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Algonquin 'Roid Table
2005-08-05 19:32
by Mike Carminati

Just before the news broke that Raphael Palmeiro was being suspended for using a banned substance, an email chain starting circulating among a few of my friends and a few of their friends (and so on and so on) about Palmeiro's Hall-worthiness.

I thought that the email chain was of interest given that while it started as a response to his entering the 3000/500 club and evolved as the steroid story evolved. It starts the day before the story broke and goes for another three more days after. Also, I don't think anyone changed anyone else's mind despite the attempts.

I am MBBR since there's another Mike in the exchange. The rest of the names have been changed to protect the innocent. There's also a guest contributor who I'll reveal at the end. Enjoy:

PD: So could some of you enlighten me about whether or not Rafael Palmeiro belongs in the HOF? Thanks.

MBBR: Yes, end of discussion.

PD: But just why does he belong? Who are the most comparable HOF players to Palmeiro?

Murray: Probably because there's no player with career stats like his that isn't in the HOF. On my visceral "In/Out" test, which is a mental exercise to build my own Hall without doing any analysis, I'd say "out." He strikes me as a bloated Tony Perez/Gil Hodges, a first baseman who was never the best player at his position and who has padded his stats in friendly ballparks. (And maybe bloated in that other sense.) In the actual institution that exists, I think he's probably in.

Alex: Palmeiro is in because only the BBWAA votes.

The problem is that the BBWAA likes stupid arguments.. such as the 3000/500 thing that's been burning up the bylines.

By the time Palmeiro is eligible, the 3000/500 club will not look nearly so exclusive. The fact is that Aaron and Mays are noticeably worse hitters than Williams and Ruth. They didn't have the hits only because they walked much, much more - because they had better control of the strike zone and/or pitchers were more afraid of their ability. Then again, Aaron and Mays are greats. Palmeiro isn't at all in their class, and Bill James has done plenty about the arbitrary grouping and cutting off of statistics in his Politics of Glory. He's a great player, but more Harold Baines than Gary Sheffield.


Palmeiro (.289/.372/.517)

Black Ink: Batting - 8 (263) (Average HOFer ~ 27)

Gray Ink: Batting - 183 (50) (Average HOFer ~ 144)

HOF Standards: Batting - 57.0 (34) (Average HOFer ~ 50)

HOF Monitor: Batting - 156.0 (63) (Likely HOFer > 100)

Frank Thomas (.308/.429/.567)

Black Ink: Batting - 21 (96) (Average HOFer ~ 27)

Gray Ink: Batting - 189 (46) (Average HOFer ~ 144)

HOF Standards: Batting - 56.5 (37) (Average HOFer ~ 50)

HOF Monitor: Batting - 179.0 (49) (Likely HOFer > 100)

Jeff Bagwell (.297/.408/.542)

Black Ink: Batting - 24 (78) (Average HOFer ~ 27)

Gray Ink: Batting - 157 (73) (Average HOFer ~ 144)

HOF Standards: Batting - 59.0 (28) (Average HOFer ~ 50)

HOF Monitor: Batting - 149.5 (75) (Likely HOFer > 100)

Murray: I think people recognize that Bagwell and Thomas are the B+ students and that Palmeiro is the solid B.

It's really about the issue of whether you think the HOF should give greater weight to peak value than it does. It's what's keeping Jim Rice out.

PD: While I haven't worked out a strongly-held personal opinion about Raffy's qualifications, it seems like this is the first time some people are speaking up about the classic career milestones and saying, "Okay, not so fast." And I can't help but notice that Palmeiro's statistics really started to kick in at their highest level precisely in 1993.

On a potentially related note, I saw Bret Boone bat once last night for the Twins against the Sox. It was hilarious! He's about 2/3 as big as he was in the Seattle glory days. Remember how he would pump balls out to center, then do the bat flip? Here he kind of dunked one toward center that the SS caught.

Incredible shrinking hitters ... help me out here:

Jason Giambi

Sammy Sosa

Bret Boone

I-Pud (Ivan Rodriguez)

Kevin Millar

Bill Mueller

Murray: Ryan Klesko?

PD: Has he shrunken?

