Notice: Trying to get property 'display_name' of non-object in /var/www/html/wp-content/plugins/wordpress-seo/src/generators/schema/article.php on line 52

The writers struck out looking. They were lobbed a fat pitch over the heart of the plate and they failed to even take a swing at it. Defenders will note, correctly, that it isn’t the ninth inning. But it was the last at-bat of the eighth, and they face an exceedingly difficult challenge in coming back to win this thing.

The biggest takeaway is that there is a sizable contingent of voters who will refuse to vote for any player, no matter how qualified, if there’s the barest taint of steroids on him, up to and including “playing the majority of his career after 1993.” Many will cast this as a referendum on Bonds and Clemens, two of the sports’ greatest stars who ended up in legal hot water over the use of performance-enhancing drugs. But a litany of deserving players, including Biggio, Bagwell, Piazza, and others, have been punished too, with little more than hearsay to incriminate them. This was a well stocked ballot, filled with newcomers with impressive resumes and a handful of players (like Raines and Trammell) who have been sadly overlooked. It’s easy for even a seasoned analyst to find himself having to trim his list to meet the 10-player limit established by the voting process.

And the ballot crunch is only going to get worse over time. In 2014, the ballot will grow to include Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, Mike Mussina, and Tom Glavine. In 2015, they’ll be joined by Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Gary Sheffield, and John Smoltz. In 2016, throw Ken Griffey and Jim Edmonds on the pile. That’s potentially an entire ballot’s worth of players coming onto the ballot in the next three years. Already, nearly a quarter of voters who have published their ballots individually are using the full 10 votes (according to this invaluable guide), and many of them are saying even 10 votes were not enough for this year’s ballot. And yet only two players receiving significant vote percentages (Jack Morris and Alan Trammell) are set to come off the ballot during that time period. If the writers do not begin electing a significant number of players, they will quickly encounter a flood that threatens to overwhelm them.

To be sure, sorting out what did and did not happen in baseball during the past decade and change is a tremendous challenge. Figuring out who has and hasn’t used steroids is a difficult task. We know that not everyone who used has been caught, either in the Mitchell report or through the testing program. What we do know, based upon players who have been caught, is that the stereotype of who juices is not very representative of the typical juicer. As I’ve written previously:

[I]f we look at players who have actually been identified as taking steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs—either through the Mitchell report or suspension by MLB—they aren't any bigger than the average player. The average PED user was 73 inches tall and 193 pounds. The average MLB player over the same time span was 74 inches, 195 pounds. If you cherry-pick a handful of examples (Barry Bonds, for instance), you can get an impression that PED users are larger than the typical MLB player. But considering the entirety of the available evidence, there's no support for the idea that larger players use PEDs at a higher rate than smaller players. Players that used banned substances during the "steroids era" came in all shapes and sizes.

What if [we consider not] body type, but position? Designated hitter has different offensive requirements than shortstop and no counterweighting defensive responsibilities. But let's look at changes in home runs per plate appearance between the two positions in the pre- and post-"steroids" era:













That's right, folks—the increase in home run rates for shortstops and designated hitters was essentially identical. DHs do hit more home runs than shortstops, but that's always been the case. This suggests one of two things:

  • That shortstops took steroids at similar rates to designated hitters, or
  • That steroids were not the primary cause of increased home run rates.

Of course, both could be true – they're not mutually exclusive.

We also find, based on the record of known users, that hitters are not vastly more likely to use PEDs than pitchers. The litany of players who are known users of PEDs looks like a cross-section of MLB, not a profile of any particular kind of player.

What of the notion of guilt by association? Consider this Hall of Fame ballot from Pat Caputo of the Macomb Daily:

Bagwell and Biggio present more interesting cases. They get much more benefit of the doubt from writers, and not without some justification because their names haven’t shown up on lists or in a book.

But look at all their connections to the Astros of that era — Ken Caminiti, Clemens, Andy Pettitte.

Bagwell’s body had an incredible amount of muscle given his frame. It was like Barry Bonds’ head in 2001 — it just didn’t look normal.

