 (Ted Williams, 521/.344, Jimmie Foxx, 534/..325, and Babe Ruth, 714/.342). From 1993, Ramirez’s rookie season, through last year, no one in baseball has more RBI than him (1725).
One would have to believe that with a correctly worded, sincere apology, even more than what he already said in his initial press conference the day his suspension started, the wounds could start to heal. Of course, he’d still have to play at the same level he’s always played at.
Lastly, let’s take a quick look at Alex Rodriguez. His is a very interesting case because his name came up on a list that we should have never known about, and he came right out and admitted it, in his own backwards, circular way. Unlike Sosa, whose name came out from the same list, Rodriguez is still playing, and still contributing. Also, once we started to learn about steroids and PEDs, we always suspected Sosa, not so much Rodriguez.
In fact, A-Rod was supposed to be our baseball savior. He was supposed to reclaim the HR crown in an honorable way and let us start to forget all about those nasty PEDs and the people who abused them. He wasn’t supposed to be one of the abusers. Now that he’s caught and he seems sincere and contrite in his apology, do you take him back into the fold? Baseball fans all over the country seem to have done just that.
Will enough time have passed by the time he’s eligible for Hall of Fame consideration? It seems like he’s been playing for ever, but he’s only 33 years old. That’s another 7-10 years of playing time, then another five years beyond that. That puts us around 2023-2025 before he’s even on a ballot. That, my friends, is pretty far away.
What will be interesting is what’s going to happen when he gets close to Barry Bonds’ HR record. Assuming A-Rod stays healthy, he could break it by around 2015 or so. And there’s no reason not to believe that he won’t be the first person to hit 800 HR. How will he be received then? Will enough time have passed that we’ll celebrate the achievement or will we stand around sullenly with our hands in our pockets, scowling as he rounds the bases on number 763? Time will tell.