Should Steroid Users in Baseball Be Eligible for the Hall of Fame?

The Case for and Against

(This blog was originally posted on the Yahoo Contributor Network on April 21st, 2011. As of 7/31/14 YCN has taken down all of its content)

To some people it’s simple. Performance enhancing drug users cheated and that should automatically disqualify them for the Hall of Fame (HOF).

If a law student is taking the bar exam and answers 95% correctly on his own but gets caught cheating on one question, they don’t say well he passed without the question he cheated on so we will pass him anyway. I get that. However I don’t think it is this simple.

Conversely, one could argue that the era was corrupt and it is unfair that the players are getting all of the blame when the union and management are getting off the hook. And how do you figure out who used versus who didn’t? Further, how do you factor in those who got caught while others you just have suspicions? No. The issue isn’t that complicated either.

At one time or another many people speed when they drive. Some people get tickets, some don’t. That’s life. We can’t let everybody off the hook because some people don’t get caught. You know what you’re doing when you put your foot on the accelerator. You roll the dice, you break the law or commit a violation, that is what it is.

I reduce the debate to two questions: Is the HOF an honor for a player? Or is it a historical museum of record? If I was a voter and I believed the former I would vote against anyone getting into the HOF that I believed beyond a preponderance of the evidence used steroids or any PED.

If I was a voter and believed the latter than I would consider PED use on a case-by-case basis.

My thinking is the HOF is both an honor for the player and a historical museum of record. Therefore if I were Commissioner for a day there would be two ways to get into the HOF: One with honors and the other without.

You can’t tell the story of baseball without telling the story of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Pete Rose (I know, gambling issue for Rose). You don’t give them the jacket, you don’t give them the ceremony and their PED use is as prominent on their plague as their statistics. They have to wait ten years instead of five and they’re in the “offenders” wing of the hall.

In America, we do not pretend dark moments in our history do not exist. On the contrary, we go out of our way to remind ourselves of them so that we might learn and avoid repeating mistakes.

Having said that I feel the need to remind myself we are talking about baseball and not world affairs. That baseball players who use PED’s are treated far worse than other athletes of major sports, and the relevant condemnation probably lies somewhere in between.

I think the media gins up the issue to a degree because their love affair with numbers and statistics is greater in baseball than any other sport. However, another key factor was MLB and the union putting off testing as long as it did. They could have diffused their own time bomb if they dealt with it much sooner. But I digress.

As for eligibility and considering players on a case-by-case basis, my standard would be higher for PED users. A player would have to meet that subjective threshold of “were they a HOFer before or in the years when they were deemed clean?” Bonds, and Clemens meet that standard so I would vote them in without honors. Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and given his three-time link, Manny Ramirez do not.

For example, McGwire’s HOF case is built around one thing, home runs. Take away the steroids and he is somewhere between Steve Balboni or Dave Kingman and a true HOFer.

If I was a manager and I had to choose a first baseman for my team and my choice was Mark McGwire without steroids or Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Will Clark, Mark grace, or Keith Hernandez, I would take any of those other players. None of which have gotten a whiff of the hall. Some of which had injuries and perhaps could have extended their careers and numbers if they gave in to the dark side.

Mattingly for example, was an MVP, a batting champ, nine time gold glover, and voted best player in the game by his peers over a two-year period (according to a New York Times poll of 417 players in 1986). But he had back issues zap him of his power, which caused an early retirement the year before the New York Yankees began a run of winning four World Series in five years. With steroids he could have possibly played through that run, been the first Yankee to reach three thousand hits, had a lot more home runs and won all of those rings before retiring. But he did the right thing, or I should say didn’t do the wrong thing. I just can’t see putting McGwire in before Donnie Baseball or the other first basemen mentioned above.

You can document the home run chase in the summer of 1998 and other such accomplishments in the hall while creating a teaching moment for young visitors by explaining why McGwire or Sosa are not in.

What about an asterisk? Any record accomplished by any player who has admitted or been found guilty in a court of law of PED use should have an asterisk.

One positive about the steroid era for me is that I have a greater appreciation for the career and single season home run leaders, Hank Aaron and Roger Maris, respectively, who accomplished their records cleanly.

