Hall of Fame voting is a tricky thing.
It's always been a tricky thing, and it's gotten trickier since new statistics (or even new ways to look at statistics) can suggest that different values be placed on different players. I saw Bert Blyleven in the press dining area Sunday at Yankee Stadium, and it reminded me how tricky it is. I haven't voted for Blyleven yet, and have explained my position a couple times. A few folks with blogs didn't like me not voting for Blyleven, or didn't like the way I explained it. I have been called names over this decision, and I won't detail my reasoning again here, as I don't want to incite anyone.
Blyleven has become the greatest example of a tough Hall call that has become emotional and even gotten nasty in some cases. Generally speaking, at the heart of Blyleven's case is the value one places on statistics. Those who favor him admire all his statistical achievements, which are admittedly many, and they believe that his numbers are proof of his greatness. Those who do not vote for him make more of a qualitative judgment about his impact, and place his standing below the line for enshrinement. I don't want to get too deep into all the pros and cons regarding Blyleven now. I just mention him as an example of a tough call.
In any case, the Hall calls are about to get much trickier and much tougher than Blyleven. In fact, there is a whole era of tough calls coming. There are so many tough ones ahead that Blyleven may come to be seen as mere child's play.
There is a lot to think about when considering players in the Steroid Era. These calls won't only be about numbers. There are value judgments to be made about cheating, and possibly about how much the cheating helped particular players.
Some voters will eliminate all the steroid guys. Others will take it case by case. There's a lot of guilt to go around (even the writers, myself included, may feel some guilt for being so slow to uncover the widespread steroid usage). But there are also levels of guilt.
Just like everyone has different stats, everyone has a different story. We have a lot to think about here.
We have a couple great players who have failed a drug test and were suspended: Manny Ramirez and Rafael Palmeiro. We have one player who failed the survey test for steroids in 2003: Alex Rodriguez. We have players who stonewalled Congress over steroid usage.
We have one player whose English got a lot worse when he was quizzed by Congress. We have players who wound up in the Mitchell Report. We have a lot of players who were only suspected of steroid use but who were never proven to have used.
We have players who admitted usage, others who denied usage and others still who denied usage "knowingly.''
Seeing A-Rod playing in a game live Sunday for the first time this season made me think about how hard all our calls will be. And watching everything going on with Manny lately (he apologized to his teammates this weekend in Miami) in the wake of his 50-game suspension reminds me of how difficult these calls will be.
There are no right answers here. But a lot of folks will view any answer as wrong. These are simply personal choices based on a series of judgments.
Unless something changes -- and I'm glad we have years to think about these players (and more than a decade in the case of A-Rod) -- I am going to take them case by case. I know there are going to be a significant number of voters who refuse to vote for anyone who is proven (at least in their minds) to have used steroids. And I have no problem with this hard-line stance. But I'm at the point where I would put Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame. He broke a sacred rule, and I would still put him in. And we already have Gaylord Perry, a confessed cheater, in the Hall.
I am not comfortable eliminating a vast majority of players from this era. Maybe I am too much of a softie, but I just don't think I can do it. What would the Hall be like without an entire era, or most of an era? It is to the point where a vast majority of stars, and certainly sluggers, in an entire era, quite likely took steroids. And I am not prepared to blackball them all.
I (and many other writers) didn't make a great effort to track down the cheaters while all this was going on. Would voting them down now be a way to make amends? Or would it be a case of overcompensation?
The vote is all about judgments, and generally speaking, to withhold my vote from players with Hall of Fame credentials, I am going to think about these two basic questions: 1) Did a player take steroids or other PEDs?; and 2) Did the PEDs he took quite likely turn him into a Hall of Fame-caliber player?
So I am not going to vote "no'' on players merely suspected of steroid usage. And I am not going to vote "no" on players whom I believe had Hall of Fame credentials without the steroids. In some cases both questions are difficult. But question No. 2 is especially difficult. Here's the really tough question: How can one ever know for sure what effect the steroids had? One thing I can say is that a player who is way better than borderline has a much better chance with me. I have trouble voting against players whom I consider all-time great. I don't know how others will feel, but in my opinion several of these players didn't need the drugs.
Mark McGwire was the first case, and I come down in the majority by not voting for McGwire. My reasoning on McGwire is based on those two questions and two beliefs.
I believe he took steroids (while the proof isn't absolute, there is no other reasonable explanation for him refusing "to talk about the past.'') I also believe that his steroid usage quite likely put him over the top in terms of Hall of Fame achievements. Some may see this as unfair, arbitrary or just plain dumb (though not that many, judging by his low vote totals).