Speaking of Klesko, I just watched an inning of a Braves telecast for the first time this year. It's nice to see some things never change. The very first thing I heard was Skip or Pete saying how the Braves' pitcher was actually pitching a gem apart from that three-run homer he had given up. As they are playing the Pirates I half-expected Andy Van Slyke to be in the lineup. Then some Braves rookie callup homered, the ball being caught by an urchin wearing a Red Sox 38 Schilling t-shirt, naturally. Skip or Pete says this rookie is a five-tool player. And as you would expect, the telecast is being sponsored in part by the new "Dukes of Hazard" movie. I wouldn't feel superior to Southerners if it weren't so easy.

Murray: I think so, but maybe he has over time, too. There are guys whose stats seem down, but I don't recall seeing them this season. For example, Scott Rolen? Nomar?

The rookie must have been Jeff Francoeur. He's outstanding.

Alex: That's Hazzard.

Did Skip and Pete make disparaging comments about crime in New York? That's their version of Phil Rizzutto's "Happy Birthday to Maggie Franconi..."

PD: Not in the brief time I was watching. Meanwhile, everyone up here has been pretending that the Sox might trade Manny. Please. What a non-story.

I forgot to mention, the Red Sox officially flipped the switch last week in that game where Matt Clement got hurt. It turned into one of those wild-ass games they inevitably win no matter what. They were down 8-6 in the 9th, tied it, went to extra innings after a Devil Ray flied out to the deepest part of the park with runners on the end the 9th. Then the Sox went up 10-8 in the 10th, held on even though Schilling gave up a run and had a runner on second before getting the final out. They haven't lost since then and are in that mode where it seems like they're incredibly hard to beat in any given game. Too bad.

Murray: Worst Braves development: these red shirts they wear on Sundays. Ugh.

MBBR: Wait, hold the phone--"By the time Palmeiro is eligible, the 3000/500 club will not look nearly so exclusive." I really don't that argument holds water.

Let's say Palmeiro plays another two seasons after this one--the man will be 41 at the end of the season. That would mean that he would be eligible in 9 years, 2013. So that means that a number of players would have reached those milestones in the next 9 seasons (including this one).

Let's assume that they average 200 H and 40 HR in those seasons. That means that the players would have to have at least 1200 H and 140 HR to reach 3000/500 on time. Also, let's assume that we are dealing with players who are not older than 31 entering this season, so that they have the opportunity to play another 9 productive seasons.

What does that give us (stats thru 2004):

Alex Rodriguez283811707
Andruw Jones272501254
Bobby Abreu301661264
Derek Jeter301501734
Edgardo Alfonzo301441419
Nomar Garciaparra301821330
Scott Rolen292261254
Todd Helton302511372
Vladimir Guerrero282731421

Of these, A-Rod looks like best bet to reach 3000/500. He's the only one besides Helton and Guerrero who's even exceeded 200 H and 40 HR in a season. Jeter has also reached 200 H.

A-Rod and Jones seem good bets to reach 40 HR this year, but none of the others do. Jeter and A-Rod are the only ones that project to anyway near 200 H this year.

I think maybe A-Rod and Vlad have a decent shot of making it. I wouldn't bet on anyone else.

As for players over 30, I added 200H/40HR per season to the minimum thresholds above, and here are the players that made the cut:

Barry Bonds397032730
Sammy Sosa355742220
Ken Griffey Jr.345012156
Chipper Jones323101705
Manny Ramirez323901760
Ivan Rodriguez322502051
Shawn Green312811560

I'm not convinced any of them are decent bets. Sheffield, who doesn't make the cut, seems the best bet over 30 to me. Bonds, of course, may never play again.

As for comparing Bagwell, Thomas, and Palmeiro, what I think you're overlooking is that given the de facto standards, they all belong. And I've done a bit of research on the topic. I would pick Bagwell and Thomas in their prime over Palmeiro, but for his career Palmeiro will probably look superior. I think a player gets in the Hall because of peak and career value. I see no reason why all three cannot and should not go in.

