Hall of Shame

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I received my IBWAA Hall of Fame ballot in my inbox yesterday. I look forward to it every year, as it is an honor to be able to vote for players I feel are worthy of baseball’s highest honor. It also gives me the opportunity to really dive into the numbers, or as my wife calls it “fall down the statistic rabbit hole”. You will see that article in about a months time, where I breakdown my votes and why I voted the way I did. Since I occasionally get asked this, in the IBWAA we do things a bit differently than the boys and girls over at the BBWAA. We have a number of guys who have been voted in (Vlad Guerrero, Edgar Martinez) that the BBWAA still has on their ballot. We are also able to vote for 15 players instead of the 10 the BBWAA are left with. Finally, we don’t have a former player like Joe Morgan send us a letter, trying to sway our vote with arrogant confidence and ignorant hubris…and for that I am grateful.

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Credit: Kansas City Star

If you aren’t aware(or maybe in a cave), Joe Morgan sent out a letter a few weeks back, hoping to veer the writers of the BBWAA away from voting for players linked to steroid use. If you want to read the entire letter, here it is:

Now, I’m not going to get into a huge debate over the Hall of Fame or steroid use in baseball; I have done that so much over the years that I’m just bored with it and it just seems to agitate me. I will tell you that if you want my opinion on the Hall, read this; I wrote this a few years back and it pretty much encompasses my feelings on “cheaters” in the Hall. So I’m not going to get into a big debate about steroid use and Cooperstown. But…I do have a few comments about what Joe said and just who Joe is speaking for.

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Credit: MLB.com

First, let’s start with Joe’s comment about those linked to steroid use:

We hope the day never comes when known steroid users are voted into the Hall of Fame. They
cheated. Steroid users don’t belong here.

I hate to tell Joe, but I’m pretty positive there is someone (or likely more than one) in the Hall who used steroids. Oh yeah…Mickey Mantle took steroids. So right there, you have a player in those “hallowed halls” that falls below Morgan’s standard for Cooperstown. Pretty sure you won’t catch ol’ Joe looking to pull “The Mick” and his plaque.

Players who failed drug tests, admitted using steroids, or were identified as users in Major League
Baseball’s investigation into steroid abuse, known as the Mitchell Report, should not get in. Those
are the three criteria that many of the players and I think are right.

Look, there is a some validity to the Mitchell Report but lets not act like it is a 100% guilty verdict. That is just someone wanting to believe guilt without the proof.

Now, I recognize there are players identified as users on the Mitchell Report who deny they were
users. That’s why this is a tricky issue. Not everything is black and white – there are shades of gray
here. It’s why your job as a voter is and has always been a difficult and important job. I have faith in
your judgment and know that ultimately, this is your call.

Wait, so Joe knows the Mitchell Report is probably not 100% accurate, yet earlier wants voters to use that report as a template? Come on Joe…

But it still occurs to me that anyone who took body-altering chemicals in a deliberate effort to cheat
the game we love, not to mention they cheated current and former players, and fans too, doesn’t
belong in the Hall of Fame. By cheating, they put up huge numbers, and they made great players
who didn’t cheat look smaller by comparison, taking away from their achievements and consideration for the Hall of Fame. That’s not right.

Body-altering chemicals? You mean like performance enhancers? So players who used amphetamines, right? Because, if we are being honest, amphetamines are enhancing a players performance…and Greenies were used in baseball up until they started testing for amphetamines back in 2006. Greenies were prevalent in the game for years and were widely used during Morgan’s playing days. In fact, players like Hank Aaron & Willie Mays have both been linked to amphetamines over the years…and no one is asking those two to leave Cooperstown (nor should they).

It’s gotten to the point where Hall of Famers are saying that if steroid users get in, they’ll no longer
come to Cooperstown for Induction Ceremonies or other events. Some feel they can’t share a stage
with players who did steroids. The cheating that tainted an era now risks tainting the Hall of Fame
too. The Hall of Fame means too much to us to ever see that happen. If steroid users get in, it will
divide and diminish the Hall, something we couldn’t bear.

Does this include Gaylord Perry? Is he appalled by the cheating?

I care about how good a player was or what kind of numbers he put up; but if a player did steroids,
his integrity is suspect; he lacks sportsmanship; his character is flawed; and, whatever contribution
he made to his team is now dwarfed by his selfishness.

So when do we point out the selfishness of baseball for allowing steroids to be used all those years? The owners? The GM’s? Bud Selig? I’m sure their selfishness won’t allow them to return all the money they received from fans flooding the ballparks during this period. You can put some of the blame on the players, Joe, but there is enough blame to go all the way around.

Steroid users knew they were taking a drug that physically improved how they played. Taking
steroids is a decision. It’s the deliberate act of using chemistry to change how hard you hit and throw by changing what your body is made of.

See “Greenies” from earlier.

I and other Hall of Famers played hard all our lives to achieve what we did. I love this game and am
proud of it. I hope the Hall of Fame’s standards won’t be lowered with the passage of time.
For over eighty years, the Hall of Fame has been a place to look up to, where the hallowed halls
honor those who played the game hard and right. I hope it will always remain that way.

Honestly, baseball has never been a pure game and never will. If I’m being completely honest, when I first read this letter, it felt sanctimonious and hypocritical. Reading it again doesn’t make me change my mind. In fact, it just further cements my initial thoughts of the ignorance in Joe’s words…and how Joe is being used as a puppet.

