The hall of fame, drugs, and baseball

The question being asked by many as we wait for the votes to be announced tomorrow is will any one be elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame this year?  I am of two minds about the whole performance enhancing drug business.  Should we be looking at records before and after and, if the before record is Hall worthy go ahead and elect them?  Or should drug use be a total disqualifier?  And what of people we suspect but have never been caught?

I have seen detailed analyses of the records of Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens.  I think they were so caught up in the idea of being ball players they did what they thought they had to to prolong their careers – at least that is true of Roger.  Should they not get into the Hall because they were stupid and lacked character?  The first person elected was Ty Cobb with his reputation for dirty play and racism.

Back in December, Bob Ryan wrote in the Boston Globe

I am in possession of the toxic ballot.

It is the Hall of Fame ballot voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) have dreaded for the last five years. Our feet are finally being held to the bonfire. How will we as a body judge the candidacy of the all-time home run leader, the only man to win seven Cy Young Awards, and a man with 609 career home runs who is the only person to homer 60 times or more in three seasons?

Absent, shall we say, a complicating factor, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa would be ultra-mortal locks. Based on the numbers, there wouldn’t be the slightest hesitation in checking the box next to their names.

For years I have been saying, publicly and privately, that some day I may wake up and decide that all this agonizing over how to judge admitted or strongly suspected PED users is fruitless, that there was a period of time in baseball’s recent history when juiced pitchers threw to juiced batters and we will never know how many PED-aided home runs would have landed on the warning track or how many fewer strikeouts someone would have had if the people in question had been clean. I might acknowledge that it is an impossible task to act as judge and jury, that I should simply let them all in and not worry about the ethical question posed by the use of PEDs in athletic competition.

I, for one, just can’t do it. Some day, maybe. Or maybe not. I’ve got 15 years to decide what to do with the Toxic Trio.

I know this much: They’re not getting in, at least not this year. Steroid-tinged Mark McGwire­ has had six chances and he’s actually going backward, peaking with 23.7 percent of the vote (75 percent is needed for election) in 2010. Last year, he slipped to 19.5. Admitted user Rafael Palmeiro, he of the 3,020 hits and 569 home runs, got 11 percent of the vote two years ago and 12.6 last year. There will be no need for either to prepare an acceptance speech.

But we’re all curious to see what the vote will be. I’m betting that Bonds and Clemens will come up with something between 40 and 50 percent of the vote, while Sosa will be lucky to crack double figures.

Ryan believes that no one will be elected this year, a opinion echoed by Tyler Kepner of the New York Times.  Kepner points out that a player needs 75% of the ballots which even in year untainted by PED’s is hard.

Historically, this has not been easy. In 1971, when Yogi Berra made his debut on the ballot, he collected only two-thirds of the vote. That’s right — 118 of 360 writers did not vote for Berra as soon as they had the chance. Fifteen players on that 1971 ballot eventually made it to Cooperstown, but that year, the voters could not reach a three-quarters consensus on any of them.

Since then, only one other writers’ ballot has produced no new inductees. That was in 1996, when Phil Niekro, Tony Perez and Don Sutton got more than 60 percent but less than 75. They and three others from that ballot — Ron Santo, Jim Rice and Bruce Sutter — eventually elbowed through the crowd and into the Hall.

So who else is on the ballot?  One of my all time favorites, Dale Murphy.  I first saw him play for the Richmond Braves when he was a catcher.  Bob Ryan writes

This is it for Murphy, Year 15. His son, Chad, has created a petition and has bombarded voters with e-mails. Murphy is a rare back-to-back MVP (1982-83) with 398 career homers. He made an admirable transition from catcher to five-time Gold Glove center fielder. But he has never passed the Hall of Fame I-know-one-when-I-see-one Smell Test, his vote percentage ranging from a low of 8.5 in Year 6 to last year’s high of 14.5. It’s not going to happen.

Curt Shilling is also on there.  When I can put aside my distaste for his politics and for his hypocrisy – belief in smaller government while seeking lots of government economic development money from Massachusetts and then getting it from Rhode Island – he could pitch and if I had a vote would check him off.

But it is likely that no one will break th 75% barrier and the plaque will look like this.

We will find out tomorrow.

Illustration by Sam Manchester/The New York Times

The Current State of Baseball and Illegal Drugs

It is no secret to people who know me or anyone who follows this blog and has read my occasional baseball posts but I love baseball.  I follow certain basketball teams but I really don’t watch unless one of them is playing.  Baseball on the other hand, particularly live baseball is a love.  If it is live, I can watch any two teams at any level play.  I think I like the game so much because it one one of the things that my grandfather who spoke little English and I could watch in common.

This spring training 2009, what is the state of baseball.  Well, I think that the use of steroids is down.  George Vescey writes in the New York Times in his column titled “The Incredible Shrinking Baseball Player.”

Baseball clubhouses seem to be getting bigger this spring, with more room to move around. Or maybe the players are becoming smaller.

Out of the roughly 1,000 major leaguers in spring training camps, a couple of dozen appear to have lost significant weight in the off-season, all in the name of health and agility.