Biggio is far less suspected because of his smaller frame, but he was on those teams, and reportedly close to those players, and his power numbers did suddenly and magically rise at one point of his career (not just home runs, but doubles), and before the Astros moved into a more hitter’s friendly ball park. Again, I am very skeptical about there being any “magic” involved.

We can give Caputo some credit, in that he seems to recognize that not all steroid users look the part. (In some sense, he’s paid more attention to the history of the steroid era than those who assert that Biggio is clean beyond a shadow of a doubt.) But the “evidence” he wields here is awfully flimsy.

Past Bagwell’s body type and home run numbers, the case for either of them using PEDs is an increase in power and playing on the same team as some confirmed PED users. Let’s take a look at Biggio’s career, along with the percentage of teams who have had a player who was implicated in PED usage (either in the Mitchell Report, a positive test in MLB’s program or some other source):












































So what you can see here is that if you’re using “played on a team with PED users” as your criteria for suspicion, you’re casting a very wide net indeed.

But what about the boost in power? Let’s look at home runs per plate appearance, before 1993 and after 1993, over the length of Biggio’s career. The average player (weighted by playing time) saw his HR/PA increase by .007, or nearly 5 home runs in 650 plate appaerances. 76 percent of players (weighted by playing time) saw their HR/PA increase between those two samples.

The simple fact was that baseball saw rising offense during Biggio’s career, and a host of factors (from stadiums to equipment) played into that. (Consult Jay Jaffe’s chapter in Extra Innings for a thorough discussion).  And if association with cheaters is your standard of evidence, there probably isn’t a potential Hall of Fame hitter or pitcher from this era you couldn’t cast aspersions on. (How many PED users has, say, Derek Jeter played with in his career?) It’s a license for out-and-out witchhunts.

The troubling truth is that we don’t know who used and who didn’t, not completely. And we never will. And what’s more, we will undoubtedly learn more about players after the induction process has run its course; one way or another, voters are almost assuredly going to make decisions that look worse with the benefit of hindsight.

So nobody should envy voters the challenge in front of them. But the writers of the BBWAA have accepted this responsibility, often are full-throated in their defense of their role in the process, and occasionally very protective of their role in the process. So this challenge is in front of them, and it’s up to them to handle it.

Let’s take a step back and reflect on the mission of the Hall of Fame:

The Hall of Fame's mission is to preserve the sport's history, honor excellence within the game and make a connection between the generations of people who enjoy baseball. Likewise the institution functions as three entities under one roof with a museum, the actual Hall of Fame and a research library. With these parts working together the Museum is committed to fulfilling its mission by:

Collecting, through donation, baseball artifacts, works of art, literature, photographs, memorabilia and related materials which focus on the history of the game over time, its players and those elected to the Hall of Fame.

Preserving the collections by adhering to professional museum standards with respect to conservation and maintaining a permanent record of holdings through documentation, study, research, cataloging and publication.

Exhibiting material in permanent gallery space, organizing on-site changing exhibitions on various themes, with works from the Hall of Fame collections or other sources, working with other individuals or organizations to exhibit loaned material of significance to baseball and providing related research facilities.

Interpreting artifacts through its exhibition and education programs to enhance awareness, understanding and appreciation of the game for a diverse audience.

Honoring, by enshrinement, those individuals who had exceptional careers, and recognizing others for their significant achievements.

At first blush, only the last item seems relevant to the matter at hand. But that’s how the Hall fulfills its mission, not what its mission is – the Hall is dedicated to preserving history, honoring excellence and connecting generations of baseball fans.

The debate over the latest slate of players focuses on the second point, and focuses on the idea of honoring rather than the idea of excellence. Writers seem reticent to honor players who they believe engaged in questionable conduct, and that’s understandable and, to an extent, admirable.

But that narrow focus ignores the other parts of the Hall’s mission. Leaving out a single player, or even a small handful, may still allow the Hall to preserve history. (Although Barry Bonds, as the greatest player the game has ever seen, may in fact be the single player who challenges that notion.) But by refusing to induct hitters like Bagwell and Piazza who are so far merely tainted by association with this period in baseball history, voters would be rendering the Hall incapable of fulfilling that part of its mission fully. And in terms of connecting generations of baseball fans, leaving aside the stars of an entire era of play is actively detrimental to that goal. Fans who grew up watching those players will not forget their accomplishments; the Hall is incapable of conferring fame, merely recognizing it. A Hall without them, without the greatest players of an entire generation, simply delegitimizes itself.