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Credit: Sports Illustrated

Don’t get me wrong; I totally think Joe Morgan believes the words he wrote in this letter. But I also believe that what he wrote was allowed to be sent because the people on the board for the Hall of Fame and those involved agree with this sentiment. I also feel this is a direct reaction to seeing Barry Bonds’ and Roger Clemens’ vote total moving upward these last couple years. The honest truth is that testing for performance enhancing drugs was not being done when these players were putting up those “tainted numbers” that Joe mentioned. Maybe it’s just me, but since baseball wasn’t testing and those involved seemed okay with it continuing (that was until congress stepped in to put a halt to it), it feels self-righteous to then turn around and punish the players and no one else (including the true villain in this, Bud Selig). Luckily, the letter appears to have angered many a writer in the BBWAA and it makes one wonder if Bonds’ and Clemens’ total will continue to rise. As a member of the IBWAA, we don’t have to worry about any of this mess. I don’t expect a letter from Howard Cole telling us about “hallowed grounds” and “flawed character”. I thank Howard for that, as he appears to “get it”. I’m still going to enjoy the Cooperstown inductions next summer, as I love watching some of the best players in the history of the game get to celebrate their career in the best way possible. The real taint on the Hall of Fame is those involved who try to move the chess pieces to their liking by ignoring a section of history. History is exactly what it is, a part of the past. If you don’t ignore it, you aren’t likely to repeat it again. Now, it appears it’s time for me to go turn in my IBWAA ballot…

 

 

 

The Battle For the AL MVP & How Mike Trout is Trying to Crash the Party

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Credit: Sports Illustrated

When baseball reached the All-Star break, the American League MVP race felt like a two-man battle. Jose Altuve of Houston was once again a top contender while the Yankees Aaron Judge was making baseball writers and analysts go ga-ga as he invoked memories of Ruth and Mantle. The normal leader in MVP conversations, Mike Trout, was sitting on the sideline, finishing up a rehab assignment and hoping to get back on the field after missing close to 40 games. While Trout was the front-runner before his injury, there appeared to be no way he could catch Altuve and Judge in any of the statistics that mattered. But then Trout came back, picking up where he left off, and something happened…Trout slowly climbed up the fWAR leaderboard. Day by day, game by game, Mike Trout was catching up to the two leaders. Just like last year, what appeared to be a two-man race turned into a three-man battle to the end. While it would appear Trout missing those 40 games would deter his case, it’s actually enhancing the argument that he is the 2017 American League MVP.

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Let’s start with the WAR argument, which I referenced above. As of this writing, Altuve sits atop the American League leaderboard, with 6.5 fWAR. Trout follows with 6.2 and Judge sits in third place with 5.7. Just as an aside, this is just speaking for the hitters in the league; Chris Sale leads everyone with 7.5 WAR and Corey Kluber is at 6.0. Both Sale and Kluber can be calculated into your MVP discussion (and trust me, Sale is in that convo), but at least for me, I don’t value pitchers in MVP talk UNLESS they have been so dominant and crucial to their team’s success (and since I know it will be asked, the next closest Red Sox to Sale’s WAR number is Mookie Betts at 3.8). So Altuve and Trout are 1-2 in hitter’s WAR, but that gap was much larger at the All-Star break. At the break, Aaron Judge led the AL with 5.4 fWAR, followed by Altuve at 4.1 and Trout was down in 6th place with 3.4 fWAR. So in this second half of the season, Altuve has accumulated 2.4 WAR, Judge 0.3 and Trout 2.8. Now, the gap between Altuve and Trout wasn’t that big at the break, but Judge’s lead above both was quite a bit more. So while Trout’s push in this second half has been impressive, Altuve’s has been equally impressive in that short amount of time. What has been the most important aspect of this gain is not just how Trout has shortened the gap between the two candidates; the most impressive part of this whole debate is that WAR is a stat that accumulates over time, so the more you play the higher your number should go. Obviously not every player sees that (Alcides Escobar has played every game this year for Kansas City and his fWAR sits at a sickly -0.3 right now) but if you are an elite player, your Wins Above Replacement will rise the more you play. The fact that Trout has almost reached Altuve in over 150 less plate appearances, says a lot about how good Trout’s season has been.

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Credit: The Sporting News

So how is Trout doing with some of the other statistics? Obviously Trout can’t win it on WAR alone, and luckily the numbers prove he won’t. Trout leads the league in weighted Runs Created Plus, weighted On Base Average, On Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage, walk percentage, Win Probability Added, Walk to Strikeout ratio, On-Base Plus Slugging, 2nd in Isolated Power, and 10th in stolen bases. The most impressive out of all these numbers to me is Trout’s Win Probability Added number. Trout is at 5.74; the next closest batter is Nelson Cruz at 3.67. I mentioned earlier how WAR is a stat that accumulates and so does WPA. For Trout to have an over two point lead in a stat that adds up over time is amazing. No other player in the American League has had a larger effect on his teams outcome than Trout AND IT ISN’T EVEN CLOSE! When I think of the term ‘Most Valuable Player’, I think of someone who is so valuable that you can’t even imagine what that team would look like without that player on the field. Trout missed 40 games (40 games!!) and has had a larger effect on his team than any other player in all of baseball. If that doesn’t speak of value, I can’t imagine what else does.

Brett George 2400.81 NBL

Now, there is one slight issue, which is that Trout is not quite a qualified batter, as he is sitting at 325 at bats for the season and 412 plate appearances. Trout would need to reach 502 plate appearances to be a qualified batter and with 24 games left Trout would have to average 3.75 plate appearances per game, which is doable. So while Trout has a good chance of reaching the bar he needs to get to, there would still be a few writers who might not vote for him because of time missed. Luckily, there are a few precedents that show it can and has been done before. First, go back to 1962 when Mickey Mantle missed 25 games in May and June of that year. Mantle would justbarely squeak in enough plate appearances (502) to qualify for the batting title and win MVP. Mantle also lead in many of the same categories that Trout leads in right now and would garnish a Gold Glove award. George Brett in 1980 missed 25 games with an ankle injury and racked up 515 plate appearances. George flirted with .400 for most of the year and would also lead the league in most of the same categories as Trout. Finally, Barry Bonds missed 32 games in 2003, racked up 550 plate appearances, 10.2 WAR and would win his 6th MVP award. In all three of these cases, a player missed a significant amount of time to injury yet had such potent offensive seasons that the voters could not dismiss their contributions to their team. To me, that reads just like Trout this year and shows that if the numbers are there, it should be an easy vote come the end of the season.

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Credit: Sports Illustrated

So while Mike Trout hasn’t passed Jose Altuve just yet, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where it doesn’t happen before the end of the season. You almost feel sorry for guys like Altuve, Judge, Manny Machado and others; they are playing at the same time as one of the greatest players of not only this time period, but easily one of the best of the last 30-40 years. Mike Trout appears to be on a completely different level and this year the numbers say he is doing it in a slightly shorter amount of time. While a vote for Altuve wouldn’t be a bad vote, it would be ignoring not only what Trout is achieving but also what he is doing to help lead an Angels team to contention. It might feel redundant to say Trout should be MVP each year, but it would also be foolish to vote against him just for the sake of change. Last year in August, I said Trout should be in the conversation for MVP and I was scoffed at. I was told Altuve had it in the bag. Trout ended up winning the award. This year I make a different proclamation: Mike Trout should be MVP again. This time, it might be wise to just admit the arguments against him aren’t as strong as the arguments for. All hail Mike Trout.

