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  • The Greatest Hall of Fame Class is Up for Final Consideration

    Ted Schwerzler

    We can debate who should or shouldn’t be inducted into Cooperstown based on transgressions or the dreaded character clause. Still, there’s no denying that the Baseball Writers Association of America could vote in the single greatest class in Major League Baseball history.

    Image courtesy of Douglas DeFelice, USA TODAY Sports

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    Let’s get this out of the way from the top. Steroid users cheated, yes. It’s impossible to understand when and how they used. There are other players in the Hall of Fame that used steroids. Players have been cheating for as long as the game is old. Arguably most damaging to any argument against PED users is Bud Selig, the Commissioner who oversaw the era and turned a blind eye. At the same time, the muscles that saved his post-lockout sport are enshrined in The Hall. If Cooperstown is considered a museum as is stated, it’s incomplete until all of the history is adequately accounted for.

    Alright, breathe. You can go back to the distaste saved for any players you want to be kept out. But, by the numbers...let’s take a look:

    Curt Schilling, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Gary Sheffield, Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa, David Ortiz, and Alex Rodriguez

    Look at that group. It’s arguably the greatest assembled collection of eight baseball players tied together at any point in history. Barry Bonds is 2nd All-Time in career fWAR while Alex Rodriguez is 13th. David Ortiz is undoubtedly the single greatest designated hitter ever to play the game. Gary Sheffield and Manny Ramirez both are members of the 500 home run club, while Sammy Sosa has 609 homers and an MVP to his credit. Curt Schilling has over 3,100 career strikeouts and finished runner-up for the Cy Young in three different seasons. Roger Clemens may arguably be the greatest pitcher to have ever played the game, and his seven Cy Young awards certainly don’t detract from that.

    On statistical merit alone, it’s hard to look at any one of these players and suggest they are not worthy of enshrinement in Cooperstown. The BBWAA has been tasked with the impossible when needing to employ the character clause. Some writers choose to abide by it. Others have decided it doesn’t hold the same intended weight it once did. Others yet struggle with the gray area and completely exclude anyone that gets too close.

    What Cooperstown could do to help the process as a whole is to simplify it. Give every player on the ballot the ability to be voted for with a simple “yes” or “no” check-box. Make the voting criteria no more than a reflection of the accolades that took place on the field. If you cheated and got caught, you no doubt suffered time lost and an opportunity missed. If you were banned from the game while operating as a player or manager, your statistical accomplishments become invalidated in that particular realm.

    As fans, we should be clamoring for the greatest we have ever seen to be part of the footnote that is a museum where the dust settles. You can disagree with any number of players because of who they are as people or how you feel about them, but if the stats counted, then that’s where the decision needs to lie.

    Of course, we know my feelings don’t matter. This isn’t going to happen. If Bonds and Clemens are to be enshrined, it will likely come from a committee at a later date. Those with less percentage of the vote aren’t going to magically jump up either. It’s too bad that we’ll continue to tell only parts of the story deemed relevant today, but we can dream on the eight men out that would represent the greatest eight together.

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    Understandably people will look at people who cheated in a different light.  But I mean how many football players are in the hall of fame who have used performance enhancers at some point in time.  Those types of arguments can go on forever.  But I guess my only thing that I look at, is no matter how distasteful some of these players may be, were they the best players in their era???  If yes, then I guess they should probably be in.  I mean people just don't like Barry Bonds, people like David Ortiz and because of that I think Ortiz has a better chance to get in and he has that same performance enhancement cloud that follows him around also.  I mean is it fair that one guy is overall liked better than another?  I mean were these guys the best of their era?  I mean you could put the vaunted asterisk by their names as saying they were the best of their era, but that it was the steroid era, so maybe the records don't quite mean as much, just like Roger Maris's home run record didn't mean as much because of the 8 extra games.  But was it not still great?  So these guys are the record holders of their era, not the best guys, but they were the best players and that is really all it should be voted on.

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    I would really love Baseball Reference or another major data site to create a "PED re-profile" tool which would re-curve performance based on expected exit velocity changes. It would be totally unfair because you don't know who was using, but I think it would be helpful all around. If 10% of OPS improvement was PEDs, if you re-curve the players who've been tainted, maybe it would help the fringe guys get more recognition and separate the HoF regardless of PED use guys from the guys who might not have made it.

    Sheffield, Ramirez, Sosa probably don't have the numbers to get in with that adjustment.

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    Looking at the 2021 voting, I wouldn't be surprised if Clemens (61.6%, 3rd most valuable pitcher of all time), Bonds (61.8%, 2nd most valuable hitter of all time) and Schilling (71.1%) were all elected in their 10th and final year. 

    If voters have been holding out for the last time on the ballot for some of those names, it could wind up costing weaker candidates like Nathan.