Because for the Hall to continue its mission to connect generations of baseball fans, it needs to bring them there. Last year, roughly 20,000 fans showed up for induction weekend, and that was hardly a high-water mark for them (three times as many fans showed up in 2007). Induction weekend turnout like that could represent nearly 10 percent of the Hall’s annual attendance – those induction crowds are a big driver of visitors to the Hall. And attendance figures have been slipping dramatically in recent years.

As Joe Posnanski put it:

This is not a new phenomenon. In 1939, with the world going into war, the writers en masse made that critical decision that forever shaped the Hall of Fame — they decided that players were getting into the Hall of Fame much too quickly. I suspect they were worried that if they kept voting in players EVERY YEAR, well, they couldn't trust themselves to keep the pristine standards of the Hall of Fame that they had just invented. They feared that the Hall of Fame could become watered down, filled with mediocrities, men unworthy of being in the same room as the Iron Horse and the Georgia Peach. No, they didn't want the unexceptional in their Hall of Fame — I'm pretty sure that's how they saw it. Their Hall of Fame. A place with only — ONLY — the true immortals.

Well, you know how such efforts usually end up — by having precisely the opposite happen. The writers did hold to the "true immortal standard" — from 1940-1946, they elected exactly ONE player into the Hall of Fame. One. Rogers Hornsby. That was it

But here's the thing — and we writers should be aware of this now too: The Hall of Fame didn't just stand still while the writers put on their shining armor and attempted to bar the doors. No, it doesn't work that way. Nobody wants a stagnant Hall of Fame. Nobody wants a Hall of Fame so exclusive that LEFTY FREAKING GROVE isn't good enough to get in. Starting in 1940, visitors to the Hall of Fame dropped dramatically. Obviously, World War II was by far the biggest reason, but with the writers locked in righteous inaction, the Hall of Fame stopped moving.

And of course the Hall could not and would not stand for this. We got a succession of second chances like the Veteran's Committee, which did elect people like Lefty Grove. But they also elected a succession of most of the Hall’s worst players. Far from keeping the Hall more exclusive, by refusing to engage with the ballots in front of them, the writers indirectly led to a larger and less elite Hall of Fame instead.

Similarly, the Hall of Fame can not and will not allow the entirety of the modern era of baseball to be overlooked. Writers who are sending in blank ballots or one-player protest ballots (there are at least nine who have committed to doing so publicly) aren’t being clever, they are being obstinate. Voters like Jon Heyman and Troy Renck who want more time to think about the candidates on this ballot… après Bonds, le déluge. The choices only get harder from here on out. And a lot of deserving guys, like Kenny Lofton, are going to get entirely overlooked as a result of this kind of a ballot crunch.

Journalists are said to write the first draft of history. Baseball journalists, through the Hall, have been given the rare opportunity to write the second draft. But they don’t get to write the final draft, and their influence on it may not always take the shape they expect. Nobody will deny that the writers had a difficult task placed in front of them. But that shouldn’t stop anyone from recognizing that they failed abjectly at it. Of course, journalists failed at the first draft, too – it took the likes of Jose Canseco to expose the use of PEDs in baseball, while the bulk of the BBWAA reported on them via press release and media scrum, not enterprise reporting. Our nation’s baseball writers have moved from failing to ask tough questions to failing to answer them. The most likely outcome at this point is that the Hall will be forced to step in later and clean up the wreckage that results. And if history is any guide, they’ll leave their own messes, ones much harder to fix.

Yes, there’s another chance next year, but the task gets harder, not easier, from here on out. And right now, the members of the BBWAA seem to be too busy grandstanding to take advantage of it.

Thank you for reading

This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.