Hype, Man

Aaron Judge
Credit: Sports Illustrated

As a “seamhead”, it is in our disposition to love everything that is great about this game we adore, baseball. Whether it be the history of the game, the classic stadiums, the evolution of strategy or the uprising of analytics, I love it all. But with that said, I have a confession to make. This won’t go over well and for some it will be heresy. I would apologize beforehand, but I feel justified in what I am about to confess. It isn’t the popular opinion but here we go: I am not enamored with Aaron Judge. Yeah, I know, he hits the ball high and far and is a statue of a man. I am aware that his numbers say he is a force to be reckoned with and he deserves the praise. The problem is the praise is just too much. Waaaaaay too much. The media are obsessed with a guy who has put up half a season of All-Star numbers and they are ready to anoint him the second coming of every great power hitter. But it is too much, too soon and the baseball analysts and talking heads need to stop.

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Look, the numbers ARE impressive. It’s hard to see a wRC+ of 184 and not be overwhelmed, since it is a stat that is league and park adjusted. That number gives him more validity than any home run number or slugging stat out there. Playing in Yankee Stadium makes those numbers a bit skewed, as it is a park that leans more toward the hitter. Some of the numbers make me think he is going to come down to earth soon; a high BABIP normally means you are getting a bit lucky on balls put in play, so that .398 will probably slope down a bit soon. But it is obvious the power is real and he has become a better hitter, as shown by the 16.6% walk rate or the 24.9% O-Swing percentage, which is pitches he has swung at outside the zone. The improvement shows in his numbers and he should be a player that is talked about. But there is talk, and then there is focusing on one player like they are head and shoulders above every other player. The latter has been going on quite regularly lately, especially on ESPN.

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Last week I tuned into Baseball Tonight the afternoon before the All-Star Game, hoping to get some analysis on the game and a few interviews with players. I knew Judge would be talked about, as he should since he had won the Home Run Derby the night before. Over the next 45 minutes, I witnessed ESPN talk about nothing but Judge…seriously. They had an interview with him. Showed highlights of the derby. Talked to other players about Judge. After 45 minutes, I stopped my recording and deleted it. I couldn’t even make it through the entire hour. There was no talk about the pitching matchup that night, no discussion about the lineups, no conversation about Zack Cozart’s donkey. It was all Judge and I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. As much as Baseball Tonight has been my go to since the 1990’s, it has deteriorated over the years and after the bloodshed in Bristol earlier this summer, I should have seen this coming. There is a reason I hardly ever watch ESPN anymore and my default channel on my TV is MLB Network. At least the network tries to cover a wide spectrum of topics around the sport and only slightly hints at their “East Coast Bias”; ESPN has completely embraced their bias.

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Credit: Sports Illustrated

If there was ever a major reason for the over exuberant coverage of Judge, the answer is right there-he plays for the Yankees. New York has long wanted a young slugger to be placed on the pedestal, to follow in the footsteps of Ruth and Mantle. Even more, New York has wanted that one player they can zoom in on ever since Derek Jeter retired. If you remember, the coverage of Jeter that final season was nauseating and I didn’t even hate the guy. But by the end of that season, I didn’t want to hear Jeter’s name for a very, very long time. While New York is the biggest market in the sport, there are 28 other teams with players just as worthy of your attention as the one’s in the ‘Big Apple’. I could list a whole slew of young players to discuss; everyone from Machado to Correa, Bellinger to Betts, Arenado to Goldschmidt. I even heard analysts saying Judge should be the face of the game, which just seems preposterous when Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw are still playing (never mind the fact that you shouldn’t have just “one” face of the game). He is a great young player and worthy of headlines; just not all the headlines.

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One comparison that has not been mentioned for Judge that actually is very comparable is Mark McGwire, or more specifically, their rookie seasons. Let’s size up Judge and McGwire’s rookie campaigns:

Judge- .311/.432/.649, 184 wRC+, 5.2 fWAR

McGwire- .289/.370/.618, 157 wRC+, 5.1 fWAR

So I didn’t go the HR/RBI route since Judge is has only 391 plate appearances with two plus months left of action and McGwire ended up with 641 when it was all said and done. Factoring that extra 250+ PA, average and slugging feel like they are fairly close, while Judge already has McGwire beat with WAR; Judge is a better defender in RF than McGwire was at first base. While the numbers skew toward Judge right now, one has to wonder if the extra couple months will bring Judge back down closer to where McGwire ended up. In all honesty, Judge to me feels like this generation’s McGwire if he can stay healthy. He will hit a bunch of home runs, he’ll get his walks (especially if pitchers start pitching around him) and he’ll produce runs. It’s not a bad thing and McGwire was one of the elite sluggers in the game for a lengthy period of time. It goes to show you that as much as many protest and say they love a well-rounded player, many still dig the long ball.

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At the end of the day, it would be wise for the baseball media on the east coast to remember there are fans all over the country that would prefer a well-rounded analysis of the game, not just what is happening in ‘The Bronx’. Judge is a good player who has the potential to be a mainstay in the spotlight for years to come and making comparisons to baseball legends will only put undue pressure on the kid. Take it down a notch, New York, and let him just go out and play. Even Jesus Christ doesn’t get as much press as a star Yankee gets. The home runs are great, but let’s wait to see how the league adjusts to him and how he handles that. That is the true telltale sign of how good a baseball player really is. Besides, Mike Trout is back from the disabled list; maybe you should remember how consistently great he is before trying to dethrone him with Judge.

