Cheaters Never Win? The Hypocrisy of the Baseball Hall of Fame

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About three months ago I was out bowling at the South Point here in Las Vegas. As I rolled, I noticed a familiar face and figure two lanes down to my left. There was no doubt in my mind that I was looking at the 1988 AL MVP, baseball legend Jose Canseco. Living in Vegas, a Canseco sighting isn’t a rare occurrence since he has lived here for many years. In fact, friends of mine are in a softball league where Canseco still plays, and still mashes from what I’ve been told. I would not want to be at short or 3rd base when Canseco rips off a hard liner or hot shot. Coincidentally, I had just finished reading his tell-all book on MLB baseball steroid use called Juiced. In this book, Canseco blows the whistle on many teammates and former MLB players who used performance enhancing drugs from the 1980’s through the 2000’s. Jose pulls no punches, and also freely admits his usage and how he became an expert on what different steroids do to the body, as well as maintaining a healthy cycle of use that he felt benefited not just his baseball career, but his overall quality of life. His appearance backed up his claims about the proper monitored use of steroids advancing lifespan and slowing ageing, he looked like he could still play MLB at 50+ years old. His main point was that players weren’t properly educated like he was about usage and how to get past any questions or possible drug tests that were almost non-existent at the time. He wasn’t surprised by the amount of usage in baseball, and even though he came under fire for his statements in his book, he has not been sued for slander or character defamation by any of the players he mentioned. Although often vilified by the media and fans, history has proven Canseco right. PED (Performance Enhancing Drug) usage has made the Baseball Hall of Fame and its voting process problematic and confusing. Who do we let in? Did they use? Were they nice to the media during their playing career? There seems to be no real formula that baseball writers are using, and it’s causing Hall of Fame anarchy.

In his book, Canseco exposes the steroid usage of himself, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez, Ivan Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, and others. When the book first came over 10 years ago, Canseco was vilified by both the players named and much of the media. Jose remained steadfast in his allegations, and as time has gone on, almost 100% of his claims have been proven accurate through reports or facts that have come out supporting his claims. He doesn’t throw everyone under the bus; he addresses Roger Clemens and says he never discussed PEDs with him as a teammate in Toronto in 1998. Canseco wasn’t the most liked player by the media, and this becomes a big part of how many players are voted on. It seemed for a few years that no players with PED rumors in their past would get in, but this year Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez got the call. There is no credible evidence when it comes to Bagwell, other than the eye test. Pudge, on the other hand, was named as a user by Canseco in his book. It’s hard to believe the talented catcher wasn’t using when the entire Texas Rangers locker room was in the mid 1990s. When I mention the eye test, I mean how a player physically looks, along with how their stat sheet looks. Brady Anderson is an example of failing the eye test, averaging less than 20 homers a year for his first 5 seasons in the early 90’s , Anderson exploded for 50 in 1996. This was so outrageous that even at the time when people were wearing blinders when it came to PED usage, Anderson was questioned and assumed to be using something. Anderson played 5 full seasons after putting up 50 in 1996, but only surpassed 20 homers one time, with 24 in 1999.

Bagwell also fails the eye test, both by the mere sight of his physical growth in his career, along with his stat sheet. He was originally a Red Sox prospect sent to the Astros in a minor deal for the immortal Larry Anderson in 1990. At the time, Bagwell started out hitting 15-20 homers a year for the Astros from 1991-1993. He then spiked quickly to 39 homers in 1994, doubling his 1993 output of 20 homers in 130 LESS plate appearances. He then went on to hit more the older he got, topping out at 47 in 2000, the height of the PED era in MLB. He also was on the same team as the late Ken Caminiti, who was open and vocal about his steroid use before his passing in 2004 after battles with drug addiction. Bagwell came to the Astros at the exact same time that the veteran Caminiti was at the height of his PED usage. You can connect the dots yourself. In the case of Ivan Rodriguez, we don’t need to connect any dots, Canseco did that for us. He talks in Juiced about personally teaching Pudge about usage, and witnessing him doing so. Rodriguez average around 15 homers a year from 1992-1996, with a high of 19 homers in a season up to that point. From 1997-2001 (notice the years line up with the Sosa-McGwire era) he spiked to 35 homers in 1999. This was coming from a player playing a physically demanding position at catcher. It just doesn’t make sense, and Canseco’s info makes it pretty obvious. Pudge was doing what everyone else was doing, getting an advantage and taking advantage of MLB’s lack of drug testing.

Jose Canseco has been labeled a cheat, and along with Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, and others get slighted by the baseball writers who vote on induction. It’s hypocritical for Hall of Fame voters to pick and choose who is in or out, and guess on who was using or not. By letting in Pudge Rodriguez they have set a precedent that PED usage doesn’t matter if you were a nice guy and the media likes you. You can’t let one guy in, but leave out others that may or may not have done the same things to gain an advantage. That is not how the Hall of Fame works. If writers are unable to figure out a way to get past PED bias and rumors and innuendo about players, then a new voting system needs to be implemented. I propose doing a minimal stat category, needing so many HR, RBI, hits, etc that add up to Hall of Fame numbers. Human bias has proven problematic, and the randomness of selection needs to stop. Bonds, Clemens, and McGwire deserved to go in years ago, while Canseco, Schilling, Palmeiro, and others deserve a shot as well. A Hall of Fame that ignores an important part of its history loses some of its credibility, as well as leaving a gigantic hole in the game’s story from 1990-2004.

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