Subscribe now
You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe
A great article, thanks for the analysis. I agree that it is unfortunate there were not selections this year and the "guilty by association" implications of this ballot are a little disturbing. I hope this is a one off year for the journalists who are making a statement to Bonds and Clemens, more than anything else. The all powerful journalist has decided to make everyone sweat a little and we minions can just bask in their life lessons and thank our local newspapers for the lessons we are being taught.
On another post I advocated getting the baseball writers out of the voting because they have no unique qualification to be gatekeepers. They may had in the 1930s but they no longer do. My position is the fans, by the nature of their emotional and financial support, and the players, by the nature of their abilities, are in the best position to decide who should be in the Hall of Fame. I recommended a process to allow them to vote on who should be enshrined.

More importantly Colin Wyers has provided a complete and irrefutable indictment of the current process and why all baseball fans should be outraged by how the 2013 election was conducted.

If a player gets voted in and later it is determined that they were guilty of some malfeasance the player can be deaccessioned. It is patently unfair to deny some one based on unsubstantiated rumors. Even baseball players are innocent until proven guilty.
As an Englishman who only went to his first baseball game on holiday in Boston 15 years ago and fell in love with the game immediately maybe I just don't get it. But this whole debate is overwrought - bordering on the hysterical. Calm down.

It seems to me that there have been disctinctly dodgy voting periods in the past and the Hall has recovered: periods when no one got in; periods when players on the Veteran's Committees elected their mates.

I do think that some people need to step back and get a sense of perspective. Life goes on. The Hall of Fame won't become irrelevant because of this decision.

I think you'll find in 10 years time this will look like a storm in a teacup. A lot of these players will get in on the second or third vote because a lot of voters wanted to register a protest and protect what they see as the sacred first ballot inner circle.

Misguided or not I agree with them that the Hall of Fame has to be more than just a reward for generating statistics. This is part of the price we are all paying the price for Baseball's collective failure to address the PEDs issue.
Awesome article, love the Joey Pos reference. I also love this sentence: "Our nation’s baseball writers have moved from failing to ask tough questions to failing to answer them..." Has everyone forgotten that these same writers never seemed to notice this rampant steroid use while it was happening? And now they want the privilege of adjudicating on the character of all these players? It's too convenient. Hopefully after a year or two they realize the futility of trying to keep steroids issues out of the hall and we can start celebrating unarguably great players that we had the privilege of watching play baseball.
If you argue you have to vote for someone because of his stats, some of which are "unreal", because there is no smoking gun evidence of steroid use, then how do you convict journalists, saying "they knew"? Where is the proof they knew? Maybe they feel like: This was an usual period. I don't believe we should celebrate cheaters and put them in HOF--let's not let sports become like everything corrupt institution in this country. We have around 15 years to sort this out. It probably won;t take that long but there is no need to rush." I vote for no one.
Johnny Bench reminded MLB radio today that Yogi Berra didnt make it on his first ballot. Where is the outrage?
Please - lighten up and get a life, everyone. Psst- This "mistake: can be corrected in a year, but Jim Rice and Jesse Haines are HOFers forever.
Dear baseball writers: If you didn't vote for Piazza, Biggio, Bagwell and Raines, you DO NOT KNOW ENOUGH ABOUT BASEBALL TO HAVE AN OPINION THAT MATTERS. God, the stupidity!
So many times i read about people needing to have an open mind instead of name-calling. Try this: No , you need to consider why they voted how they did. Maybe they saw no need to rush to judgment, especially in the PED era/ Look there are 14 more years to figure this out.
There is a difference between being open-minded, and being unable to recognize something that is obvious and in plain sight within five years.

The five year waiting period allows plenty of time for a voter to consider how a player's career fits within the context of the history of the game, and his contemporaries.

And, it is highly unlikely that in the next 14 years, a voter will somehow be able to gain incremental insight into whether a player "cheated" or not.

I am not a "fan" of Mike Piazza, but there is not way that a reasonably knowledgeable person that does some homework wouldn't conclude that Piazza is in the top 5 catchers in the history of the game. That isn't going to change in the next 14 years.

A player's body of work is his body of work. . . and it is silly to think that a voter might need ANOTHER five or 10 years to ponder a player's place in the game's history.