Rickey Said He Was the Greatest…And He Isn’t Too Far Off

Oakland Athletics

                 “My impact on the game was going out there and making things happen”
Rickey Henderson is a lot of things. Rickey is entertaining. Rickey is a Hall of Famer. Rickey is baseball’s all-time stolen base leader. But is Rickey the greatest of all time? After breaking Lou Brock’s career stolen base record, he declared just that:
Sure, in May of 1991, this seemed like a ludicrous statement. We all knew Rickey was a great base stealer and a future Hall of Famer, but declaring yourself the greatest back then just seemed cocky(which it was). Normally when you think of the greatest in baseball history, names like Ruth, Aaron, Williams, Mays and Mantle all come to mind, but the more you think about, putting Henderson in that list isn’t as far fetched as it seemed back in 1991. When it comes to a complete player, Rickey is on that short list of players who can make that argument.
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To really dive into this, we need to define our parameters. This isn’t the player who meant the most to the game or dominated his era; that would go to Babe Ruth, who while being one of the greatest ever, was not a five tool player. It isn’t who was the best fielder or best hitter either; those are singular sections of the game that don’t encompass a complete player. A complete player is one who does a bit of everything and does them really well. Running speed, arm strength, hitting for average, hitting for power, and fielding are the five tools and very few players are able to show greatness at all of them. Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, Mickey Mantle and Ken Griffey, Jr. would join Henderson on this short list of players who were able to be a complete package. Obviously most on this list might have one tool they were maybe average at, but greatness at the other four made it easier to look past it. So let’s break down these players numbers…
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Let’s start with the obvious, which is running speed. If we just went by stolen bases Rickey would run away(deliberate and expected pun) with the category. I decided to dig a bit deeper into this category though, so lets look at ‘Runs from Baserunning'(Rbaser). Comparing the six players mentioned above,Henderson is the easy winner with 144 over his career. In fact this race isn’t even close, as the next closest in this category is Willie Mays at 77. The surprising player in this department is Ken Griffey Jr. who only compiled a 16 over his 22 year career. In fact Griffey had numerous seasons in the negative, mostly later in his career once his injuries started piling up. We could check a few more numbers relating to base running, but I’m pretty sure we end up at the same spot, with Rickey at the top of the mountain. No big surprise there.
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Arm strength wasn’t one of Rickey’s strong points, as he probably had an average throwing arm at best. Maybe the best way to decipher this is to look at assists in a season. Hank Aaron sits atop this leader board with 201 assists over his career while Rickey is next to last on this list. Mantle sits lower than Henderson, but Mickey also played 8 less years then Henderson which plays into his 117 assists compared to Rickey’s 131. Since we are already on fielding, lets compare these players using dWAR first. Henderson has a -3.4 career dWAR, but he is not alone on the negative side of the board. Both Aaron and Mantle also reside there, -4.8 and -10.1 respectively. Willie May’s blows away the competition here, as he has a career dWAR of 18.1! Bonds is next at 6.7 and Griffey at 1.3. I should also mention here that how you feel about this is probably predetermined on how you feel about defensive metrics. In my mind defensive metrics help show a player’s value, but I also think they are a work in progress. We can all probably agree that Mays was probably the defensive superior out of this bunch; that’s probably not even really up for argument. But do you feel as if Griffey was just a barely better than average defender? Or that Mantle was a horrendous defender? Probably not, although both players were slowed down by injuries late in their career. I decided to go a bit deeper defensively so I decided to check each player’s UZR rating(Ultimate Zone Rating, putting a run value to defense, attempting to quantify how many runs a player saved or gave up through their fielding prowess, or lack thereof). Using UZR(TZ before 2002) showed us basically the same thing that dWAR showed us; Mays and Bonds are the superior defenders, while Mantle and Griffey were the bottom of this list. Both Bonds and Mays were in the 180’s with their UZR while Griffey and Mantle were in the negatives. Henderson floated in between, sitting at 63.4, lower than Aaron but better than Griffey. What I take from all of this is that Henderson was probably an average defender, maybe even slightly above average who was aided by his speed early in his career, especially when it came to range. I think this also points out that our perspective on Ken Griffey Jr. was from early in his career when he was a defensive daredevil. His later years(mainly once he was traded to the Reds) showed a defender who was a shadow of his former self. Injuries can do that to even the greatest of players.
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Now lets look at hitting for average.The easiest way to do this is by batting average, with most of this group hitting between .298 and .305. The only two with career batting averages below that is Griffey at .284 and Henderson at .279. You have to think that Rickey hanging on and playing those last 4 years didn’t help him, as he posted his lowest hitting averages those years. But I don’t think average really covers this whole section, so lets dig deeper. A big part of a consistently quality hitter is someone who can get on base, so I figured I would check these players career On-Base Percentage(OBP). No surprise that Barry Bonds would lead here with a .444 career OBP, with Mantle second at .421 and Rickey coming in third at .401. Henderson did lead the league 4 times in walks and 7 times had seasons where he accumulated over 100 walks. Obviously Rickey knew how to get on base and was a master at it.
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Time to move on to hitting with power, and I don’t think I am going on a ledge by saying that Rickey probably won’t match up as well with the other players in this category. Considering the other 5 players in this comparison all have at least 500 home runs and 4 of those have over 600, it’s safe to say Rickey will lack a bit here, since his career total is at 297 career home runs. Now Rickey does hold the career record for home runs leading off a game with 81, which is a nice consolation prize. But I think we can go a step further since power alone isn’t defined by home runs. Lets check these players career slugging percentage and see where Henderson stands. Not a shock here but Henderson lags far behind, as his percentage sits at .419 while the next closest is Ken Griffey Jr. at .538. Barry Bonds career slugging percentage is sick, an insane .607! One last test; since OPS is widely used anymore(on-base percentage + slugging percentage) I figured we could check these players’ career OPS+, which will factor in the league averages during these players era’s while also factoring in the ballparks. With 100 equaling average, every player is above that with Henderson the lowest at 127. But he isn’t too far off from Griffey at 136, Aaron at 155 and Mays at 156. So what these numbers tell us is that Henderson, who had good power for a leadoff hitter, was not at the elite level power-wise as most of the greats of the game. This isn’t much of a surprise but shows that Henderson obviously affected the game from a different perspective than the bigger hitters in baseball history.
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So it comes down to this, one last comparison, one that will digest every part of a players contribution to his team(s), WAR. Lets preface this by saying that the WAR stat is not perfect and not the end all be all of statistics. But it is a stat that can quantify just how much of a complete player he is, and until another statistic pops up that breaks it down even more, it is the best assessment of what we are looking for here.  What WAR tells us is that Barry Bonds and Willie Mays are in a league of their own, with 162.4 and 156.2 respectively, followed by Hank Aaron at 142.6, then Henderson at 110.8, Mantle at 109.7 and Griffey down at 83.6. Rickey isn’t the elite here, but he is right in the middle of the pack and holds his own with the greats of the game.
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So what did we learn from this little exercise? For one, Barry Bonds and Willie Mays are quite possible the two most complete players in baseball history, as they did everything above average when they played. Maybe the most surprising item from this is that Ken Griffey Jr., soon to be a member of the Hall of Fame in 2016, was really hurt late in his career by all the injuries. And Rickey Henderson? He is the greatest basestealer of all-time, taking what Lou Brock did to another level. He is the greatest leadoff hitter in baseball history, a man who redefined what that even means. While he might not be the greatest player we have ever seen, he holds his own with the other 5 tool players I compared him to. Rickey isn’t the greatest like he said he was, but he was pretty damn close and that means almost as much. At some point a player will break his stolen base record or a leadoff hitter will hit more home runs to lead off a game; records are made to be broken. But there will only ever be one Rickey Henderson, just the way Rickey likes it.