My closing thoughts on the issue are, not surprisingly, the cover up is worse than the crime. Jason Giambi worked his way through this much smoother than guys like Bonds, Clemens and McGwire by completely cooperating with the grand jury and offering a mea culpa to the media.

In defense of the players, it is not out of the realm of believability that some players used because they believed they had to use or they would be at a disadvantage because of those that were.

Imagine stock brokers operating without an SEC, do you think more laws would be broken under those conditions? One might think they have to cheat under such circumstances to keep a job or to excel to the next level.

In essence, players were unregulated with a don’t ask don’t tell policy by those who should have been enforcing a drug policy who chose instead to look the other way and profit as well.

It is for that reason that I think we remove the scarlet letter placed on anyone’s chest from this era. Hold them accountable, collectively learn from it, acknowledge the past, and move on.

Published by Jeff Schubert

Jeff Schubert is the Host/Executive Producer of the show Filmnut that airs on thestream.tv. Each webisode provides an in depth interview about the making, marketing, or distribution of film, TV or new media…

Jason Kidd: Right Coach, Wrong Time

jasonkidd

Arguably a top ten point guard of all-time, Jason Kidd has the pedigree to potentially, someday, make a great coach.  I say potentially for history is littered with former great players who were not good, let alone great coaches.

But, is Kidd qualified, let alone the most qualified, to take over as coach of the Brooklyn Nets today?

In a word: No.  In three words:  Not even close.

In sports, there is this idea that an ex-player might not be qualified to coach but if he played and starred for a specific team, that somehow overrides any other lack of qualification and warrants consideration.

My favorite baseball player growing up was Don Mattingly.  When Joe Torre decided he wanted to decline the New York Yankees offer and step away, Mattingly was under consideration to be the next Yankee manager.  Unlike Kidd, Mattingly did serve as batting and bench coach but was still considered inexperienced for he lacked managerial experience at any level.  As much as a part of me wanted Mattingly to be the guy, Joe Girardi was the better choice.

Did any other team express interest in Mattingly at the time?  No.  This lack of opportunity suggests that it was premature for the Yankees to be considering Mattingly in the first place.  As I suspect it is for the Nets to have interviewed and consider Kidd.

Mark Jackson, another great point guard without any coaching experience has found success as the head coach of the Golden State Warriors.  But this came after years away from the game and serving as a TV analyst alongside an established former head coach, Jeff Van Gundy.

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Derek Fisher, Brian Shaw and Phil Jackson.

Personally, I prefer and respect those who pay their dues and serve as an assistant, such as a hot coaching candidate like Brian Shaw.

However, while not coaching experience, at least as an analyst, Jackson was able to study the game on a regular basis.  Distant from his playing days and player mindset, he got to know all of the players and managerial personal.  Further, he could discuss them, and analyze game situation after situation with Van Gundy.

The advantage here is as a point guard you may do this through the lens of your own teams strengths and weaknesses but as an analyst you’re putting yourself in the mindset of everyone you cover without bias.  You are looking at the game from every angle seeing what works and what doesn’t.  And while Kidd’s experience and greatness as a player is a strong step in that direction, an analyst like Jackson or an assistant like Shaw are simply further down the road.

According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com: “Kidd — with no coaching experience at age 40 — only would be considered if he could assemble “an All-Star cast” of veteran assistants to support him, the source said.”

The thing that I find irritating about this is, um, why not just hire one of the all-star assistants to be the head coach and Kidd to be the assistant?

If the dark side of the force decided to field a basketball team, who be the coach and who be the assistant between Darth Vader and the Evil Emperor?  Between Mr. Miyagi and Danielson?

The idea of Kidd being a coach to an all-star assistant gets the whole mentor/ apprentice thing backwards.

You can say it worked for the Boston Celtics with Doc Rivers and Thom Thibodeau.  Setting aside that Doc was also an analyst first:  Let’s be honest, as much as we like Doc, (and we do like him), his team was loaded with talent.  And while they’re both top coaches, time is proving Thibodeau to be the better one…

A better example would be Larry Bird when he coached the Indiana Pacers with no coaching or analyst experience.  Bird was good.  But his all-star assistant, Rick Carlisle proved to be the better.

There is no reason why the next Thibodeau or Carlisle (arguably Brian Shaw or someone like him) should have to groom Kidd because they weren’t as good of players as Kidd or Bird.