Some of them did it by eating grilled fish. Others played active video games with their children. Some went on diet programs or took up yoga. Others cut back on alcohol. Whatever they did, clubhouse attendants are coming up with smaller uniforms all over Florida and Arizona.

Whether or not it is because they are no longer using steroids or because, like many of us non ballplayers, they are discovering a healthier lifestyle, Vescey can’t say.  But he has his suspicions.

“You have to be a little skeptical, given the context of watching bodies change,” Dr. Gary Wadler, an internist and member of the World Anti-Doping Agency, said Thursday. “The explanation then was that they were eating more and working out more. Now if you hear players say, ‘We changed our ways,’ all you can do is be suspicious.”

But the weight loss can be good.

The model for clean living and technique over brute size is Derek Jeter of the Yankees, whose physique and hitting style have never fluctuated since he came up in 1995. Jeter seemed to be quietly seething last week when having to discuss revelations of steroid use by Alex Rodriguez. Not all of us did it, Jeter veritably hissed. That is an important fact to remember as players assert their inner athlete.

Baseball players did not necessarily need all the bulk they were sporting in the last generation, said Dr. Michael Joyner, deputy director and vice dean for research at the Mayo Clinic, an expert in exercise physiology.

“I think it’s better to say people were going in the easier direction,” Dr. Joyner said, referring to past weight gain. “Athletes are supercompetitive. Many of them are almost sociopaths in almost a friendly way,” he added, saying that players would compete in anything, including body mass.

Dr. Joyner recalled the power of a small hitter like Jim Wynn and a slender pitcher like Ron Guidry, of the 1960s and 1970s. He also praised the immortal lefty Sandy Koufax and the four-time Olympic discus champion, Al Oerter, who combined athletic ability and technique.

Still, thin just may be in. This minitrend has been labeled the Pedroia Effect by Greg Lalas, retired soccer player and writer for Goal.com. He was referring to the 5-foot-9-inch, 180-pound second baseman with the Red Sox who hit .326 with 17 home runs last year and was named most valuable player in his league.

I knew I’d get a reference to a member of the Red Sox in there someplace.

But the big story, at least in my mind, is the tie between the Barry Bonds trial for perjury and the tactics of the Bush Justice Department.  Who knew that all those questionable tactics would come home to roost in the trial of a baseball player for using steroids?

David Zirin writing in The Nation and also appearing of the Rachel Maddow show makes this connection.  His story “The US v. Barry Bonds” begins

This is a story about garbage. There’s the actual garbage overzealous federal investigators examined in their efforts to prosecute a surly sports celebrity. There’s the shredding of the Bill of Rights, crudely ignored by the government in the name of obsession and ambition. Finally, there’s the thorough trashing of people’s reputations, not to mention the game of baseball. Welcome to The US v. Barry Bonds; please disregard the stench.

The embodiment of this obsession was IRS agent Jeff Novitzky. He broke open the BALCO case after spending a great deal of time, to the adulation of the press, literally sifting through garbage and sewage.

Novitzky was given the green light by President Bush and Ashcroft to go for the jugular. In 2004, accompanied by eleven agents, he marched into Comprehensive Drug Testing, the nation’s largest sports-drug testing company. Armed with a warrant to see the confidential drug tests of ten baseball players, he walked out with 4,000 supposedly sealed medical files, including every baseball player in the major leagues. As Jon Pessah wrote in ESPN magazine, “Three federal judges reviewed the raid. One asked, incredulously, if the Fourth Amendment had been repealed. Another, Susan Illston, who has presided over the BALCO trials, called Novitzky’s actions a ‘callous disregard’ for constitutional rights. All three instructed him to return the records. Instead, Novitzky kept the evidence….”

It was a frightening abuse of power, all aimed at imprisoning a prominent African-American athlete. Yet despite the landfills of trash, the government’s case always rested on a flimsy premise. Bonds’s contention under oath was that anything illegal he may have ingested was without prior knowledge. The only person who could contradict Bonds was his trainer and longtime friend Greg Anderson. The government pressed Anderson to give testimony. He refused, citing a promise made by the feds that he wouldn’t have to testify after pleading guilty to steroid distribution and money laundering in 2005. The feds stuck him in jail for thirteen months to soften him up, but he didn’t crack.

We all knew that the Bush Justice Department was completely ignoring the Constitution to keep us safe from terroists, but to convict baseball players who used steroids?  I guess it could be a threat to the American pasttime.

It’s way past time to say enough is enough.

Whether or not you are a Barry Bonds fan, or consider him to be just a step above a seal-clubbing, pitbull-fighting bank executive, every person of good conscience should be aghast at the way the Justice Department has gone about its business. Barry Bonds, Greg Anderson and maybe thousands of others have had their rights trampled on, all for the glory of a perjury case that looks to be going absolutely nowhere. Attorney General Eric Holder and President Obama have strongly indicated that the government is getting out of the steroid monitoring business. That is welcome, but after so many years, so many tax dollars and so many reputations destroyed, it all feels positively Pyrrhic.

You can also watch Dave on the Rachel Maddow Show.

I’m sure that there will be another drug.  And I sure that ball players get through the long season and the travel using the occasional upper, but for now at least healthy living seems to be a trend.