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    Yes some players cheated by taking steroids and other peds.  It seems we are talking about a very small number of players.  Some of these players even lied to Congress and fans about their usage. So is it ok to cheat to get what you want? For some people I guess it is.  To me those great career numbers for those players are definitely tainted.  They could have been influenced by illegal substances.  And what about the vast majority of players and hall of famers who played by the rules?  To let the cheaters in would overshadow their great careers.  If the steroid cheaters were such great athletes why did they have to feel the need to cheat?  At least the MLB hall of fame has some integrity, much unlike the NFL.

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    No one "caught" should go in...period. 

    Stating stats that are ballooned because of the physical enhancement of steroids are legitimate is by common sense just wrong. Kind of like stating that someone who is a very good to great student that cheats on a test and aces it ... gets caught but still is given an A+ grade and gets to have "honors"... . Makes NO sense. 

    Lack of integrity is a huge problem ... 

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    Plus, the players that cheated got PAID.  That should be all the "reward" they are allowed.  Look, I'm a very "traditional" kind of guy.  The whole PEDs thing just has always rubbed me the wrong way.  My son, whose opinion I respect a lot is of a different mind set, played High School and Legion baseball against some guys whose bodies certainly changed a little too rapidly for at least "some" suspicion to linger.  We debate this in a good natured way all the time.  I've even given him an autographed Barry Bonds bat (after I acquired a Hank Aaron autographed bat) and told him "you can keep the Bonds bat or sell it, but you can't sell it until he's elected to the HOF because the bat will be worth a lot more once he is."  I think eventually ALL the cheaters will get in.  I think if they do, an *asterisk* would be appropriate.  I will say, that no matter what, it's hard to ignore what Barry Bonds accomplished.  Of all the cheaters, he did the most with it.  In looking the list over, I wondered why Schilling's name was on it.  I don't recall ever hearing his name mentioned as a PED cheater.  And as an American, he's granted the right of free speech.  It's a right that is fundamental to our Republic.  Anyone is free to agree or disagree with what he says because we're "Americans."  If he had pitched in China, he'd already be disappeared and there would be no talk of him for any Hall of Fame or any other purpose for that matter.  He'd be gone and all memory of him would be erased.  But he's an American.  He's also one of the greatest post-season pitchers in the history of baseball.  He should already be in.   

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    A footnote on their plaques would suffice. Let the fans then decide how they accept or reject. I think eventually they..or most will get in. What would make me feel better is if the cheaters owned up to what they did instead of denying or claiming 'they didn't know'. That's an insult to all of us. Admitting guilt (not saying sorry because I was caught) goes a long way with many who would be ready to forgive.  I think that would matter.

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    I have an issue with players being attacked for PED use.  First, we do not know how long they were using them.  Like with Bonds, A-Rod, and Clemons, many believe they did not start using until later in career.  Which both had HOF before use.  Also, there is expected many of the players were using during that time.  They were best of that era.  Sure, to compare their numbers to prior users may not be fair to prior players but HOF makes adjustments based on era all the time.

    One thing we look at is the "modern" era for pitchers.  Back in the day Cy young pitched every other game.  No pitcher will ever come close to his wins, or losses because they will never pitch as many games as he did.  To compare wins, strike outs, shut outs and other stats for pitchers now to even those of the 90's would be terrible, because starters just do not pitch as much or as often.  If we hold pitchers now to prior pitching numbers, no current pitcher will ever make the HOF.  

    Should we go back and attack the 70's and 80's players that used Speed?  Should we attack the players that played prior to integration of baseball because they were not facing the best talent? We see numbers change over seasons based on the ball, the height of the mound, playing styles, and more.  Teams have now started using the shift to higher levels, and hitters have learned about launch angles.  

    I think Bonds, Clemons, A-Rod, Ortiz, should all be in.  Schilling, Manny, Sheffiled, and Sosa are closer calls.  Schilling would be most likely in my mind though.  I look at what they brought to the team, and how did they compare to the league at the time, not how do their numbers compare to the others in the HOF.  Manny could hit, but that is it.  He was a clown in the field.  He had a stretch where he was one of most feared hitters, but in my mind it was too short of a time and his defense was so bad I feel he falls just short, but would not die on that hill.  Sheffield was a guy that I feel was very good for the era, but compared to others of the era is just not that elite.  Yes, looking at historical numbers it was good, but again I am comparing to his era.  Sosa would be on the fringe again, and maybe it was because he played in NL in 90's and until he exploded in 98 I had never really heard of him.  I would have him in because for a stretch he was best in his era offense wise, but he would be lower on my list. 

    I do hope the HOF has in players from this era, even the confirmed users, because they were best of their era.  Do not compare them to other era's for "best ever" which I do not do for any era.  In all sports to compare across era's lead to difficult comparisons.  I mean just look at pitchers average velo now, to the 90's.  Imagine if some of the pitchers now pitched back in the day.  Maybe their arms blow up, or maybe they dominate the hitters and have strike outs off the charts.  Hard to know. Maybe if you have hitters now that know about working out, and have the time to commit to it, hit back in the day against average velo's in the 80's without pen specialist guys. 

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