Sunday, January 2, 2011

Jeff Bagwell, PEDs and the Hall of Fame

Back in my youth, when I was trying to decide what role in newspapers I wanted to play, one of the attractions of aiming at becoming a baseball writer was the idea of being one of the Hall of Fame electorate.

Jeff Bagwell actually stepped back
before his swing, not forward.
I went in another direction, for reasons we need not bother with here, and I don't have a Hall of Fame vote.

And when I consider the current controversy over the candidacy of Jeff Bagwell, I'm content not to have a vote.

Bagwell was a great hitter, especially when considering the context of the Astrodome, his home park for the better part of his career. He also had a short career for such a productive bat; he had 14 good seasons, then had a major shoulder problem and was gone. So his career totals -- 2,314 hits, 449 homers -- aren't driving the writers to his cause. His selling point is peak value, and as Tony Oliva can attest, the BBWAA electorate is (for position players) more attuned to career totals.

And it certainly doesn't help his Hall of fame case that his best season, his MVP season, was 1994, the strike year. As it is, his compilation numbers that year -- 39 homers, 116 RBIs, 104 runs -- are better than the stats for some other sluggers who won MVPs. They just happened to come in a season shortened by about a third.

 But the real reason Jeff Bagwell won't be elected when the results of the balloting are announced Wednesday is steroids.

Bagwell  never tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs (not that they did much testing during his time, and not that the results are publicly revealed). He wasn't named in the Mitchell Report or fingered by Jose Canseco. He has always denied PED use.

But ... he played in the era of cheaters; he developed massive forearms; he was an unabashed admirer of Ken Caminiti, who was the third baseman whose presence forced Bagwell to play first base and who was, by his own admission, a heavy steroid user.

Circumstantial evidence at best. Guilt by association at worst.

Bagwell represents the worst aspect of the current consensus against electing steroid users. In his case, unlike those of Rafael Palmeiro or Mark McGwire, it's merely suspicion.

That consensus will eventually crumble. It's one thing to keep McGwire and Palmeiro and Bagwell out; it will be another altogether to keep out Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, who clearly had HOF credentials long before any credible narrative of their careers can connect them to the chemical enhancers. Once that wall cracks, others will follow.


Poll results: The 48 voters make the Twins the favorite to win the AL Central: 28 (58 percent) pick the Twins, 14 (29 percent) pick the White Sox and six (12 percent) the Tigers.

New poll up.

1 comment:

  1. It's hard when you never got to see the guy play on any regular basis. So to make any kind of intelligent choice in the poll, I have to look at his numbers, which are great but can't tell the whole story. So I changed my vote from no to yes on the basis of his record.

    All I know is, it wasn't in the American League where he dominated.