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Gary Armida's Blog
No Need to Protect the Hall From Bonds Stuck
Posted on August 13, 2012 at 09:21 AM.

I love baseball. On the field, it is perfect.

I love watching, reading, talking, and writing baseball. I love the history of the game, the present game, and what players like Mike Trout will do for the future game. I am, at heart, a purist. I love the 2-1 pitchersí duel. I love the drama of a close game and I donít need to see 12 home runs hit during a game. I love the stats, the stories, and the debates. I was brought up on baseball, taught to appreciate the skill that it takes, and to appreciate the players who played it the right way.

I have a hunch that if you are reading this, you hold similar beliefs.

What happened during the previous era in baseball was difficult to take. The game morphed. Early baseball video game feats were playing themselves out in real life. But, at the time, nobody minded. We all flocked to the park or watched on television. We buried thoughts of something being wrong just so we could enjoy seeing players do things that were never done before. We rationalized that they trained better.

We marveled at McGwire and Sosa. Barry Bonds played the unlikeable foil who assaulted the record books at an epic rate. We always knew that Bonds was one of the handful of best players in the game. His skill set in Pittsburgh was one that we hadnít seen since Willie Mays was roaming center field in New York. He wasnít getting our full attention so his game changed.

He added that prolific power.

We paid attention.

At first, we paid attention because we were mesmerized. No player has ever dominated the sport like Barry Bonds. Teams began walking him at record rates. When a pitch came close to the strike zone, he hit it out. He once got on base over 60 percent of the time. In that same season, 2004 as a 39 year old, he slugged .812. That slugging percentage was just the second best of his career as his record setting season of 2001 was higher at .863. The all-time home run king put together one of the elite careers in Major League history.

At first, we dug it. But, then reality smacked us all. Steroid talk started slow. We tried to ignore it, but it made too much sense. The Mitchell Report came out. Leaks from other investigations came out. The era of the home run was merely a synthetic version of the game we grew up with.

We got angry.

Certain players drew the ire of our disdain. Barry Bonds finished out his career as a villain. Only San Francisco fans were enthralled with him overtaking Hank Aaron to become the home run. Bonds looked as if he could still play after he finished his contract in 2007 as a 42 year old. After all, he finished with a .276/.480/.565 slash line with 28 home runs in 340 at bats. There was no interest; the side show wasnít worth the production evidently.

Bonds sort of faded away, facing his court battles relatively quietly. He was the polar opposite of Roger Clemens, who fought his battles quite publicly. The greatest hitter of his generation and the greatest pitcher of his generation would both leave the game after the 2007 season. It shouldíve made for the greatest Hall of Fame class ever. Instead, the upcoming Hall of Fame vote will be more a referendum of where we are as a society.

We were duped. We fell for it. The fans...the media...all of us.

But, now we can make up for that. We can safeguard the sport by keeping out the bad guys from the Hall. We can safeguard by looking at every player with a skeptical eye. We wonít be double-crossed again. Yet, we still love the game. I know I do.

The thing is that we canít just pretend that it didnít happen. All of the home runs did go out of the yard. Records were broken. Games were played. There is no erasing them from history. There is no ceremonial white washing of the records like the NCAA does as if that takes away from what we saw.

Thatís exactly what the Hall of Fame voters are doing. The Baseball Writers Association of America is charged with voting for the Hall of Fame. During the long history of Major League Baseball, writers have tried to safeguard the sport. During the Black Sox scandal, it was a couple of writers who led the charge. When there was gambling, cheating, and any other problems, it was writers who exposed the truth. Yet, the sport survived. Todayís writers do look as if they feel the need to protect the Hall of Fame from becoming infected with the cheaters that we all failed to call out while they were performing herculean feats.

This is where the writers have gone wrong. Baseball has survived far worse than steroids. It survived gambling, the most heinous of all crimes in sports. The sport can only survive if the results of a game are indeed believable. But, the sport kept going. Writers didnít save the sport. Fans did. Fans kept coming back and were once again captured. Baseball has survived labor strikes, cocaine scandals, collusion scandals, and it is showing that it will survive this one.

But, the Hall of Fame is supposed to be pure. It is to honor the gameís best. How can any writer vote in a known steroids user? Thatís the problem. We will never know who was a steroids user and who wasnít. Sure, we know some names, but those are just the few outed players. If you believe that the named players are the only ones who cheated then you donít know the scope of the problem.

Would you be surprised if any player was outed for being a cheater? At this point, probably not. Maybe Griffey and Jeter?

That lack of knowledge has turned the voting process into something out of an Arthur Miller drama. Every writer thinks they saw a player doing steroids. The paranoia has impeded players with Hall of Fame resumes from getting into the Hall. Jeff Bagwellís statistics are certainly worthy of enshrinement. Yet, he got just 56 percent of the vote last season. Some writers even stated publicly that they wouldnít vote for him because they thought Bagwell was a cheater. They thought he was. Everyone is guessing.