But the Hall call is about judgments. These are just tougher judgments. The gray area is the whole area.
Here is my current thinking on the other stars from the Steroid Era:
• Barry Bonds: Thanks to the superb reporting of Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, I am convinced Bonds did take steroids. And while he claimed in grand jury testimony (again, thanks to their reporting) that he didn't take them knowingly, I don't believe that testimony. I do, however, believe that the majority of Bonds' career was played steroid-free, that he likely only got involved after seeing lesser players such as McGwire and Sammy Sosa surpass him, and I do believe that he was a Hall of Famer long before he took his first steroid. My vote: Yes.
• Roger Clemens: I believe he is the creep of the Steroid Era since he is willing to drag down anyone in his path. What kind of person would sue someone for telling the truth under oath? Well, the Rocket, of course. His steroid usage began way back in the late '90s in Toronto, according to trainer Brian McNamee's testimony. But his Hall of Fame credentials were there before he ever got to Toronto. Side note: I wouldn't vote his lawyer Rusty Hardin into the legal Hall of Fame. My vote: Yes.
• Sammy Sosa: I loved the way he ran to the outfield and the way he played to the camera. He was great for baseball at the time. And while it hasn't absolutely been proven that he took steroids, his expanded size and outrageous productivity suggest that he did. His lack of a clear message before Congress didn't help, either. This is the closest call for me, but the corked-bat incident showed the lengths he was willing to go to increase his power. His claim that he intended to use the corked bat only for power exhibitions was not believable in my estimation. The power is what made him, so with regret I am leaning against him. My vote: No.
• Rafael Palmeiro: He made Jose Canseco look good by failing a drug test weeks after wagging his finger at Congress. He failed for Stanozolol, the hard stuff. A fine singles hitter when he started as a Cub, he became an incredibly consistent power man. My vote: No.
• Gary Sheffield: His Hall case is borderline to start with, and in my estimation there are too many negatives, most prominently his BALCO connection. His stats don't show a big jump from steroid use, but if they helped a little, it's too much. While the federal government isn't pursuing a steroid case against him, there appears to be enough evidence that he took steroids. He just seems to have gotten away with it by shouting folks down and claiming that it was Bonds' fault. He also doesn't score any character points for throwing balls away on purpose while in Milwaukee, publicly complaining about teammates' salaries in Los Angeles or claiming Joe Torre was a racist in New York. My vote: No.
• Mike Piazza: In terms of his credentials it isn't close; he's a clear Hall of Famer. But there has been a fair amount of suspicion raised in recent years, and Jeff Pearlman quotes Reggie Jefferson in his new book, The Rocket that Fell to Earth, as saying that everyone knows Piazza was a steroid man. I could guess on this, but I still think I'm going to need more proof. My vote: Yes.
• Ivan Rodriguez: Like Palmeiro, he made Canseco's first book, Juiced. But Canseco's record isn't perfect, and Pudge has never been caught. It didn't look good when he shrunk to the point where the name "Pudge'' became a joke, but I am still going to need more. My vote: Yes.
• Alex Rodriguez: He admitted to taking a steroid in the period he was with Texas from 2001 through '03 after Selena Roberts reported on SI.com that he failed the 2003 survey test. Roberts strongly suggested in her book A-Rod that he has taken steroids since he's been a Yankee. But I am going to need something more substantial than a continued association with Angel Presinal and other circumstantial evidence. My vote: Yes.
• Manny Ramirez: The recent failed test is a problem. While he did pass about 15 other tests, you still have to wonder how long the doping went on. One thing in his favor is that he was great from the start and he never got huge. Maybe the toughest call of all. My vote: Yes (for today).
I am willing to have my mind changed on any or all of the above players. A lot can happen between now and the arrival of the ballots. I know a lot of people will criticize some or all of my leanings, and that's OK. Some may even call me an idiot (a word that's been thrown around a lot about the "no'' voters in the Blyleven case). The Hall system is based on judgments to begin with. Now we have to make tougher calls.
According to my Twitter numbers, I have passed 700 "updates,'' which is another way of saying Tweets. Here are a couple of my Tweets from Sunday:
• "The problem with the new Stadium isn't the wind tunnel to right field or the expense. It's the quiet. It's a pricey library."
• "I love the Twinkies. Scrappy, heady bunch. Enough of that. What inning do they blow this one?''
I am getting closer to 2,500 followers (or about 120,000 behind MLB tweeting leader Nick Swisher, who, when I congratulated him for having 100,000 followers, responded, "That's 120, bro.'')
I will send a prize of little or no value (an old press pass or maybe an All-Star pin) to my 2,500th follower. If you'd like to follow, I'm at SI_JonHeyman.
