Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Suspicions, Steroids and the Hall of Fame

Just trollin' around the internets these days, looking for interesting articles to enjoy and miserable articles to mock. Here's one of the latter, by Dan Graziano over at AOL FanHouse: Jeff Bagwell a 'No' for This Hall of Fame Voter. According to Mr. Graziano, if it looks like a steroid user, it must have been a steroid user. Since Jeff Bagwell in 2000 had big arms, he shouldn't be in the HOF.

Now, looking at Jeff Bagwell's hilarious 1991 Topps RC, which I probably have somewhere stashed in a plastic sheath, it's obvious that the mulleted and high-hatted rookie Bagwell bears little resemblance to the goateed basher of 2000. But that doesn't make a man a steroid user. For a reasoned, logical argument that seems to disprove some of the circumstantial evidence surrounding the Bagwell suspicions, read this intelligent post from Arjuna Subramanian at the Washington Post blogs.

Anyways, on to the Graziano article:

No, I didn't vote for Jeff Bagwell for the Hall of Fame. Yes, it's for the reason everybody loves to hate. I don't know for sure that Bagwell took steroids or any other performance-enhancing drugs to help him attain his Hall of Fame-caliber numbers. I don't have evidence, like we do against Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro. But I'm suspicious. And this year, that suspicion was enough to make me send back my ballot without the Bagwell box checked. I'd rather withhold the vote based on suspicion than vote the guy in only to find out later that he cheated and I shouldn't have.

As soon as I read this paragraph, I knew I wasn't going to agree with the rest of it. On the whole, his entire premise (summed up, like any good English Composition Theme, in his thesis at the end of this paragraph) seems sort of silly to me. He's withholding his vote because he's afraid of what his future self might think of his current self. Sounds to me he's a guy who's more concerned with his own morality than with the baseball Hall of Fame.

I understand the position of those voters (and non-voters, for that matter) who insist it's not fair to take such an action without hard proof. Understand it and actually agree.

This is a bit of a distortion, because the rest of his article contradicts it. Pretending to agree when you actually don't is an effective strategy early in a debate. I can see how this would work in lots of other cases:

Average Man: I understand the position of my wife, who insists it's not fair to hit on her sister. Understand it and actually agree. But she's still smokin' hot. It's not even slightly fair.

Average President of the United States: I understand the position of those Republicans (and non-Republicans) who insist it's not fair to tax millionaires more than paupers. Understand it and actually agree. But I'm still going to try to let some of these tax breaks expire.
It's not even slightly fair.

It's not even slightly fair. But it's the world in which we voters and Bagwell and his fellow Hall candidates now live -- a world of the cheaters' creation. If Bagwell's upset about it, and if he truly is innocent, then he has my apology, but I'd also advise him to seek one from McGwire and Palmeiro and all of his peers and contemporaries who decided they had to cheat and break the law in order to play baseball better.

Again, that just seems like a real dick move to Bagwell. Rather than do the actual legwork of investigating Bagwell, or reading about Bagwell, or even outlining any of his circumstantial theories against Bagwell, he's just going to blame those other guys.

Average man: If she's upset about it, and if she truly is innocent, than she has my apology, but I'd also advise her to seek one from her sister, who decided she had to slink around in all those sexy black cocktail dresses at all these family parties in order to celebrate Christmas better.

Average President of the United States: It's not even slightly fair. But it's the world in which these millionaires and their Republicans now live - a world of the millionaires' creation. If they're upset about it, then they have my apologies, but I'd also advise them to seek one from Bernie Madoff and Ken Lay and all of their peers and contemporaries who decided they had to cheat and break the law in order to make money better.

Bagwell insists he's innocent, which is what you'd expect him to do whether he is or isn't. The Steroid Era (and the supposedly post-Steroid Era) has shown us repeatedly that the cheaters don't admit to anything until they've been caught -- and that even then they'll only admit to the exact thing for which they were caught, nothing more. Bagwell surely wouldn't be the first to passionately deny guilt only to later be proven guilty. So with all due respect to the man's words, I don't think they're worth very much in this debate.

Well, just because a bunch of other guys did it doesn't mean that Bagwell did it. I, too, don't know that Bagwell did or did not do steroids; I just think it's wrong to smear a guy because of what other guys did.