Jasonkidd2No disrespect meant to Kidd (or Bird) who I think has potential to make a great coach.  If he really wants it, let him work as hard at earning that opportunity as he did improving his outside shot.  And not just have it handed to him because he played for the Nets and led them to two NBA finals.

Time to Put an End to Baseball Brawls

Greinke

The game of baseball is losing one of its best pitchers, Zack Greinke, to a broken collarbone for months.  A team with World Series aspirations, the Los Angeles Dodgers, just had its chance diminished.  The number two media market in America, and fans across the nation have been cheated.  Dodger nation, and manager, Don Mattingly, are understandably upset.

Charging the mound and attacking Greinke, after being hit by a pitch, as Carlos Quentin of The San Diego Padres did in last night’s game, is a violation of league rules, however the penalty amounts to a slap on the wrist.

Baseball has been letting this go on for years, and, as in the use of instant replay, is slow to react.  Years ago the NBA changed its rules with regards to hard fouls and players leaving the bench to join an on-court altercation.  As painful as these rule changes have been, (just ask NY Knicks and Phoenix Suns fans) it has been good for the game.  Better to air on the side of safety.

Getty Images Archive

An umpire gets in the middle of Roger Clemens and Mike Piazza after a HBP.

Pitchers are far from innocent in this.  While it is true that to pitch effectively you have to pitch inside, there is no room for intentionally beaning someone.  (Not to imply that Greinke intentionally hit Quinten in this case.) Intentional or not, a free pass to first base, especially for a dominant pitcher, isn’t much of penalty.  The batter being hit is justifiably upset.  He is physically hurt, he may feel like his manhood is being challenged and there is little consequence to the pitcher.  And if he assumes it was intentional, it is a recipe for a brawl.

Here are five suggestions that if you incorporated one or all would reduce or eliminate these situations:

1-     Require all batters to wear protective gear on their elbows and shins.  In addition to the new helmet requirement, this will minimize the risk of injuries.  It will also lessen the pain of impact and decrease a desire to charge the mound as a result.

2-     To compensate  for hitters now feeling bolder to dive across the plate, move the batter’s box a quarter-inch further away from the plate.

3-     Institute harsher penalties for pitchers who repeatedly hit players in general and the same player specifically.  Take a page from the NBA with their flagrant foul one and two rule and how players accumulate points towards suspension.  Five games for a pitcher, which is now the typical suspension, (when there is a suspension) amounts to one missed game for a starter.  That is not enough for the pitcher once he passes a certain threshold.  Another alternative is to give two bases instead of one.  If you make the penalty more painful, you reduce the likelihood of a HBP being done with intent.  And the hitter is less likely to feel like the pitcher is getting away with hitting him with minimal consequence.

4-     Review players that get hit to frequently.  By rule, a hitter is supposed to make an effort to avoid being hit.  I haven’t seen a hitter called on this in my lifetime.  Don Baylor turned getting hit by a pitch into an art form.  Hitters who get hit over ten times should be reviewed and potentially fined or suspended for a game.

5-     There should be zero tolerance for charging the mound.  A first offense should result in an automatic fifty game suspension.  A whole season for the second.  And a lifetime ban for the third.

Some of these changes may be harder to implement than others.  For example, current players may be resistant to more equipment changes.  Then do what the NHL did in hockey.  Require the changes on the minor league level.  Make it mandatory on the major league level for all rookies entering the league in 2014.  And make it voluntary for players in the league prior to 2013.

By making the penalties stiffer on pitchers for hitting hitters in the first place, you remove or minimize the intent aspect from the hitter’s mind.  By removing that you greatly reduce the desire to charge the mound.

I have no problem increasing the suspension for pitchers who repeatedly hit batters or who do so above the shoulders.  Intent is irrelevant, a professional pitcher should have enough control that hitting batters should not be a repeated issue.

A hitter should have the expectation that he can step up to the plate and do his job without being assaulted.  Oftentimes a pitcher will hit a player who has hit him well previously.  That is BS.  Imagine in football if in order to slow down the pass rush of the Dallas Cowboys, a Giant player hit DeMarcus Ware in the back of the leg with a 95 mile an hour fastball.  Yeah that will get him to think twice about rushing the passer without a care in the world.  It’s bush league.

It’s time to clean up pitchers hitting batters and batters charging the mound.