By the way, Baines's James numbers are:

Black Ink: Batting - 3 (490) (Average HOFer ~ 27)

Gray Ink: Batting - 40 (585) (Average HOFer ~ 144)

HOF Standards: Batting - 43.5 (112) (Average HOFer ~ 50)

HOF Monitor: Batting - 66.5 (256) (Likely HOFer > 100)

Career OPS+: Baines 120, Palmeiro 132.Baines was basically a DH by age 28; Palmeiro's won three Gold Gloves, though admittedly not at the toughest of defensive positions.

I think you're giving Baines way too much credit and Palmeiro way too little. I think there are way too many expansion-era players getting short shrift when it comes to the Hall. I think that the problem is not that Santo's not in, but that Santo, Darrell Evans, and a couple other third baseman are not in. I say there's room for all three guys (Palmeiro, Thomas, and Bagwell).

Some may disagree but then you have to remove a good chunk of the players already in. I have no problem with doing that, but I do have a problem with imposing a new standard for the players with whom I most familiar.

Either we judge players by the de facto standards, which all three first basemen meet, or we revamp the Hall from day one.

MBBR: Re. it seems like this is the first time some people are speaking up about the classic career milestones and saying, "Okay, not so fast."--What about Don Sutton and 300 wins? His trip to the Hall was hardly a cake walk.

What it's really about is the hardliners and things-were-better-in-my-day-ists like Joe Morgan having more of an affect on the voting. The BBWAA always had a higher standard than the Vets Committee, but the vets always made sure to get enough of their old pals in. That hasn't been the case since Ted Williams' heyday on the committee.

It's just the confluence of a) the BBWAA standard's getting a bit higher, b) thereby sending more qualified candidates to the Vets, and c) the Vets getting less free and easy with plaques, and d) finally, revamping their klugy voting rules.

PD: On a related note:

Palmeiro to be suspended for steroids; denies use.

Mike (Not me): Must be the Viagra.

PD: Actually, one might suspect that the Viagra has been needed to counteract the effects of the -- well, never mind.

Anyway whatever the merits (or lack thereof) based on the numbers, I suspect Palmeiro's HOF chances just took a bit of a nosedive today.

MBBR: Yeah, kind of ruins my argument, eh? I guess Lil Joe was right about that way leading only to Enron.

PD: I'm crossing Raffy off my list, although admittedly I don't have a vote.

Is there anybody here at all who thought the Red Sox would trade Manny Ramirez? This whole thing has just been such a charade. It's just a phony crisis on everybody's part intended to get them going for the stretch run. That includes the media, too. Alarm clock! We're covering the *Red Sox*.

Bill Simmons today: "Because that's what everyone forgets about Manny: Strip away all the baggage, and the crazy guy can still hit."

Good point! I myself have been confusing Manny with *Rafael* Ramirez for years now! When I first heard the trade rumors, I thought, "Let him go, they can get a .260-hitting shortstop anywhere." Then I saw highlights of him slugging a grand slam and I realized: That's right! He's not just a good fielder, a great leader among men, and the pillar of the Jimmy Fund ... the guy can still hit!" How could I have forgotten?

Chris: Regarding Palmeiro, whoever said "Tony Perez" I think had it about right. Paul Molitor also comes to mind. I think they were comparable forces in their respective days.

Active Career Win Shares Leaders through 2004

664 Barry Bonds

398 Roger Clemens

395 Craig Biggio

386 Jeff Bagwell

384 Rafael Palmeiro

376 Roberto Alomar

368 Gary Sheffield

359 Greg Maddux

359 Frank Thomas

346 Barry Larkin

341 Fred McGriff

339 Ken Griffey Jr.

309 Sammy Sosa

305 Edgar Martinez

297 Mike Piazza

297 Larry Walker

294 John Olerud

292 Bernie Williams

286 Randy Johnson

281 Alex Rodriguez

281 Steve Finley

278 Jim Thome

276 Manny Ramirez

276 Tom Glavine

272 Robin Ventura

269 Jeff Kent

268 Julio Franco

267 Luis Gonzalez

262 Chipper Jones

262 Ivan Rodriguez

260 Ellis Burks

251 Andres Galarraga

250 Marquis Grissom

I think if the longevity is impressive enough, it is a kind of greatness. Though of course Palmeiro's is tainted.

