Give the BBWAA a break when it comes to steroids.
Statistics in baseball are great. They give us a number, or multiple numbers that allow us to evaluate a players talent, without having to watch him play every day. This is very convenient, as even the most ardent baseball fan cannot watch every player in baseball play, every day.
Simply put, there is no way a fan can properly evaluate players, and correctly compare them to others — with any meaningful accuracy — without statistics.
I, for example, often watch the Red Sox play, being a Red Sox fan and all. But rarely do I ever see Ryan Zimmerman or Hanley Ramirez play. So how will I be able to tell how good they are if I watch them hit only a few times a year? Well, the answer is simple: statistics. I could pick the route some people choose to go, watch a player hit a few times, watch them fail or succeed, then conclude that they are either great or terrible.
I choose the more logical route, the one involving numbers.
I prefer fWAR. I prefer UZR (even with its faults). And I prefer objectivity, I crave objectivity.
And when it comes to the BBWAA, and voting for the Hall of Fame, relying mostly on statistics — the ones that matter — is very beneficial to their goal. And that goal is getting the best players into the Hall of Fame. Giving the best player the MVP. And allowing the best pitcher to take home the Cy Young.
So I don’t mind when a Sabermetrics guru gives advice — friendly advice — to a voter that relies only on outdated stats and gut feelings.
Because quite frankly, those bring you very close to nowhere when evaluating baseball players *accurately.*
I do however have a problem with a Sabermetrics believer ridiculing a writer/voter for the Hall of Fame, for not voting on a player who has cheated to — most likely — improve his ability to play baseball.
One main criticism of a voter refraining to vote for a player who “cheated” is that there are players who are in the Hall of Fame that once took amphetamines to *hopefully* improve their ability to turn on a fastball, or recognize a hanging breaking ball. Or maybe it allowed them to stay focused and get a jump on their outfield route a little quicker.
Regardless, they, along with steroids, supposedly increased performance. Neither should be put on a pedestal.
But what I don’t get is how it’s hypocritical for some of these voters to choose not to vote in a Kevin Brown or a Mark McGwire, yet allow someone to be in the Hall who admittedly cheated back in a different era.
And in the right situation, it can be hypocritical. But some of these voters didn’t vote on those guys, first of all. Some have been given the right to vote, after all that mess, and only during all of this “mess.”
If you want to maintain the integrity of the Hall, then you would have to rid of tons of the players who currently have plaques residing in what is probably the largest building in the small town of Cooperstown, New York.
But that doesn’t mean that writers shouldn’t have the ability — and right — to keep steroid users unchecked on their ballots. It is their right. And if a player cheated, then what right do we have to sarcastically poke fun at their right to take away a vote, to a player trying to gain a competitive edge?
Look, I get it. I get that steroids weren’t technically banned by Major League Baseball for a while. But they were certainly illegal, and *clean* players shouldn’t have had to compete, or think about using these illegal substances with widely known negative side effects. Widely known illegality.
Player X, who played clean, was at a competitive disadvantage — almost definitely — because he didn’t want to inject something with serious long-term effects into his body, “into” his only known life.
Another popular attacking point for some of the stat-guys that I have come across, is that there is no proof of the positive effects, if any, that steroids have on a players ability to play baseball.
Home runs and the power surge in the 90’s, very well could have stemmed from watered down pitching, hitter-friendly baseballs, and parks that benefited the long-ball. Of course, it could have come from those three factors ALONG with certain players taking PED’s as well. But I am not ignoring that pitchers used performance-enhancers either. They did, and I am mostly sure that it helped them too.
But individuals benefited from cheating. Which could explain the definite outliers that the steroid-era had to offer. 73 home runs from a 36 year old baseball player, that never hit more than 49 tends to lead us to draw conclusions, like the first line of this paragraph.
Steroids may not have helped a player hit a baseball. But it is not unlikely that they allowed a player to have more energy while others tired as a season wore on. And if that is true, that PED’s helped players stay stronger, longer, then it was a competitive advantage. And ultimately, this might very well have allowed a pitcher to hit that aforementioned baseball.
Keith Law, probably my favorite writer that covers my favorite game, said this in a chat yesterday:
“So do cortisone and ibuprofen and chiropractic treatment. I have no objection to a player trying to get healthy faster.”
This of course was in response to a question asked about players recovering through the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
The answer, has a lot wrong with it. The ways mentioned that help a player “get healthy faster” are all legal, and have negative side-effects that do not come close to that of say, steroids. If a player pops a few ibuprofen to help the given pain subside a little, that is much different than injecting steroids into one’s body to increase his strength and endurance.
If some guy on the street used steroids to look better and lift more weight, then I don’t care. But if I was a baseball player, I would care if a guy was better than me because he stayed healthy longer and did not experience the same aches and pains over his career that I did.
Now, there is a legitimate argument for not voting a player who is simply “suspected.” I could go either way on this. Bagwell would have been on my ballot last season, because I believe there are ways to get strong, without using steroids. Baseball players have access to incredible resources, strength-trainers, personal chefs, over-the counter supplements (That work.) They can obtain their massive chest and biceps by using natural means.
In no way am I saying that Bagwell didn’t cheat, but am no way am I saying that he did either. There is no evidence. And if every big, strong athlete needed steroids to get big and strong, then I would question the current training regimens that teams have in place.
So I don’t care if a writer votes in a steroid user, or that a writer doesn’t. All I ask is that they respect each others right to use their vote in the way they choose. Because it’s tiring to hear all the crap that voters are getting because of “lack of evidence” and such on how much steroids impact a baseball player. They used an illegal means to obtain a desired goal. Whether that goal was obtained, is sort of besides the point. It is the process of trying to get there that voters are considering too.
And yes, if I was a member of the BBWAA, I would check off that 36 year-old slugger who belted 73 home runs on my Hall of Fame ballot. Even with a positive test for amphetamines, and a widely suspected use of steroids.