In a world without steroids, where all of the magic numbers of the 1990s and early 2000s were just because of superhuman ability and extremely hard work, this is how this article would start:
“Bonds, Clemens, Piazza, Sosa, Biggio, and perhaps Schilling. That’s five, maybe six sure-fire HoFers coming onto the ballot this year, and Kenny Lofton, while not a Hall of Famer in my opinion, should certainly be expected to stick around the ballot for awhile. Not to mention this could be the year Jack Morris gets in. The biggest worry, really, is whether it’s possible to get more than three or four of them in this year and whether the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce can handle the pilgrimage that will besiege the village, likely the largest group since Cal Ripken, Tony Gwynn and Mark McGwire were inducted in 2007…”
Of course, steroids did and do exist, so instead of having five or six sure-fire Hall of Famers on the ballot, it’s a picture that is far less clear. Oh, and Mark McGwire? He wasn’t inducted in 2007. In fact, he’s still on the ballot right now, and likely will remain. Same goes for Rafael Palmeiro, who has even less of a chance than McGwire of one day having a plaque up in Cooperstown’s halls. Both of them would have already been inducted, probably in their first year, had it not been for steroids.
So, instead, we have many categories and shades of grey. Over the next few days, I’ll take a look at those categories.
Unquestionably Hall of Fame, Probably First Ballot:
Craig Biggio: Only three men have had 3000+ hits, 200+ home runs, and 400+ stolen bases. Two of them are Paul Molitor and Rickey Henderson. The third is Craig Biggio. Add in his defensive flexibility (he played 2B, C and OF during his career) and the fact that there isn’t a whiff of steroid scandal around him, and he’s a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame.
Mike Piazza: Piazza has had some steroid stuff around him, but it’s generally been hearsay (he had back acne, according to some people) and general innuendo about the fact that he played during the steroid era. That’s not enough for me, and I don’t think it’ll be enough for the voters. Piazza was, quite simply, the best power-hitting catcher in history. He had more home runs than any other catcher, had a career .308 BA, and made 12 all-star teams.
(Alleged) Steroid-users that may make the Hall of Fame anyway:
Barry Bonds: Without the steroid allegations, Bonds would be so much a slam dunk first-ballot Hall of Famer that the only question would be whether his prickly reputation with the media would keep him from getting 97% or more of the vote. In fact, had he retired after the 1998 season (he allegedly began taking steroids shortly after 1998, partially because of his envy of the attention that Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were getting), he would have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer. After all, he’d have retired with 411 HRs, 1216 RBIs, eight All-Star wins, three MVPs, eight Gold Gloves, seven Silver Sluggers, and an OPS of .966 that would be 15th all-time today, ahead of such immortals as Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Ty Cobb and Duke Snider. Had he kept going after 1998 without (alleged) steroid-use, he still likely would have gotten to 500 HRs, possibly even 600.
Of course, he did end up (allegedly) using steroids, and as a result he grew from being “merely” the best baseball player since Frank Robinson to being the best baseball player since Ted Williams or Babe Ruth. The question is: does the fact he would have been a HoF before his alleged use of PEDs make up for the fact that, well, he allegedly used PEDs? And… I don’t know.
Roger Clemens: Much like Bonds, the question of Clemens will depend on whether voters consider him as having been good enough of a player before his (alleged) drug use. Clemens (allegedly) began using during his time in Toronto, so let’s just question what would have happened if he had had a career-ending injury in a freak accident shortly after the 1996 season ended in. He would have ended his career with a 192-111 record, a 3.06 ERA, 2590 strikeouts and 100 complete games. He also would have three Cy Youngs to his name, as well as an MVP and five All-Star Games. He almost certainly would be elected to the Hall of Fame.
But, once again, his career didn’t stop there. He went on, and (allegedly) made some bad decisions. So the question is far more difficult.
Come back tomorrow for more.