As the ballot is loaded with more and more steroid-tainted players — hello, A-Rod — it’s tempting to shift and judge players only on their production and place among their time. But not yet, with enough worthy players to keep the caught players out for now.
Before I had a vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame, it was easy to engage in the arguments about steroids and statistics. But when you hold that ballot in your hands, as I have for the last seven years, it becomes a much tougher debate with yourself.
The most pressing issue is steroids, the one that Major League Baseball and the Hall of Fame never settled, leaving it in the hands of voters. And my line has been this: If a player was proved to be a user, suspended or banned, he is out.
Based on conversations with baseball officials over the years, there is a belief that a huge percentage of players were using, so maybe I will lower that bar someday, allowing players such as twice-suspended Manny Ramirez or apologetic Alex Rodriguez to get a check mark on my ballot.
The other parameter with steroids: If I believe many were using, how did the player compare with his peers before or during the time that PEDs were thought to be pervasive?
By that rule, I never have filled out a ballot that didn’t include Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. This is their 10th and final year of eligibility for consideration by the BBWAA.
Most everyone believes their claims of innocence are false, but they also were dominant players before and during the steroid era.
But it’s not the only issue as you combine advanced statistical analysis, comparisons with current and past players and even the eye test about how dominant the player was in his time.
One tough debate is over certain positions — relief pitchers and designated hitters. With relievers, do you give credit to saves, the traditional measurement, or the more reliable analytics — two ideas that separate Billy Wagner from Hall of Famers Trevor Hoffman and Lee Smith. David Ortiz figures to follow in the DH path carved by Edgar Martinez.
So here’s what I came up with this year:
The best hitter before, during and after suspicion of PEDs. It’s impossible to vote for anyone suspected if you don’t vote for Bonds.
Like Bonds, Clemens was dominant at every level. He got better late, and that raises red flags, but he was so good early, too.
Consistent hitter and fielder with numbers that put him right with Hall of Fame third basemen.
No matter what he’s done to embarrass himself after his career, he was as good as anyone in big spots. So for another year, maybe more than ever before, I hold my nose and vote for him.
Wagner doesn’t have the saves, but that’s the worst stat for a reliever. Best BAA, WHIP and K/9 of any pitcher in history.
A 10-time Gold Glove winner in centerfield for the Braves, he was not only an elite defender but a powerful hitter. His candidacy has been hurt by injuries that cut his career short and caused him to drastically fall off after age 31. He was a near-miss, but in a less crowded year, he should garner more support.
It's fair to waver on him based on the anonymous testing that was leaked and linked him. But that was very vague on what he actually tested for, which could have been something legal at the time. After injuries early limited him, he became a legendary figure on championship teams.
Certainly aided by Coors Field — there is a huge differential between his all-time numbers at home and his road splits. But even accounting for the home field, he finds himself firmly in the mix of numbers put up by Hall of Famers.
Slam dunk: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens.
Solid picks: Scott Rolen, David Ortiz
Borderline yes: Curt Schilling, Billy Wagner, Andruw Jones, Todd Helton
Borderline left off: Omar Vizquel, Jeff Kent, Andy Pettitte, Gary Sheffield.