I See Your Ballot, and I Raise You My Votes

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The announcement for just who(or won’t) be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame won’t be announced for close to two weeks, but the debate will only intensify during that time. I’ve written more than my share about not only the Hall of Fame but also my thought on cheaters in the game. Joe Posnanski even goes a step further, saying the Hall needs to take the lead. To be honest, in a lot of ways I’ve grown tired of the subject and the hypocrisy of the whole situation. So instead of discussing the whole reason the Hall is missing star players from the “Steroid Era”, I thought today I would go through the Hall of Fame ballot, and like the BBWAA has to, pick my ten votes for the Hall. It’s not as easy as you think, as a few deserving candidates have to left off due to the backlog of talent being left behind. So here are my ten votes, not in any particular order:

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1)Craig Biggio

Craig Biggio  didn’t get in last year on his first year on the Hall of Fame ballot, despite the fact that his numbers are those of a HOFer, & he is someone who was never thought of as possibly taken steroids. I mean, seriously–look at him! With that said, I understand why some voters are leery on Biggio. For one, he played for 20 years, with a lot of those years near the end nowhere near Hall of Fame caliber. The prevalent thought was that if Biggio hadn’t held on, he wouldn’t have reached 3000 hits, which normally grants you an easy slide into the Hall. Biggio also wasn’t a big power hitter, or just a pure great hitter like a Tony Gwynn or a Wade Boggs. No, what Biggio was was a consistent performer that went out there every day and gave his all. Sure, that alone won’t get you into the Hall. But when you add in him being a 7-time All Star, a 4-time Gold Glove winner, and was 3 times in the top ten of the MVP voting, you have a Hall of Fame candidate. But all this isn’t the most impressive of his feats. No, Biggio’s biggest feat was that he did all this while changing positions multiple times. Biggio went wherever the Astros asked him to go, whether it was catcher, second base, left field or center field. He was an All Star at both catcher and second base, which within itself is a huge accomplishment. Most players who get moved around that much don’t keep up their All Star numbers, let alone put together a Hall of Fame career. But Biggio did.

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2) Jeff Bagwell

If there is one player on my ballot that I feel has been robbed, it’s Jeff Bagwell. There has never been a sign that Bags used any illegal substance. No proof that used the same substances that so many of his peers did during that era. Yet…he is lumped in with them because “he looked the part”. Ridiculous. I’m not saying he didn’t; there is no way for me to know that. What I am saying is assuming because he had muscles that he used is putting the cart before the horse. Judgment like this is why I hate what the voting process has become for the Hall of Fame. Anyway, I obviously feel Bagwell is a HOFer, and looking at the numbers it’s not hard to see why. Rookie of the Year in 1991, 4-time All Star, won the NL MVP in 1994 and was in the top ten of the MVP voting another five times. Bagwell also won the Silver Slugger Award 3 times and won a Gold Glove in 1994. If that isn’t enough, his 12 years of being one of the top players in the NL and a career WAR of 79.5 ranks him at 63rd OF ALL TIME. Jeff Bagwell hit, hit for power, stoles bases and was an above average defensive first baseman. Bagwell should have been a no-brainer, and it does seem as if support for his HOF case is growing. In Bagwell’s first year on the ballot, 2011, he received 41.7 % of the vote. Last year it had grown from 56% to 59.6%. It has grown enough that it is realistic to think Bagwell will(eventually) get elected to the Hall and rightfully so.

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3)Mike Piazza

Mike Piazza , like Jeff Bagwell, was lumped in as a player suspected of steroid use more by looking the part than actually having proof. That can be the only reason, as the argument can be made that Piazza is the greatest hitting catcher of all time. Piazza wasn’t the greatest defensive catcher you have ever seen, but he worked hard to get better and was heralded more than once for being a good game caller behind the dish. Obviously the biggest argument for Piazza to be inducted is his bat. Sure, he never won a MVP award, but the list of accomplishments he racked up are a nice consolation. 12-time All Star(including 1996 All Star game MVP), 1993 Rookie of the Year, 10-time Silver Slugger award winner, and was in the top 5 of the MVP voting four times. You could read the numbers all day but few, if any, catchers can match up with Piazza. He should have been a first ballot HOFer, and eventually he will get in. The question is just when.

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4) Tim Raines

I’ll be honest–I showed up late to the “Tim Raines   should be in the Hall of Fame” party. Most of my viewing of Raines was late in his career, where he was a solid outfielder who wasn’t an All Star but was still a great addition to your roster. After really viewing the stats, Raines compares very closely to Rickey Henderson, who was a no-brainer HOFer. Raines led the NL in stolen bases  four times, was a 7-time All Star, won both a batting title and a Silver Slugger Award in 1986 and was Rookie of the Year in 1981. The reasoning behind my vote for Raines is easy; he did a little bit of everything, did it above average, and did it for a long period of time. You really didn’t see Raines have a drop off in production until 1994, which was 14 years into his career. “Rock” got on base, stole bases, hit for average, hit for extra bases, drove in a decent amount of runs for a guy who batted lead-off, and was solid on defense. If not for Henderson, Raines would have been the measuring stick for lead-off hitters of his era. Rickey unfortunately overshadowed Raines, which would be a big reason why he hasn’t gotten the vote support he probably should have. In Raines first year on the ballot(2008), he got 24.3% of the votes. Since then he has bumped all the way up  to 52.2% this past year, a lot of it thanks to a number of voters championing his cause. He only has a bit over 20% of the vote left to get, and it’s conceivable to see him get that within the next few years. Once you really sit down and look at everything, it  becomes very obvious that Tim Raines should be voted in. In due time, my friends, in due time.

