The 2011 class of inductees for the National Baseball Hall of Fame was enshrined in July with two new members voted in by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Second year candidate Roberto Alomar entered the hallowed halls in Cooperstown receiving 90 percent of votes for induction. Of more interest was the enshrinement of Bert Blyleven, who was voted in on his second to last year of eligibility. While a strong case could always be made for the credentials of Blyleven, his ascent to the hall was also impacted by the lack of marquee stars eligible but not voted in due to their connection to steroids and other performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) that cast a shadow on many of today’s players.
Many writers have vowed never to vote for players directly linked to the steroids, including such names as Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro who put up impressive statistics during their careers but have been forever tarnished with their association to PEDs in baseball.
Once considered an automatic first ballot hall of famer after his dominant performance in 1998 with 70 home runs, McGwire’s eventual connection to the PEDs and his refusal to speak about his past in front of Congress in March 2005 put his name among those who achieved greatness due to chemical assistance.
Rafael Palmeiro was also a member of the player’s panel that appeared before Congress in 2005 and will forever be remembered for his finger-pointing statement “I did not use steroids, period”. Less than three months later, Palmeiro would be suspended for ten days for testing positive for steroids and later altered his story to never “knowingly” taken performance enhancing drugs.
Many more player names would become known through the 2007 Mitchell report. Other government investigations into illegal pharmaceutical purchases and the now famous BALCO scandal would reveal even more players, many of whom represented some of the game’s elite stars and uncover how deep and broad the PED use has become.
While Major League Baseball would eventually institute a more comprehensive drug program in baseball, much damage had already been done to what had been considered America’s favorite pastime. Regardless of the future impact of the league’s tougher stance, a question remains; what is to become of the hall of fame worthiness of baseball’s great stars?
If recent activity is any indication, players whose names have been linked directly to steroids will find it nearly impossible to gain the 75 percent of votes required for enshrinement from a voting population that has been vocal about never voting for a steroid-era player.
The real impact of the steroid era on hall of fame worthiness will amplify in 2013 when two of the biggest names in baseball history, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds come up for their first year of eligibility. With predecessors McGwire and Palmeiro prevented access to Cooperstown, there is little chance that Clemens and Bonds will make it either. Subsequent year ballots will include Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza and Gary Sheffield all of whose names have been associated with performance enhancing substances.
If there is a brighter side to the sad steroid story, it lies in the hall worthiness of recent hall of fame inductees Jim Rice, Andre Dawson and Bert Blyleven who had impressive careers but whose statistics were dwarfed by the inflated numbers of the modern day players. With the recent past as an indicator of future actions, the next few years present an opportunity for many veteran candidates who previously were not considered but will now be looked at with a different, cleaner lens. Names such as Jack Morris, Lee Smith, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, and Dave Parker all had solid but unspectacular years. Their statistical contributions will be looked at differently given recent events.
Moving forward over the next couple of years, some players who never reached career milestones (hits, wins, home runs) but had significant contributions in their sport will also be considered. Players such as Bernie Williams and Curt Schilling played significant roles on championship teams while also compiling respectable career numbers. Their hall worthiness will now be considered far more than in the past few years.
Beginning in 2014 and 2015 baseball’s dark era will continue moving further from view. Some elite talent will be first year candidates for enshrinement, many names who had solid and clean reputations. Players like as Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Tom Glavine, Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Thomas who were never connected to performance enhancing substances will likely find their way into the hall of fame their first years of eligibility.
Along the way players will surface and remind us all of the imperfect prevention system in place and the continued greed and corruption the owners and players designed to inflate statistics and revenue. Today stars like Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Miguel Tejada and Jason Giambi have had their names associated with the use of PEDs.
For every player like Manny Ramirez, there is a Jim Thome who has amassed an impressive career resume, collecting his 600th career home with never a whisper of PED use. Current elite stars such as Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki and Albert Pujols have remained adamant that they are clean and look for opportunities to prove themselves as such.
As baseball moves forward, hope exists that the dark days of the steroid era will be nothing more than an asterisk in the rich history of America’s pastime.
Scott Duhaime is a life-long baseball fan with a career statistics/analytics background. His passion for baseball and his quantitative skills translate into a deep analysis of player statistical contributions both to their respective teams and the sport in general.
MLB.com – Mitchell Report
Baseball-Reference.com – Hall of Fame Monitor