The PED Problem: How To View the Hall of Fame Worthiness of the MLB's PED Users
Since the dawn of baseball, players have done anything possible in order to gain an advantage. In 1889, a pitcher for the now Pittsburgh Pirates tried injecting himself with the testosterone of other animals. In 1925, baseball legend Babe Ruth tried to inject himself with extract from a sheep containing testosterone. However, both attempts were flawed and only resulted in the players becoming ill and missing playing time. The real popularity and correct usage of PEDs began in the 1970s when a few players in the league experimented with the drug. But even then it didn't hold that much of an impact on the game and was sidelined for other drugs for a little while.
Fast forward to the 1990s and 2000s however, and steroids became all the rage. It didn't matter if a player was one of the league's best stars or if he was the last man on the bench. Steroids ran the league. Well, that is until a 2003 sample test found that over 5% of the league had been on the drugs at the time. That didn't even include players like three time All-Star Andy Pettitte who used PEDs occasionally. The league had a problem. And, eventually they solved it. Through a series of harsh punishments for offenders, testimonies before Congress and studies the league was able to discourage the use of steroids enough that the epidemic ceased.
Except, what does that mean for the Baseball Hall of Fame? Of course there were legends of the era who didn't use steroids and were inducted like Ken Griffey Jr., Mike Piazza and Frank Thomas. But, there were many players who put up video game caliber numbers year after year that are now under scrutiny for their use of the drugs. Should they be allowed in the Hall of Fame? After all, the all-time hits leader Pete Rose was banned from contention after it was found he bet on games when he coached. Yet, betting on games held no impact on the actual outcome of the seasons, whereas PEDs gave users significant advantages in every facet of the game. Plus, the induction of possible user David Ortiz in 2022 and the notable exclusion of users Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens yet again from the Hall of Fame has brought attention to the possible double standards and unfair beliefs of the BBWAA. So, I pose the question again: Should PED users be allowed in the Hall of Fame?
My answer is... very conditional and requires a close-up look at each individual player. So, without further ado let's take a look at some of the PED using HOF candidates and make a decision.
Players who have already been on the ballot ten times:
Barry Bonds: There is no way around it. Barry Bonds should be in the Hall of Fame. Cooperstown exists to tell the story of the sport, and that can't happen if the all-time home runs leader and one of the best players of all time isn't in the Hall. For all I care, Bonds could murder somebody and I still would put him in. The stats don't lie. Seven MVPs, 14 All-Star appearances, 12 Silver Sluggers, 2,935 hits and 762 home runs. Was some of it fueled by steroids? Yes. But, there is no doubt Bonds would have had an excellent career even without them. If one were to use just the stats from his pre-steroid seasons, Bonds still would have three MVP awards, eight All-Star appearances, seven Silver Slugger awards and totals of 411 home runs and 1,917 hits. For lovers of advanced stats, Bonds also totaled a WAR of 99.9. Oh yeah, and we're forgetting that in this world Bonds still probably has another 5-7 years of his career left. No player put up more ridiculous numbers than Bonds, and his story (no matter how tainted it may be) deserves to be shown in the Hall of Fame. There is still hope he gets in through other committees, but sadly his time on the BBWAA ballot is over.
Roger Clemens: Similar to Bonds, Roger Clemens is just too important of a figure within the history of the sport to be excluded from the Hall of Fame. Yes, he isn't as prolific as Bonds. But, Clemens' career achievements are astounding. He is one of seven pitchers to win MVP in the last 50 years, has seven Cy Young Awards and two Triple Crowns to pair with 4672 strikeouts (3rd all time) and 354 wins (9th all time). Clemens also won two World Series, something that eluded Bonds for his entire career. However, just like Bonds, one can take away his steroid years and Clemens still probably finds his way to Cooperstown. He's still a MVP, four time Cy Young winner, six time All-Star with 2,882 career strikeouts and 213 wins. Yet again, Clemens still probably had at least five years left in his career too, so those stats would be boosted. To sum it up, the Veteran's Committee must look past their conservative ways and realize that the baseball Hall of Fame doesn't mean as much if those who contributed most to the sport's history aren't enshrined in its glory.
Sammy Sosa: While the other two above him in this category pass the test, Sosa certainly requires a second look. It is harder to determine when Sosa originally started taking steroids since he still hasn't admitted to using them despite plenty of evidence and tests to prove otherwise. But, it is most clear that he started around 1993 as that is when all of his stats spike and he rose to stardom. Of course it is also possible he started around 1998 like the other stars, as that was when he made the next leap ton superstardom and won the lone MVP of his career while hitting 66 home runs (30 more than the previous year) on a .308 average (up from .251 the previous year). Either way, pre-steroid Sosa wasn't impressive. Even if he started using them around 1998, that would mean he only made one All-Star appearance and won one Silver Slugger before steroid usage. Thus, it's pretty clear that the drugs turned him into the legend he became. While I do admit that the Hall of Fame is meant for the story of baseball, regardless of how controversial the legends may be, Sosa simply was never meant to be a legend before the steroids. So, as cool as the 1998 home run race and was, Sosa still doesn't deserve a spot in Cooperstown. I could see him getting in many years from now, but my vote is no at this point.