After the Twins' Matt Tolbert popped out to catcher on a 2-0 pitch in the eighth inning of Minnesota's latest defeat to the Yankees (their 22nd in 25 games in the Bronx), manager Ron Gardenhire had a little chat with Tolbert. Gardenhire told Tolbert, "We need base runners, son.''
This discussion, according to Twins people, occurred right in front of Carlos Gomez. Yet, it didn't prevent Gomez from doing the very same thing two innings later. With a 2-0 count Gomez popped out to first base. This caused Gardenhire to throw his hands up. His Twins teams, feisty and scrappy as they are, are impossibly bad and unclutch in Yankee Stadium, both old and new.
The Twins are known for playing smart baseball. But they are young, and they aren't themselves when they play at Yankee Stadium. The problem, according to Gardenhire, is that he still is "trying to get them to understand the game of baseball.''
By day's end he was telling writers this wasn't going to happen again, and telling his third base coach, Scott Ullger, that they weren't going to leave it up to their young players anymore. Gardenhire was going to make the call from the bench. "From now on, we're just going to stick out a finger, whatever it takes'' to get them to take, Gardenhire said.
It's no coincidence that the Yankees beat them every time in New York. Gardenhire said, "When it got to 2-and-0 on [Hideki] Matsui, I would have bet my house he'd take.'' Matsui did take ball three in that bases-loaded situation, but struck out anyway two innings before Johnny Damon homered to give the Yankees a third straight walk-off win, 3-2.
Someone asked Gardenhire on his way out Sunday whether his team was coming back to Yankee Stadium this year, and Gardenhire answered, crisply, "No, thank God.''
The Mets' current first base plan is to use the amazing Fernando Tatis ("better than ever,'' according to one scout), while mixing in Daniel Murphy and Jeremy Reed. However, Carlos Delgado is going to have his hurting hip checked out Monday, and if he requires surgery or a couple months away, the Mets still might need to consider a trade. The market for first basemen might not be bad.
Aubrey Huff, who's a productive hitter and also does pretty fair Joba Chamberlain impersonation, could be the best-hitting first baseman on the trading block. And as a bonus he's left-handed. Two more first basemen that the Mets might take a look at would be Nick Johnson, the oft-injured National who's perpetually on the block, and Russell Branyan, who's off to a hot start with the Mariners.
Oddly, Delgado's absence has cost Murphy some playing time, as manager Jerry Manuel likes having Sheffield's presence in the lineup when Delgado's not there. And you can't argue with success. Sheffield produced four straight multi-hit games in Delgado's absence, all victories.
• If the Indians continue to sink, Mark DeRosa could hit the trade market (as could 2008 Cy Young winner Cliff Lee). DeRosa, a poor man's Casey Blake, is valuable for his versatility.
• The Indians can't even catch a break when they're catching a break. After Rays pitcher Andy Sonnanstine had to bat third on Sunday due to a lineup-card mistake by manager Joe Maddon, Sonnanstine delivered a run-scoring double in the latest Indians defeat, 7-5.
• Angels ace John Lackey has misplaced priorities if he thinks it's worth getting ejected two pitches into his return start. The first was behind Ian Kinsler, the next hit Kinsler. Nice that he apparently wants to stand up for his teammates, but not at the expense of his availability. And what did poor Ian Kinsler ever do to him?
• Regarding that same incident, shouldn't home plate umpire Bob Davidson have issued a warning when Lackey threw behind Kinsler on the first pitch?
• Meanwhile, MLB was right to give honest head hunter Bobby Jenks a wrist slap of a $750. Jenks admitted he was throwing behind Kinsler after not being ejected, and he didn't hit Kinsler. (Unlike Lackey, Jenks also wasn't returning from a long rehab.) But again, what is it about Kinsler?
• Two demerits for Maddon for messing up his lineup card and losing the great Evan Longoria for a start. If you're going to lose someone's start, make it someone else next time.
• Clint Hurdlegot slammed by Denver Post lead columnist Woody Paige. Not a good thing for Hurdle. The Rockies do appear to be nodding off.
• The Angels can win a few different ways. But only a few days ago they had a lineup in which their top three hitters (and five of nine) had zero home runs.
• After a couple of rough outings the Giants' Brian Wilson hit 98 mph in saving a game Sunday versus the Mets. No one was pulling a Casey Blake on him.
• Red Sox prospect Clay Buchholz has pitched brilliantly for Pawtucket, and you have to think there's room eventually for a pitcher with a 1.03 ERA.
• "Papi stinks.'' At least Papi is issuing non-stinky quotes.