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5) Greg Maddux

I’ll go ahead and say it; next to Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux is the greatest pitcher I have ever seen. This will be the first year Maddux is on the ballot, and it seems pretty apparent that he will get voted in this year. Honestly, anyone who doesn’t  vote for him just doesn’t get it. Sure, the accolades say a lot; 4-time Cy Young award winner, 18-time Gold Glove winner, 8-time All Star, won the NL ERA title four times, twice lead the league in win-loss %, four times lead the league in WHIP, nine times lead the league in walks per 9 innings, and has the 25th best WAR of all time. ALL TIME! Maddux is what every pitcher should strive for, even if they are unable to perform as well as he did. Maddux understood not only the strike zone, but understood how to throw batters off of their game. Maddux changed speeds, changed locations, and batters had no clue what to expect from him. I have never seen a pitcher who located the ball as well as Maddux did. This might have been my easiest pick for a vote. Greg Maddux is an easy pick for the Hall of Fame.

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6) Tom Glavine

When mentioning Maddux, you pretty much have to mention his former teammate, his left handed counterpart Tom Glavine. During the Atlanta Braves heyday in the 90’s, Glavine was just as important to those teams as Maddux was. Glavine is also on the ballot for the first time this year, and although not quite the no-brainer that Maddux is, Glavine is just as deserving to go into the Hall. Glavine was a 2-time Cy Young award winner, ten time All Star, the 1995 World Series MVP, and even a 4-time Silver Slugger winner. Glavine wasn’t overpowering, but he knew how to pitch. He was also about as consistent as they come. Up until the last five years of his career, Glavine was a consistent 200 innings pitcher who always gave his team a chance to win. He didn’t have a fastball that popped the glove. He didn’t celebrate on the mound or draw attention to himself. Tom Glavine just went out there and won. For that, he should be in the Hall of Fame.

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7) Frank Thomas

Frank Thomas (nicknamed “The Big Hurt”) is the last of the players who are on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time that I would vote in. Thomas was not only a great hitter, but a great hitter with a good eye at the plate. Frank would just as likely take a walk(he led the league in walks four times) as take you deep. Just how good of an eye did he have? He led the league in OBP four times, OPS four times and OPS+ three times. Sure, the last half of his career was spent at DH, but he isn’t going into the Hall of Fame for his defensive prowess.  No, Thomas mashed the ball, and in some ways, took the art of hitting to another level. He was a 2-time MVP winner, but also finished in the top five four other times. It’s actually amazing he only won one batting title(1997), since he was as just a good a hitter as Gwynn, or Boggs, but had a ton of power as well. Late in his career, after it seemed like Thomas was washed up, he bounced back and had a monster season in Oakland in 2006. He parlayed that into another solid season the following year in Toronto, but after that he would last only one more year in the majors. Thomas had a ten year stretch where he was one of the best hitters in baseball. Dominance gives you a plaque in the baseball Hall of Fame.

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8) Edgar Martinez

Edgar Martinez is that interesting case that is very polarizing for the voters for the Hall of Fame. On one hand, Martinez being a full-time Designated Hitter for the majority of his career hurts him in the eyes of some voters. But does that matter when you are the greatest DH of all time? The argument for or against is logical, so it comes down to how you feel about a guy who hardly played in the field. Me? I feel like if a player is so good that he is considered the benchmark for that position(to the point the award for Designated Hitter of the year is now named after him), then it doesn’t matter that he doesn’t play a defensive position. Edgar hit, then hit some more, and just kept hitting. He hit so well that he is 76th in career WAR amongst position players, a stat that combines offensive and defensive stats. His hitting was so good that it didn’t even matter that he didn’t add anything defensively. That is raking. The honest truth is that the Designated Hitter is still a position, whether or not he wears a glove. The position isn’t going away, so the voters should realize they have to acknowledge it exists. Maybe they should look at it from this view: they wouldn’t be voting for a DH. They would be voting for one of the greatest hitters of his era, a player who’s numbers match up with the all time greats. If that doesn’t mean you should get a vote, then I’m not for sure what voters should be looking for.

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9) Roger Clemens 

My last two picks are possibly the two biggest lightning rods of the entire ballot, but I honestly believe they both deserve in. First on the list is Roger Clemens , one of the greatest pitchers of all time. Obviously, the steroid issue looms heavy over his consideration, and maybe even more because he so steadfastly denies everything. Taking the needle(or the lotion) out of the equation, Clemens stands tall as THE pitcher of his era. His 7 Cy Young awards(SEVEN!!!) alone should get him in the hall. In my eyes, Clemens is up there with the Walter Johnson’s and Sandy Koufax’s in baseball lore. I get why some don’t vote for him, and they have every right. Personally, I think it looks bad that after all this time he denies everything so vehemently. Normally where there is smoke there is fire. But maybe the most intriguing part of “The Rocket’s” case is that the argument could be made that he was a Hall of Famer before his supposed steroid use. To me, that makes the case even sadder. No one is arguing that Clemens should be in the Hall. No, the argument is the circumstances, circumstances that I feel baseball allowed to happen. So in my eyes, he should be in.

Barry Bonds Convicted Of One Count Of Obstruction Of Justice

10) Barry Bonds

Speaking of polarizing, there is no player more polarizing than Barry Bonds. Here are the facts: Barry Bonds is one of the greatest baseball players of all time. He is the all time home run king. He has also always been a major league jerk, which never helps his case in these situations. And like Clemens, Bonds was a Hall of Famer before his supposed steroid use. In fact if you have read “Game of Shadows” , you know that a big part of why Barry supposedly  took steroids was because he was jealous of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa getting all the attention when he knew he was the better all around ballplayer. Barry was right; he was. Barry was that one talent who could do everything; hit, hit for power, run, and field. In all honesty, his name should be discussed with Ruth, Williams, Mays and Mantle. Instead, steroids is all that is discussed, and is why he already isn’t in. Like Clemens, he is the best player of his era. Like Clemens, I would still vote for him. Doesn’t mean I like what he did, but he wasn’t the only one, and it was allowed to happen. You can’t just erase a part of history because you don’t like it. You can’t erase what Barry Bonds accomplished.