MBBR: By the way, if I remember correctly, the average HoFer has 363 career WS, and 300 is a good though not perfect cutoff point for legitimate future HoFers. Of course, that varies by position but it's a decent thumb rule.

Chris: Re: 300 WS rule of thumb. It seems like a guy with who makes a big impression can make it with 250, but if you're a plodder like Palmeiro, you need 350. The only eligible players I see with over 350 win shares who are not in the Hall of Fame are:

393 Bill Dahlen

364 Darrell Evans

358 Rusty Staub

And the other plodders didn't have gaudy conventional stats. If he hadn't gotten nailed for steroids just now, I think the doubts about the numbers would have subsided.

Hey, Bush has chimed in with his belief in Palmeiro's innocence, despite what any of this mere reality-based testing might have to say.

Murray: Good point, Chris. People have no memory of being very impressed by plodders. It's like finding out that when the janitor died, she endowed a million-dollar scholarship at the college where she cleaned toilets.

Murray: Oh, and also this.

If it's in the Times, it must be true.

PD: Yes, he has no idea how he could have gotten some stanozolol into his system. Maybe from the salad bar at Whole Foods.

Palmeiro and the HOF: Out!

Murray: Can't be! No additives in Whole Foods' produce!

MBBR: Chris,

Here's the complete list of 350+:

NameWin Shares
Tony Mullane399
Bill Dahlen394
Sherry Magee354
Darrell Evans363
Rusty Staub358
Lou Whitaker351

I did a study on this: here and here

As for Bush, we know he doesn't believe in science. The likelihood of there being a false positive based on the numbers I have me are nil. Given that there are 30 teams each with 40 players taking three tests that use dual tests and the odds are .0015 of a false positive, one would expect .0081 false positives in any given year (30 x 40 x 3 x (.0015)^2). The likelihood that Palmeiro's test was a false positive (i.e., he never took any substance) is 1 in 444,444.

PD: Those numbers should presumably include a margin of error for the likelihood of a false positive ... it would be surprising if this had not been calculated too.

MBBR: Re. Palmeiro and the HOF: Out!

Why? Because of the suspension? Guys like Mantle, Mays, and Durocher had stiffer penalties and then went in the Hall.

Because of the steroid use? I suppose there's a rationale if one can use it to dismiss his entire career. What if he was just taking it to extend his career like Pete Rose corked his bat at the end (allegedly)? What about Bonds et al? Are we dismissing anyone who appears tainted or just the ones that fail the test? What about Sosa and his corked bat? What about Gaylord Perry and his "substances"? Where do you draw the line?

Mike (Not me): On roids: The imbecile who does the half-hourly sports reports on WCBS-AM started insinuating yesterday that Giambi must be juicing again because of his hot July. This morning, the same ass-gasket goes on the air to say, some of you called and said I was irresponsible but 53 percent of the respondents in our online poll said they also think Giambi must be using again. Makes you want to scream.

MBBR: By the way, I will go out on a limb and say that Ryan Franklin won't make it to the Hall of Fame.

PD: Curt Schilling on Raffy: "I also understand that, in God's world, people make mistakes."

In my case that would involve reading the Globe sports section today.

Alex: And in Satan's world they deny making them?

PD: I tend not to "draw the line" at all, since given the diverse issues regarding potential cheating you cite, it would be as odd-shaped as Maui. I prefer to look at things on a case-by-case basis.

It's also not clear to me how assessing Palmeiro's "suspension" could be separated from assessing his "steroid use," since the suspension is precisely for his steroid use.

Moreover, the caveat that others have had longer suspensions and still reached the HOF is a red herring. Palmeiro's suspension is not significant for its length, but what it suggests: That he would take steroids and expect not to get caught *even under an improved testing regime,* let alone in the days when there was no steroid policy at all.

In this case, I think Palmeiro fails the basic common-sense doubts we should have about him. First he says he never used steroids. Then he gets caught using them and says he never used them "intentionally." Then it turns out he was using steroids you can hardly take unintentionally.