If it takes someone that long to come to a reasoned decision, they really are not qualified to be part of the voting process.

There are VERY few real borderline Hall of Fame players as a percentage of players on the ballot each year.

This is one of the best written, well reasoned articles I have read on BP (which is saying something -- most BP articles are very good), or anywhere, on the Hall of Fame.

Thee process is broken and the Hall needs to make major changes or it will risk losing any relevance to the game.
But there aren't 14 more years. That's what I was trying to explain in the article -- we have a crisis right now.
Colin, with regard to your comparison between SS and DH. Didn't HRs by SS's increase by over 50% and DH's by under 25% so the increase by the SS's was actually double that if the DH's!
Sure, that's one way of looking at it. But I'm not sure that it's the right way. The question really is one that I don't think anyone has the answer to: how exactly does steroid use affect home run production? If you have a shortstop that hit 2 HRs in Year 1 and 3 HRs in Year 2, he increased his output by 50%. If you have a DH who hit 30 HRs in Year 1 and 37 in Year 2, he increased his output by just under 25%. However, do we really think it's obviously steroids that made the SS hit ONE additional home run?
I was just querying a point with the author - the rate of increase for SS is higher, it's the amount in percentage points that is the same.

I mean, maybe his numbers add up but that's the first I've ever heard of Lofton in a serious HOF discussion.
Then you probably don't listen (or read) enough.
Not reading about baseball as much as you = "not listening (or reading" enough." Got it.
Ironic that Canseco gets blackballed for steroids and, a decade later, Lofton gets overlooked because of steroids.
On the subject of other snubs... If Jack Morris is getting so much support, David Wells should've gotten more than 5 votes.
Canseco was also ridiculed for his book, and yet it seems the gist of it was on target.
This is just sad. The BBWAA has become a laughingstock. And if that point weren't abundantly clear at this point, look no further for evidence than that someone actually voted for Aaron Sele. Wow.
Um, of all the courtesy votes and non-votes the BBWAA have done in the 36 years I've been alive, Aaron Sele is nowhere near the worst vote/nonvote.
What were some egregious examples?
Jim Deshaies' campaigning comes to mind right away. He may have ended up with more than one vote even, I honestly don't remember.
Pick someone who spent most of their career in the Negro Leagues, for starters and didn't get a single vote because of the color barrier.

Pick a racist who did get a vote.

Pick someone who beat their wife or cheated on their wife.

Or hey, if you want to stick to on-field performance, check out people like Tommy Thevenow or Moe Berg.

Check out the link below.

No argument there, it just floors me every time I see one of these though.
Writers will do it on occasion for someone who they considered were a class act, who made themselves available for interviews, etc. It's just a token acknowldgement of their career. I don't have a problem with it.
Great read. Im done with Hall of Fame to be completely honest. I don't care what the writers do. Theyve made it about them and not the players and I'm not taking part in that.
Good. I disagree with you on today's vote but you are absolutely correct. It matters not one bit to us Joe Sixpacks who is in the BBWA HOF. When will fans realize this? We have lots of baseball sites on the internet where we can disagree with the "conventional wisdom"and we can write our own articles and books to make our cases. yes I responding to all this angst too but i find it fascinating that so many sabr type fans are tossing their cookies over this. Get a life!
This is a great article. I wonder what percentage of players who played at least five years (as in appeared in at least one game in five separate years) were on a team with a "steroid user" (Mitchell Report or suspension). I bet it would be close to, if not actually, 100%.
Excellent article. Completely agree.
Great piece. Thank you, Colin.

Your point about preserving the mission of the Hall is key. Many writers seem to think they are punishing Bonds, et al., but the reality is they are punishing the fans.
One thing no one has commented on (or, perhaps, that I have not seen commented on) is that the Directors of the Hall of Fame have been silent through all of this. They define the electorate. They define the criteria. They could say, "We're going to reconsider who is eligible to vote on Hall of Fame membership. Restricting it to 10-year members of the BBWA no longer makes sense." They could say, "We have sifted the evidence and have concluded that Players A, B, C,...will be omitted from the list of players eligible for election to the Hall of Fame." They have done neither of these things. Someone want to discuss that at as much length as we seem to want to discuss the shortcomings of the voters?
Never cared about the hall of fame; never will.
The Macomb daily? How in the heck do some of these windbags get to vote for the Hall of Fame? The standards for the BBWWAA are obviously infinitely lower than that which these guys are holding the players to for entrance to the Hall.