So there are my ten votes. There were a few other players I would have voted for, like Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, and Mike Mussina, but you have to go with the ten best. I also wouldn’t have voted for Jack Morris, who seems to be a hot button topic. I just don’t feel he is a Hall of Famer. It will be interesting to see how the voting goes on January 8th when the ballots are tabulated. I think at least a few of these players will get in this year, but not as many as they should. Hopefully sometime in the near future, the Hall of Fame decides on set rules for the writers to vote on, so we aren’t stuck with the limbo the voting is in now. The “Steroid Era” happened folks…it’s not any worse than the racism that permeated baseball for many, many years. Acknowledge the era and put in the best players of that period. Doing what they are doing now just puts more attention on what is already a subject most of us are tired of. Do what’s right and let’s move on.

 

Why I Can’t Be Bothered By Baseball’s Cheaters

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Over the last year I’ve had a few people tell me that my stance on baseball’s PED users almost makes it sound like I am okay with them cheating. With Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun being the first casualty of the Biogenesis scandal(he will be serving a 65 game suspension this year, which means his 2013 season is over with), it seems like the appropriate time to lay my cards on the table and just say what I really feel about the steroid mess we’ve dealt with these past 15 years. It’s a complicated debate that has no right or wrong answer, and really is not white and black as much as gray.

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Now, this isn’t the first time I’ve tackled this subject that quite honestly I am tired of talking about. There is this. And also this. Whoa, I guess that last one didn’t really quite pan out the way I thought. My bad. Anyway, there is a good chance that if you discuss baseball, even if it is just with your buddies while drinking a cold one, you have debated steroids in baseball, or just cheating. To be honest, I am a firm believer that cheating has always occurred in baseball and always will. There is no stopping that. Sure, you can try to weed out the bad seeds, and to a degree it works in the long run, but you will never catch everyone. So why is there such an uproar about cheating now than any other time in history? It’s simple; the cheaters knocked fan’s heroes off their pedestal.

Barry Bonds

Barry Bonds isn’t a likeable guy. Never has been. He has been a pain in the ass from day one. Don’t believe me? Just ask Tigers manager Jim Leyland. But the biggest offense Barry ever made was breaking Hank Aaron’s career home run record. Aaron not only was a great symbol of all that was great about baseball, but also baseball commissioner Bud Selig’s hero. Anyone remember when Barry broke the record? Bud was watching up in the box and if looks could kill he would have done just that to Bonds. I know in some circles Bonds’ record is ignored, but the honesty of the situation is this is the baseball world Selig created, so he only has to look into the mirror to place blame. Bonds, the poster boy for the ‘Steroids Era’, dethroning Aaron is exactly what happens when business men let greed control their business decisions. There are many who think this record is now tainted, but remember– for the longest time Roger Maris breaking Babe Ruth’s single season record was considered ‘tainted’ because it was done in more games. I’m not saying it was okay for Bonds to cheat; what I am saying is it was allowed to happen and is now part of baseball history.

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I guess that is what I need to clarify here. No, I don’t like that cheating was so glorified in baseball during this period. No, I do not feel like it was good for the game, even if it was profitable. But I’m not naive. There was cheating when Ruth played. There was cheaters when Mantle, Mays and Aaron were playing. Oh, I’m sorry, I’m not supposed to discuss greenies, am I? Because to be honest, amphetamine use was just as bad as steroid use. Both help you bounce back quicker from game to game. So why is that not as looked down on as steroids? There was just as much rampant use of greenies, but it was never shoved in anyone’s face. It wasn’t paraded around and used to ridicule those in charge. It was used behind closed doors and no one was the wiser. Baseball became a joke and it was the people in charge that were to blame and anytime that happens…well, when that happens those people with power use their power to make those players pay for being so ballsy.

Baseball 2006

That right there is why I quit caring if any baseball player used something they weren’t supposed to. When the higher ups in baseball decided not only to not take blame for any of the problems happening with their lack of a drug program, but then pointing fingers at players while not pointing any back at themselves, well, why should we care at that point? I’m not saying the players shouldn’t be blamed, or the players union. No, both shoulder a fair amount of that burden. But there is more than enough blame to go around, and to have the hierarchy of baseball act like they were disgusted, while making truck loads of money, well, I can’t just act like that is not one of the most hypocritical things I have ever heard. Bud Selig should have stood up, said he was just as much to blame for letting it go on as long as it did, and then profess to clean up the game. Instead, he acted sick to his stomach that these players would do such a thing. That is why I don’t care. But that isn’t the only hypocrisy going around baseball.

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A large portion of baseball’s Hall of Famer’s have also spoken out against steroid use, yet are just as bad about their cheating ways. So none of those Hall of Famers ever used greenies? No corked bats? No spitters or illegal pitches? Not so fast, Gaylord Perry. Perry is a known cheater and yet was welcomed into the Hall with open arms! So it’s okay to throw an illegal pitch, but dammit, those damn steroid users, they ruined the game! Newsflash guys: IT’S ALL CHEATING! You can’t excuse one and abhor the other. Here is the kicker to this whole thing–at some point, while trying so hard to not let in any steroid users, they are going to let in someone who never was on the radar. Never looked the part, never gave a hint they were using. But they’ll get in. Then, with all the other guys on the outside looking in, some not even having any proof against their supposed “guiltiness”, will realize that the system is flawed and that they got screwed. Just another reason why the arguments against steroid users have become a joke.

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So do I have a problem with players who use illegal substances in 2013? The honest answer is I just don’t care anymore. There is no way to ever catch everyone, and very few in the game can ever walk away saying they are a saint. Is it right? Nope. Not even a bit. But is it our reality? Yes, yes it is. I am not naive–this will still be going on in five years, ten years, fifteen. Major league baseball has a good testing program, and guys do get caught, right, Bartolo Colon and Melky Cabrera? Instead of just accepting that the system is working nowadays, Selig has gone out of his way to prove a point. Ryan Braun is just the first. Alex Rodriguez is on deck. But should we care? No, no we shouldn’t. Baseball has allowed this to be an issue, by ignoring it for so long. So let these guys use what they feel they need to. It soils the game, yes. But is it worse than gambling or racism has been for the game over the years? Nope. It’s just another chapter in a book on how if you aren’t cheating, you aren’t trying.