Sorry! I believe the bullshit detector just went off! So I'm no longer willing to believe what this guy says; let's use common sense instead. When Rafael Palmeiro was 27 years old, once considered the absolute prime of a player's career, he hit .268 with 22 homers in 608 at bats. Okay, a bit of an off-year for a guy considered a batting title contender. Then again, he only hit .300 in 3 of his first 7 seasons, too. All told I find it a bit implausible that he averaged 41 homers per year for 9 seasons from ages 30-38.

But who knows. Maybe it was all park effects. Common sense, though, indicates that Palmeiro was cheating this year, and had every opportunity to cheat with impunity in earlier years, which coincided with a period when his stats and power soared, and on top of that has not been straight with us when asked to comment on the situation.

So I've had enough of this loser and his phony act. Palmeiro: Out!

MBBR: You ignore a rather salient fact that this renaissance occurred during the greatest offensive surge in baseball history. Is it inconceivable that Palmeiro's post-30 antics had nothing to do with steroids and were just due to the era in which he played? I think not.

Keep in mind that this was not just a one- or two-year spike in his career a la Brady Anderson. He changed as a ballplayer and stayed changed. Could that have all been due to steroids, my own common-sense-o-meter says no. Then again, I don't know much about extended steroid use and how it affects on-field performance. I don't think any of us know.

I just think that we had better be sure that we have the facts before we start banning people from the Hall. I waited 15 years for Rose until he felt the time was right to stupidly spew forth a confession. I have no problem with waiting on Palmeiro. Of course, this may be the only evidence we get. If so, I can't see banning him.

Wait, even if we assume the worst and he's been using steroids since the mid-'90s. It wasn't illegal in MLB until the last CBA anyway. I don't see how you can ban him for something that wasn't illegal (at least in baseball). Should we bar Wee Willie Keeler for the now-illegal fair-foul slap hit that he perfected? Put him in, and let's let baseball move on.

PD: It does little good simply to note that Palmeiro's best years happened to come "during the greatest offensive surge in baseball history," as if he were just getting blown along in the jet stream. That does not actually constitute an explanation. So what does explain the surge? The ballparks, in part. But ... Could it possibly be that steroids were somehow involved?

Frankly it really strains credulity at this point to suggest that Palmeiro's performance perhaps "had nothing to do with steroids and were just due to the era in which he played," again as if that era in and of itself contained some kind of magical force powering hitting statistics onward and upward.

There is no reason why the long-term change in Palmeiro's performance could not have been attributable to steroids. As to the out-clause formulation of whether it's "all" due to steroids, even I would say that playing in The Ballpark helped him hit homers. But while none of us has a PhD in physiology, allow me to suggest the following relationship between steroid use and on-field performance: Taking them helps players become better hitters.

Incidentally, I am not advocating "banning" Rafael Palmeiro from the Hall of Fame. I am saying I would now decline to vote for this turkey, however. That's what I meant by: "Out!"

We've already gone over how the objection about steroids not being "illegal in baseball" fails to hold any water. To recap: Many steroids were already illegal in the United States before baseball got around to grappling with them. For instance, Stanozolol/Winstrol, the steroid Raffy used, is covered in the Anabolic Steroids Control Act of 1990. (As even I have known since Ben Johnson in 1988, Stanozolol is used to help *horses* bulk up.) If player was using it in the 1990s, he would have been breaking U.S. law. So who cares if it's not mentioned in the CBA?

On these grounds, I have no problem with Wee Willie Keeler being in, as I don't believe his slap hits were banned by U.S. law.

Finally, I don't see why ignoring baseball's problems constitutes "moving on," and why this is desirable. Baseball will roll on anyway. (The only year it hasn't is 1994.) I'd sooner have at least some of its cheaters brought to justice en route, however.

MBBR: Well, since your mind's already made up, I'll just tip my hat and say good day.

LJM: I have reservations, not only about Rafael Palmeiro, but a lot of the guys who are going to come in with numbers obtained during this era. I think there just has to be a penalty - I just don't know what that is yet.

Murray: Comparing what Mantle and Mays were suspended for to Palmeiro's suspension is ridiculous. Mantle and Mays were two *retired* guys performing legal services on behalf of a legal business. Palmeiro, on the other hand, is an active player who's been suspended for testing positive for using banned substances. The distinction is not subtle.