Mark McGwire: McGwire has been out of contention for quite some time, as his 10th and final appearance on the ballot occurred in 2016. But, he still holds a strong case for the hall that deserves to be looked at by other committees today. Although he never won the MVP, McGwire was a six time All-Star, Rookie of the Year and a Silver Slugger winner before he ever started consistent steroid use (he used them as early as 1989 to combat injuries but only sparingly). Like Bonds, his overall numbers pre-steroids suggest that he probably would be in the Hall of Fame had he kept playing on. However, those numbers are nowhere near as prolific as Bonds, and the fact that he never finished in the top three of MVP voting before using PEDs harm his case. But yet again, there's the argument that McGwire holds a special place in the baseball history books and therefore is worthy of being immortalized in Cooperstown. Overall, McGwire has the hardest case of the four in this category. But, ultimately his promising career before steroids combined with the legacy he left is enough that he should earn a spot in the hall. The question now however, is if other committees outside the BBWAA will be willing to get behind his cause.
José Canseco: Canseco never received a chance from the BBWAA, and rightfully so as he was promptly taken off the ballot after one year with a 1.1 voting percentage. He never even played a full season without some form of steroid use, and quite honestly had an underwhelming career for someone who used them for so long. Canseco made six All-Star appearances, won four Silver Sluggers and one MVP award, although it's worth mentioning that he won his MVP award before steroids were popularized and thus he was one of only a few users. Would be have been a solid player without steroids? Probably, as they only have so much of an effect. But, it's pretty clear he wouldn't have made the Hall of Fame by any means.
Players who will appear on ballots in the future:
Gary Sheffield: Sheffield has already appeared on the ballot eight times, and received his highest percentage of votes in 2021 and 2022 when he got right around 40 percent. While his percentage has increased over the years, it doesn't look like Sheffield will make the 35 percent jump needed in the next two years to enter Cooperstown, and rightly so. Although he only claims to have used steroids in 2002, the three years after that were some of his best and pretty much came out of nowhere. It had been 11 years since the last time Sheffield finished top three in MVP voting, yet from 2003-05 he did that twice. Dishonesty isn't something that the Hall deserves, although Sheffield didn't exactly have a Hall of Fame career anyway. His hitting was great, but he was an average fielder at best and didn't win a ton over the course of his career. That may slide for some candidates, but it's hard to justify that for those without an MVP or any sort of real legacy.
Alex Rodriguez: Speaking of legacy, A-Rod is up next. The infielder went on the ballot for the first time in 2022, receiving a solid 34.3 percent of the votes. He used steroids from 2010-2012, a span in the later stretch of his career where he made two All-Star games and really nothing more. Outside of that span, Rodriguez is a three time MVP, 12 time All-Star and 10 time Silver Slugger. All three of those are indicative of a Hall of Fame career. He also hit 696 home runs in his career (4th all time) while staying consistent with a .295 career average. Outside the game, A-Rod has held a massive role in the culture of the sport as he remains a commentator as well as an icon. All of this combined means that Rodriguez is certainly a deserving candidate, and hopefully one that will get in. Tim Raines, a current member of the Hall, only got 24.3 percent of the votes In his first year on the ballot. So, it's not unlikely that Rodriguez will get in over the next nine years. Either way, his continued involvement in the MLB community means that it would be shocking for him to never make it in through some form.
Manny Ramirez: Ramirez has already been on the ballot six times, and has never received more than the 28.9 percent of the vote that he got in 2022. That means his case isn't looking good currently, although quite frankly the numerous positive tests throughout his career make it hard to judge if he makes a good case in the first place. Ramirez not only tested positive as part of the mass 2003 test, but also in both 2009 and 2011. Yet, his stats are undeniable. 555 home runs (15th all time) on a .312 career average, 12 All-Star appearances, nine Silver Sluggers and a World Series MVP in 2004. His career was amazing and is above the average member of the Hall of Fame according to the HOFs stat produced by baseballreference.com. The stat measures how worthy a player is to make the Hall of Fame, with 50 being the average member of the Hall. David Ortiz, who was just inducted, was a 55. Ramirez is a 69. Everything is there for him to get in, except voters who want him to get in. It seems very unlikely that Ramirez increases his vote amount by almost 50% in four years, and the veteran committees are still pretty strict when it comes to steroids. So, although he might deserve it, Manny Ramirez will need a miracle to find his way into Cooperstown.
Andy Pettitte: Our last candidate is a southpaw from the Yankees who most recently got 10.7 percent of the vote in his 4th year on the ballot, a three percent deduction from his highest total in 2021. Pettitte is only a minor abuser of the MLB's rule against PEDs, having only claimed to use HGH to help recover from a injury in 2002. In his career Pettitte made three All-Star games, won 256 games and forced 2448 strikeouts. Neither of the last two stats are outstanding when compared to members of the Hall, but they're generally enough to get in. However, the lack of All-Star nominations or really any sort of awards really harms Pettitte. Some non-member pitchers with more All-Star nods than Pettitete are Steve Rogers, Van Mungo and Mel Stottlemyre. As one can see, he really is lacking in that department. Pettitte only finished top three in Cy Young voting as well. Quite honestly, his HGH use probably has no sway on his chances of getting into the Hall. While he was consistently a good player throughout his career, Pettitte simply did not have enough great seasons to be in the Hall of Fame. Who knows though? Someday a committee COULD put him in.