This isn't about whether I believe what Bagwell says.

Yes, it is. That's why you devoted the previous paragraph to addressing just that.

It's about suspicions I harbored long before he spoke out on the issue. It's about where he played and when he played and the teammates with whom he played and a whole bunch of circumstantial evidence that I readily admit wouldn't hold up in a court of law.

All of which you don't even mention, Mr. Graziano. Are you referring to the Houston Astros at a particular time? Are you referring specifically to Ken Caminiti? It's nice of you to admit that your evidence is circumstantial, but it certainly decreases my confidence in it if you don't even mention what it is.

But this isn't a court of law. This is a Hall of Fame vote. I don't need proof beyond a reasonable doubt in order to cast a vote for any candidate in either direction. I could refuse to vote for someone because I didn't like him personally, though I think that would be wrong. I could refuse to vote for somebody based on racial or ethnic or religious grounds, though I think that would be despicable.

This paragraph is a specific appeal to the moral senses of the readers - we're supposed to think that since Mr. Graziani treats his HOF vote with such moral care, he's a trustworthy voter. But isn't it still rather immoral to evaluate a man's entire life life and career based on stereotypical assumptions and unstated circumstantial evidence?

I could withhold a vote because I don't want people in the Hall of Fame who have blue eyes, or owned cats, or ever played on a Texas team. It's my vote, and the only standards to which I am beholden are my own.

You could, but you'd be an asshole. Since that's not your criteria, you want us to believe you're not an asshole. But you are withholding your vote because of what a bunch of other assholes did, so you're kind of being an asshole here.

So yeah. I'm suspicious of Bagwell, and what that means is right now he doesn't get my vote. If he registers a "yes" with 75 percent of the electorate, then congratulations to him, he earned his way in. If he doesn't, I promise to grant him my full consideration in every future year in which he appears on the ballot, as I do with every candidate every year.

No you won't, because you're basing your consideration not on his candidacy, but on what a bunch of other guys did.

But where I am with the PED guys is I don't vote for them. I haven't voted for McGwire or Palmeiro. Right now, I don't plan to vote for Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds.

I wouldn't vote for any of them either, because we have hard evidence on each.

I could change my mind, but that's where I am right now on the issue. And in order to be consistent with that position, I don't feel I can vote for anybody I suspect, even if that standard casts an unfairly wide net.

How do you determine your suspicions? Other than hitting a lot of home runs, having big biceps, and playing with Ken Caminiti, I'm not sure what Jeff Bagwell has done to merit your suspicion.

People will hate this position, and I understand that.

No, you don't. I hate it because it's stupid, and if you understood that, you wouldn't write articles claiming it's a good position. Stop claiming you understand. What you really mean is:
"People will hate this position, and I think I understand why, but my moral high ground here means that I am too worried about my feelings ten years from now to understand why."

But I offer this in my defense: we writers who covered the game during the Steroid Era are often criticized for not reporting more skeptically based on the suspicions we harbored then. And while much of that criticism is justified, I believe the fact that we and our newspapers could have been subject to legal action for such reporting works in our defense.

Lame. There are journalists around the world who are investigating much weightier topics and pursuing all kinds of interesting stories, and they're not cowed by the possible repercussions. Wars, politics, government, and the like - somehow reporters have the courage to cover these topics. Would that baseball writers had that fortitude.

The withholding of a Hall of Fame vote based on suspicion of illegal activity is not the same as writing a newspaper story accusing someone of illegal activity.

Yeah, it's just a safe way to complain about steroids a decade after your voice was really needed.

I'm not accusing Jeff Bagwell of taking steroids or any other performance-enhancing drug. I'm just saying I'm suspicious. The five players for whom I voted this year -- Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven, Barry Larkin, Jack Morris and Tim Raines -- escape my suspicion, and I admit I could be wrong about any or all of them, too. But all any of us can do is the best we can with our individual ballots. And if you don't like mine, I'm sorry. But now at least you know the thinking behind it.

Several things:
1.Well, if you voted for Jack Morris, you've got standards low enough to make me discount your opinion on Hall of Fame matters.
2. In the last several years we've realized more and more that steroid users were not just home run hitters (Pettite, Clemens, Brian Roberts, Neifi f'n Perez, Matt Lawton, etc (per Mitchell Report))... why exactly do these five gentlemen escape suspicion?