I'm also tired of reading nonsense about how Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker were worse people than Rafael Palmeiro, and they're in the HOF. It's good to know that the sabermetric fringe feels that racial prejudice is bad, but it's also irrelevant to this issue.

MBBR: I didn't mention Speaker or Cobb and agree with your argument.

I don't think comparing the Mays/Mantle suspensions to Palmeiro's is, to quote Felix Unger, "Aristophanes". I was comparing them as suspensions. I separated out the steroid issue, you may have noticed.

As for the argument earlier on that steroid use prior to its becoming a MLB-banned substance was just as bad since it was illegal in society as a whole, are we skipping anyone who used illegal substances like pot and coke? How about alcohol during Prohibition? How about players who participated in Sunday baseball in states in which it was illegal? Shall I throw out Wee Willie Keeler's name again or is he already incarcerated for the fair-foul slap hit? I think this argument is the evil twin of the Speaker/Cobb one. We shouldn't bar someone from the Hall for doing something illegal anymore than we should bar them for being a-holes. Pete Rose is banned not for tax evasion, which is illegal, but for betting on his own team, which is not.

I think this largely comes down to bias. If you weren't partial to Palmeiro going in the Hall, it's more grist for the mill. If you are for him then your opinion remains unchanged. If you don't feel strongly one way or the other (like me), then I think you draw the conclusions that I did. Of course, you all disagree with that.

OK, I'll throw out a scenario and see who salutes: Barry Bonds returns to the Giants next spring and promptly fails his first steroid test. Is he a Hall of Famer or not? Discuss.

Alex: The sabermetric community doesn't want Bonds' legacy eliminated, and therefore has to be soft on 'roids.

Rafael Palmeiro could be tried for perjury before Congress. (Whether he could be convicted is another story). If this were to happen, he'd have less standing in my eyes than Lil Petey Bookmaker.

LJM: All those years, I was the guy who said Pete needs to be punished, and he has, for 16 years. But how long are these guys going to be kept out?

If you are going to let people into the Hall who have done steroids, then you have to let Pete Rose in, because this has hurt baseball more than what Pete did.

Murray: I didn't say you brought up Speaker and Cobb, Mike. In a separate paragraph, I said I was tired of reading about it on the web. I believe Will Carroll mentioned them, and I think Tim Marchman mentioned them in the New York Sun. Didn't mean to suggest you were making arguments for which you weren't responsible.

I'm confident that nobody took cocaine to gain an unwarranted edge in his baseball performance. I'm virtually certain that all players who took performance-enhancing drugs did so to gain an unwarranted performance advantage on the baseball field.

PD: I don't think it's precisely that my mind is already made up; I've just failed to be persuaded by the opposing arguments so far. If I had a position and someone else presented a better one, I'd reconsider.

For instance, I have seen many, many people, in print and otherwise, simply attribute the big stats of certain individuals from the 1990s to the generalized fact that it was a hitters' era. That's a tautology. The real question is: *Why* was it a hitters' era? Rafael Palmeiro did not hit a lot of home runs simply because other players were also doing so. We know that stats took a certain shape in the late 1960s, for example, because of the configuration of ballparks and the 15-inch height of the pitchers' rubber. After 1968, the height dropped and the stats changed. So why did stats change so incredibly in the 1990s? I'm willing to give the new retro parks and Colorado some of the credit -- but what else was going on?

As one answer, there is now a growing pile of information, including first-person confessions from two MVPs of this hitters' era, suggesting that loads of players drastically improved because they were using steroids. So far it seems like a pretty compelling part of any explanation.

MBBR: There were two rounds of expansion, dinky stadiums popping up all over, the new "lively" ball, and, I believe most importantly, the evolution of the strike zone. I studied this.

It's my belief that steroids had very little to do with it.

PD: I liked your attempt to reconstruct the strike zone changes, and have long felt this is an important issue, but it still feels like we need more information to analyze it as well as we can analyze other changes in the game.

Ballparks, yes -- a big factor.

Expansion in general is an overrated factor, but not in the case of Colorado.

The lively ball -- not convinced.