My whole take is that for Bonds/Clemens, they were HOF'ers before they allegedly starting using, so they are Hall worthy. Add to it that it wasnt against rhe rules, it should be a no brainer.

But for guys like Piazza, Sosa and McGwire, their entire careers are the benefit of using. No vote for any of them.

And for Biggio, why he didnt get in this year is beyond me. Its definitely time to Euthanize some of the people who have the ability to vote people into the Hall.
Link for the evidence on Piazza please.
Jeff Pearlmen wrote about it in his book on Roger Clemens.

"The portions about Piazza have received the most press leading up to the book’s release, March 24. Deadspin first published excerpts about Piazza.

As the hundreds of major league ballplayers who turned to performance-enhancing drugs throughout the 1990s did their absolute best to keep the media at arm's length, Piazza took the opposite approach. According to several sources, when the subject of performance enhancing was broached with reporters he especially trusted, Piazza fessed up. "Sure, I use," he told one. "But in limited doses, and not all that often." (Piazza has denied using performance-enhancing drugs, but there has always been speculation.) Whether or not it was Piazza's intent, the tactic was brilliant: By letting the media know, of the record, Piazza made the information that much harder to report. Writers saw his bulging muscles, his acne-covered back. They certainly heard the under-the-breath comments from other major league players, some who considered Piazza's success to be 100 percent chemically delivered.

At least two former Major League players, one being Reggie Jefferson (another was not named), were quoted as saying they were sure that Piazza used steroids.

"He's a guy who did it, and everybody knows it," says Reggie Jefferson, the longtime major league first baseman. "It's amazing how all these names, like Roger Clemens, are brought up, yet Mike Piazza goes untouched."

"There was nothing more obvious than Mike on steroids," says another major league veteran who played against Piazza for years. "Everyone talked about it, everyone knew it. Guys on my team, guys on the Mets. A lot of us came up playing against Mike, so we knew what he looked like back in the day. Frankly, he sucked on the field. Just sucked. After his body changed, he was entirely different. 'Power from nowhere,' we called it."

When asked, on a scale of 1 to 10, to grade the odds that Piazza had used performance enhancers, the player doesn't pause.

"A 12," he says. "Maybe a 13."

Well, I guess if Reggie Jefferson and one unnamed veteran say so, what more proof could there possibly be??
Well, it's more evidence than no one saying it... not saying I believe Pearlmen or "know" Piazza did steroids, just trying to give amazin a link he asked for.
You've determined Piazza's built his "entire career" upon using steroids and that Biggio is completely innocent? On what credible and empirical basis?

That sort of bias is outrageous, and I, for one, find it disgusting.
Paraphrasing a comment of mine from another thread:
PEDs did not harm the game of baseball. Not at all. Unfortunately, PEDs practically destroyed traditional baseball journalism. Thankfully, we have BP and other analytical baseball sites to maintain a high level of baseball discourse and thought.

Thank you! Great article that challenges and advances the discussion.
Re: Jeter

Just the ones I can think of at the moment...

Clemens, Giambi, ARod, Pettitte, Canseco, etc.

That's more than Biggio and Bagwell are accused of having played with.
A tip of the cap in your direction Mr. Wyers.
Great article, Colin. Hope you will consent to allow us to share it with non-BP subscribers. It needs to be disseminated as widely as possible.
It's outside the paywall now, thanks to Joe Hamrahi. So send the link around as much as you like.
Three modest proposals to help fix the Hall of Fame.
1. Nobody may vote for the Hall of Fame that no longer actively covers or demonstrably associates with the game of baseball.
2. Writers may vote for as many candidates in a given year as they feel are worthy.
3. All ballots must be made public. All writers must explain their selection in a column that will run on the Baseball Writer's Association website and on their own paper/website/magazine.