The truth is getting lost. Check that--the truth is lost.

The truth is that these players compiled historic numbers. Some of the them were legitimate. Some cheated. Weíll never know everyone who did. Thatís the problem. Guessing is actually staining the Hall of Fame more than having a few cheaters in. The writers are trying to protect it and also make up for missing the problem in the first place. But, McCarthyism cannot be the rule. Players with no ties to steroids like Jeff Bagwell shouldnít be left out based on suspicion.

There is an easy fix. The writers simply have to vote based on what the player accomplished on the field. They did that with Ty Cobb, a known racist. Theyíve done it with many players with shady characters. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and even Rafael Palmiero should all be inducted into Cooperstown. That would allow Jeff Bagwell to get in. Also, Mike Piazza, the greatest offensive catcher in Major League Baseball history, will be coming up for election. Like all others in that era, there is an element of doubt, yet little proof.

This works because the writers are not the guardians of Baseball. The fans are.

The fans are the ones who decide legacy, not the writers. Writers are story tellers. Those stories are then digested by the fans, who then decide upon a playerís legacy. It is with that mindset, that the BBWAA should vote according to performance. The greatest players of a tainted generation are tainted. But, the fans know that. When I take my daughter to Cooperstown for Ken Griffey Jr.ís induction, I want to be able to tell her that Barry Bonds was the most prolific hitter of his generation. I want to tell her that Bonds was a Hall of Famer in Pittsburgh and then just blew up in San Francisco. Iíll tell her about the performance enhancing drugs. I will tell her that certain players are suspected of taking them. Iíll tell her that Roger Clemens was suspected and even went to court. They found him innocent, but people still donít believe him.

But, Iíll also tell her that although these players used drugs and that is most definitely wrong, that they were the best players of a generation that did many things wrong.

And, then, I will walk her to the other plaques like Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle. Iím sure she will ask me if they cheated. Iíll tell her that they didnít use drugs like that. They werenít perfect, but they put up those tremendous statistics without those types of drugs. By that conversation, the message will be clear. The tainted generation had some incredibly talented players. But, they just werenít the same as other generations.

Baseball is a sport built on conversations and having one generation pass the love of the sport to another. That is how baseball continues to thrive and hold us. It does not thrive because writers guard the sanctity of the game.

Baseball survives because we know its history and we keep it alive, warts and all. The voters should let the fans do what they do best. Fans decide the legacy and we continue to pass it along. Fans will do the same thing with the greatest hitter and pitcher of our generation. Keeping them out of Cooperstown blocks us from doing what weíve always done. Weíve loved the sport and protected it by our history. Barry Bondsí career is one of the greatest of all-time. His plaque should hang in Cooperstown. Once it is, then weíll tell the whole story and pass it along. The Hall will still be the greatest collection of the gameís best players. And, their legacies will still true.

Weíll make sure of it.
Comments
# 1 bigsmallwood @ Aug 13
Barry Bonds= Hall of Fame Player before AND after the steroid conversation. #HallofFame
 
# 2 mike24forever @ Aug 13
Steroids do not improve hand-eye coordination. Bonds, McGuire and Sosa all should be in the Hall of Fame. That being said, Griffey is a God. He never took steroids. Just look at his body structure in his rookie year to his final year in our beloved game. If not for breaking his wrist making that unbelievable catch and breaking the bone in his hand in the Yankee game, he would hold the Homerun record with over 800 bombs. I maybe a bit biased.

Great article.
 
# 3 bfindeisen @ Aug 13
Both of the arguments above are a bit short-sighted, IMO. I have great hand-eye coordination, too...but I could never be professional baseball player capable of breaking long-standing records without some form of "help". Also, Sammy Sosa is epitome of the issue for me; that guy would have never sniffed an All-Star team, let alone the Hall of Fame if it weren't for the Juice. Guys like Brady Anderson would be completely irrelevant.
 
# 4 crayzman @ Aug 14
"Steroids don't improve hand-eye coordination." That's such a weak excuse. Most MLB players have phenomenal hand-eye coordination. What steroids do is artificially increase strength which equals bat speed and thus power. So, if you've got .4 seconds to react to a 95 MPH fastball naturally, even if you can react just .05 (5 one hundredths) of a seconds later due to increasing your bat speed thanks to steroids, that's a 12.5% increase of time which might be overshooting a little but not much when looking at Bonds who hit .328 (.863 SLG) at 36, .370 (.799) at 37, .341 (.749) at 38 and .362 (.812) at 39 with his best season previous to that was .336 at 28 with only a .677 slugging percentage. From 36-39 he had an average of .349 with an .809 SLG. That's a 1.3% increase in average, with a 13.2% increase in power in the twilight of his career.

So, no. Steroids don't increase hand-eye, but they do allow you extra time to react. Add in increased power along with it and you've got the biggest joke of an era in MLB baseball.
 
# 5 crayzman @ Aug 14
*correction* 3.7% increase in average and 16.3% in slugging.
 
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