Finally, steroids. Very few players have been in a position of being forced to admit anything about their use. And yet we already know that 4 players who have won a total of 10 MVP awards have admitted using steroids in the middle of their careers. That is just one indication this was a very widespread practice.

LJM: The game was booming. The home run was the thing. They even advertised it - 'Chicks dig the long ball.' Little things don't matter - speed, stealing bases. It's all tied together. Players are locked onto first base waiting for the home run.

PD: Okay ... Re: Suspensions.

The line of argument here is not: "Gee, a player who gets suspended can't be in the HOF." The argument is: When a player gets suspended because he is caught red-handed using a powerful performance-enhancing substance, in direct violation of the rules of the game, that's a pretty big detriment to his candidacy, which after all is based on his performance.

This is not a question of *eligibility* for the Hall of Fame, but of *credentials.* Palmeiro's suspension is for a violation which calls into question the basis on which he compiled those credentials. As such it's something which demands consideration.

Moreover, because his suspension IS for using steroids, it can't be "separated" from "the steroid issue." We're not interested in the fact that he was forced to sit out for 10 games. We're interested in the fact that he used steroids to compete.

MBBR: Then suspend a player for a year for one violation. Do something significant.

Or continue to screen him weekly for a year or two.

He got caught once. He's serving his sentence. That's the end of it for me. If one incident is going cast doubt over his entire career, then we had better make sure there's cause. Put him on probation and screen him for the rest of his career.

PD: As I see it, there are two types of transgressions which count against someone's chances of making the HOF. Since I've already responded in an earlier e-mail that neither has anything to do with Wee Willie Keeler, no, you don't have to bring him up again.

The two types are:

a) Breaking the rules of baseball. b) Breaking codified laws which are not explicitly in the baseball rulebook or CBA but give a player an unfair competitive advantage ON THE FIELD.

This latter point is why the illegality of steroids in the 1990s matters. We are not concerned with barring from the Hall of Fame every last person who broke any U.S. law at any time. We are concerned with having the very best baseball players in the Hall of Fame. If someone broke the laws of the country to gain a competitive advantage ON THE FIELD -- even if those laws were not, at the time, precisely replicated in baseball's own evolving set of rules -- that is a mighty good reason to think they are not one of the all-time best players, or at least not worthy of the special honor of being in the Hall of Fame.

I can't make it any clearer than that. And I'm not sure why people immediately jump on the corollary as some kind of counter-argument, saying it would be unfair to ban every last law-breaker. That's not, of course, what many of us are arguing. We're concerned with the integrity of someone's performance.

MBBR: OK, Re. a) as I said before, he got caught and is doing his time. That's the extent of it in my book. I think it's fair to now single him out, place him on probation (I know that the CBA does not provide for it), and screen him regularly. If Palmeiro wants to clear his name he should insist on this.

b) Players used amphetamines to get an edge in the Seventies. Coke's been used. I believe they are illegal. Human Growth Hormone is not even being screened for now.

Maybe steroids give players a bigger edge. It probably does. However, unless there is proof that this is not an isolated incident, I don't think it's fair to assume that he used steroids extensively. Maybe it's naive, but so be it. Why aren't the authorities investigating this incident a la BALCO, especially given that he potentially did lie to Congress?

LJM: Baseball itself is at fault because it let it go on for so long and didn't do anything about it. All these people who they didn't know - I say, let them take a lie-detector test. No one would pass. That includes managers and coaches... I've known it for 10, 15 years, and I am not even on the field.

Chris: I have mixed feelings about it.

If you think the Hall of Fame is for the players who contributed the most wins to their teams, then you go ahead and put the IPED users in there, because the wins counted, no matter how the player happened to achieve them. As I'm unwilling to chuck out the results of the past 10-20 baseball seasons, and feel to a large degree that the baseball world had an unspoken tolerance for these drugs and is only now changing the de facto rules on these guys, I could see it that way. Bonds and Palmeiro in.

I could also see the argument that true greatness should clearly rise above various circumstantial advantages, including illegal performance enhancement. In that case, Bonds in: he was a truly great player anyway. Palmeiro out: Bill James ranked him only the 17th best first baseman of all time even with the steroids.