Just to Clarify: the Baseball Hall of Fame is NOT a Church

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This week the BBWAA will announce if there are any new inductees to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, and no matter the results there will be controversy. The biggest names of the “Steroid Era” (Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens) are finally eligible for the Hall, and despite their career’s being Hall of Fame worthy before they took any illegal substances, most voters won’t bother even giving them a passing thought. Soon, the Hall of Fame ballots will be inundated with players who probably should be inducted, but because of the suspicions of PED use, they will not get the 75% of the votes that are required for entrance into the hallowed halls of Cooperstown. But they should be in, and here is why. The Baseball Hall of Fame is not a church. It might be sacred ground for those of us that love the game, but it already has cheaters and players with shady character issues roaming the halls.

hall-of-fame11 Having players in baseball cheat and do whatever they can to get an advantage is as old as the game. We’ve all heard the stories about players using spitballs, or scuffing the ball to get more movement when they pitch. Batters have long used items like pine tar and cork to help them hit the ball farther. None of this is new. It’s been going on since the beginning of the game, and will be going on long after you and I are gone. Doesn’t mean it is right, but lets not act like the game is 100% pure. In fact, a pitcher named Pud Galvin is said to have injected monkey testosterone back in 1889. With that line of thinking, are we to believe that there is no one in the Hall of Fame with a shady record or who didn’t follow the rules of the game all the time? None of us are that naive, but it’s amazing how many of the writer’s will crucify everyone who used steroids, or is even suspected, yet they idealize former players whose character would be thrown into just as much of question. Two of the biggest in history would not be categorized as “Angels”, and I don’t mean the ones that roam the outfield in Anaheim. Exhibit A: Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb.

baseballhall9   Two of the greatest baseball players of all time are Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth, and neither would be considered of being of great character. Cobb was a known racist, and would sharpen up his spikes so when he slid into a base he would go in with his spikes high. Yeah, real nice guy, huh? To say the least, Cobb was not liked by many, and that includes his teammates. Ruth, while liked by his peers, wasn’t a saint. Ruth was a known womanizer, and poured more than his fair share of alcohol and tobacco into his body over the years. Don’t believe me? Here is an actual quote from “the Bambino”:

“Sometimes when I reflect on all the beer I drink, I feel ashamed. Then I look into the glass and think about the workers in the brewery and all of their hopes and dreams. If I didn’t drink this beer, they might be out of work and their dreams would be shattered. I think, ‘It is better to drink this beer and let their dreams come true than be selfish and worry about my liver.’”

I can not tell a lie: that is a real quote from Babe Ruth!! Now, Babe Ruth is still one of the greatest(if not THE greatest) ballplayers of all time. But these men weren’t saints and I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t take them out of the Hall of Fame, now would you?

6-gaylord-perry_display_imageMaybe the most notable player in Cooperstown that is known for cheating is the great Gaylord Perry. Perry made a career out of playing with the batters head. Perry would go through a whole routine on the mound, including wiping his brow and rubbing behind his ear before throwing a pitch. Did he throw a spitball all the time? No. Did he make the batter think he was? Yes. That was part of his game. The other part of his game was simple; Gaylord threw a spitter. The problem was, there was never any hard proof in a game. There were many attempts to catch him, but most futile. But since his retirement, Perry has admitted to adding a little somethin’ somethin’ to the ball, to give it a little bit of added english. Perry won over 300 games in his career, and won the Cy Young in both leagues, while totaling five 20 win seasons. Pretty safe to say, he is a Hall of Famer; a Hall of Famer that cheated.

mickey_mantleMaybe one of the biggest cases of a player who probably shouldn’t pass the character clause in the rules of voting for the Hall is Mickey Mantle. I know there is a whole generation that worships “The Mick” and who think he walked on water. I will never deny he was a hell of a ballplayer, possibly even one of the best. But Mick also had a major drinking problem and cheated on his wife. He also didn’t have the greatest relationship with his sons, but that is neither here nor there. Everyone loved Mickey Mantle, but he made life rough for anyone who was around him. Dealing with an alcoholic every day is tasking, and that is how most friends and family members felt about Mantle. He deserves to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame, but his character should have been brought into question. Here is where a section of the baseball writers aren’t able to separate their feelings about Mantle while in the same breath crucify steroid users. Hell, Mantle was even given a shot that included steroids back in 1961 to help his ailing hip. Yes, that would “enhance” him being able to play on the field, which would in effect give him an advantage. Are you starting to see where some of the hypocrisy of the writers is seeping in? All that, and I haven’t even mentioned “greenies” yet.

greenies“Greenies” as they are called, were regularly used throughout  the years in baseball, while most prevalent in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Amphetamines(or speed) allow a player to be able to bounce back from a long night and perform at a higher level than they would have clean sober. How prevalent were “greenies”? The percentage of players that used them during that period would be near the majority, where even a player like Willie Mays was known to have amphetamines located in his locker(although no one has ever come out and said they saw him use them). It was common practice for players to use amphetamines to help them recuperate, but there is no scrutiny laid at their feet. Once again, this helped “enhance” their performance, much like PED use would. There is no doubt in my mind that there are players in Cooperstown who used this substance to help them get through a grueling season. It doesn’t make me think less of them, but it once again shows that PED use isn’t an island onto itself.

plaqyesThe point of this is to not knock down some of the greats of the game. They are humans just like the rest of us and in a lot of ways should not be placed on the mantle we like to put them on. The point is that there is a segment of the writers who won’t vote for anyone who is even suspected of using steroids, and while that is their prerogative, it also takes away from what the real purpose of the Hall of Fame is. Baseball’s Hall of Fame is a museum for the game and everything it encompasses, good and bad. Throughout history, bad things have gone hand and hand with the good in the game. The “Steroid Era” is a part of the game, and baseball allowed to it happen. It wasn’t against the rules, and players took advantage of that, making everyone richer. It also put a stain on the game, but it’s a stain we are stuck with. Just like the “Black Sox Scandal”, just like Pete Rose and just like the racism that permeated in the sport for decades. While Cooperstown is the closest thing to Heaven for us fans, it is not Church. Let’s try not to treat it that way.

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