Of course, the debate over the HOF criteria in the steroid era is just beginning - if this blog is around for the next few years, I can imagine the torrents of articles just like this one. I hope the crusade of baseball purists correctly evaluates players based on evidence and context, and that means doing the hard work of investigating and deciding just who belongs and who doesn't. Not throwing out every big-muscled baby in the needle-strewn bathwater.


Chris W said...

Dan Graziano can't stand the possibility of steroids, but he sure loves AIDS and cocaine!

Tonus said...

Graziano's column comes down to this: he will not vote for Bagwell, and he either will not explain why, or knows that he has no convincing reason. It's a completely bullshit column.

He wants Bagwell to prove a negative. He wants us to blame McGwire and Bonds for his vote. He wants us to understand that boy, he sure wishes he could spill the beans, but he has a good reason not to... he might get sued because he doesn't have enough evidence to support his charges.

I think Posnanski is right-- Bagwell is going to be screwed over by people who can "see it in his eyes." Graziano goes a step further by admitting he is voting for Raines. What is that he said about illegal activity?

It's no wonder the HOF is such a mess and such a disgrace. These are the people who have been responsible for the place almost since it began. I guess the baseball Hall of Fame is an accurate reflection of the sport at all levels. Dirty, scummy, hypocritical weasels wherever you look.

Biggus Rickus said...

I didn't read the rest of the post based on the argument against the first paragraph. If you think people who used steroids should not be in the hall, then I have no problem with denying entry on the initial ballot if you think it's possible someone did. I suspect almost everyone of steroid use. I'm not really opposed to those people being in the hall if they stacked up well in their era. However, I don't begrudge people who want to hold it against them. Ignoring that Bagwell may have used steroids like so many other players and chastising a reporter for suspecting it is bullshit.

Jack M said...


If we're going to have the BBWA withhold votes merely on suspicion, why allow anyone from the steroid era to be eligible for the HOF? You can make reasonable arguments that every candidate was juicing (Ken Griffey and Frank Thomas hit ton of HRs and got injured a lot because they were on the juice, Craig Biggio was able to recover quickly from getting HBP seven times a game because of roids, etc.). It's patently ridiculous to deny an otherwise stone-cold lock to the HOF just because you think he might have broken the rules because other players did.

Elliot said...

That Bagwell card is AMAZING

Biggus Rickus said...


I don't really think the steroid users should be kept out. However, if that is your position I have no problem not voting in people you suspect.

Chris W said...

The problem is "suspect". There's really no actual suspicion for Bagwell except the following

1.) He played in the 90's
2.) He hit a lot of home runs
3.) He gained muscle mass as he got older (
4.) He got injured near the end of his career

As Jack pointed out, this pretty much sums up everyone who played in the 90's, even guys like Frank Thomas and Griffey who no one would ever accuse of steroid-abuse (And rightly so).

I'm not saying that people can't wonder, but when we're talking about a HOF vote, I'm sorry--but unless you're not going to vote for the Tony Gwynns and Robbie Alomars of the world as well, there's just no reason to not vote for Bagwell unless you think his playing record's not good enough (which is silly).

Anonymous said...

Jack Morris? JACK MORRIS???

Tonus said...

One of the problems I have with Graziano's column is that he states that he understands that his stance is unfair and claims that he agrees with people who feel that it's a weak reasoning. And he is going on nothing more than a suspicion that is based on no evidence. In short, he states that he plans to make a bad decision, and he understands if you think he's a jerk. Well, I think he's being a jerk, yeah.

At best, he implies that he knows more than he's going to let on. And that just makes me more aggravated, because one of the things that really bugs me about cheating in sports (not just steroids, though steroids is a shining example of the issue) is that it seems that the press has been well aware of it the whole time, but treats it as part of the game... until the public goes apeshit, at which point the press steps up and starts wagging fingers at the same ballplayers that they protected for so many years.

So either Graziano is a douchebag who is burning Bagwell on some gut feeling that he has no evidence for, or he's trying to have his cake and eat it, too. If it's the latter, Graziano is part of the problem, and I don't think he's fit to be deciding who gets into the HOF. Or conversely, he might be the perfect person to be deciding it, a cheating lying hypocrite who wants respect he hasn't earned.