Finally, you could say that the Hall of Fame isn't fundamentally a ranking, it's fundamentally an honor. People who cheat at the game, even in a corrupt era, diminish and dishonor it, and the game shouldn't reward them with honors in return. Bonds and Palmeiro out.

Do any of these arguments make more sense than the others?

MBBR: I think these arguments hold water. I think the determining factor is how much Palmeiro abused steroids. If it's extensively, then that taints him. If it was an isolated event, I don't think that should bar him.

I guess I'm not ready to assume it was extensive because of this one event (or Jose Canseco's say-so). The problem for Palmeiro is that there's no way to clear his name if it is an isolated event. There are no tests to point to in order to indicate that he played clean for the bulk of his career (though last year's results would be nice to see if they can release them). The vast majority will assume he was a regular steroid user because of his mid-career renaissance and the hypocrisy of his speaking out against steroid use and then being caught. I guess I'm naive but choose to be so--I'd rather be naive than world-weary in baseball matters.

Murray: The "He did it one time" attitude would be acceptable if we were talking punching an umpire or heaving a ball into the grandstand at annoying fans, but performance-enhancing drugs don't strike me as something one takes in the morning to help cope with a twilignt start against a tough left-hander. One trying to reap the benefits of a performance-enhancing drug doesn't do it just *once* in the same sense that one might try marijuana once.

Amphetamines are a stimulant--probably more effective than coffee, but still a stimulant. It's not really the same thing.

To me, it comes down to this. Small parks, tighter strike zones, better bats, more regular baseballs, expansion, advances in physical conditioning: all of them are conditions of *the game*. They influence the way it is played, but they are not external factors. Performance-enhancing drugs are external factors that have at least some effect on the game. And to pretend that they don't improve performance in an unfair way ignores all kinds of evidence to the contrary--not least of which is that people take them out of the belief that they will provide a performance edge. For example, they help make people stronger. They make people run faster. They improve eyesight. They turn East German women into guys named "Gunther." They are banned for a reason. Ben Johnson was a great sprinter, but his best performances have been justifiably called into doubt because he used illegal substances to achieve superhuman performance levels that are viewed as invalid because of the way the performance peak was reached.

So, now we have a guy, Palmeiro, whose statistics are already difficult to interpret because of all the changes in the game that Mike C. noted. As a bonus, we know now that Palmeiro has done something that is illegal and unethical that probably influenced his on-field performance. I don't see why we can't say that makes him less obviously worthy of honor, especially when the fact of the violation calls the integrity of the entire record into question. Ferguson Jenkins waited a lot longer than he might have to get into the HOF because of his drug charges. Although voters eventually decided that his conviction shouldn't be the controlling factor, it was important to some voters, even though it didn't have anything to do with his play.

Why? Because enshrinement is supposed to be an honor. That people hold those they honor to a higher standard of behavior than they hold themselves is part of the point of honors, isn't it? That's why heroes have the capacity to disappoint when we find out they're not who or what we thought they were. I happen to think that standards are important. I don't believe in revoking honors already bestowed unless the records that resulted in the honor are themselves called into question (e.g., we take Purple Hearts away from guys who weren't really wounded in action). I never considered Palmeiro to be a great player. In fact, it's only because of his statistical achievements that have forced us to have this discussion. Now the context in which those statistics were compiled has been called into question, it's an even harder case to make. So, sure, I do think Palmeiro's no longer an automatic HOF selection and that the debate surrounding this is good.

PD: Well said. It is also quite likely that even *this week*, Palmeiro has been trying to deceive people about what he did, which frankly gives us all the less reason to assume the best about him and what he's done in the past. It takes effort and planning to use Stanozolol/Winstrol. Even yesterday, his people were trying to get out ahead of the perjury-investigation story and make it seem like he was reaching out to Congress.

Meanwhile no one looks good on the perjury-inquiry front, since Rep. Tom Davis basically admitted yesterday that they're just doing this for PR reasons. From the AP:

"As a practical matter, perjury referrals are uncommon. Prosecutions are rare,'' House Government Reform Committee chairman Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., said Wednesday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "But this is a high-profile case, so I think it will get an honest look-see. I don't think anyone can avoid it.''

Right. Additionally, since the "investigation" will basically involve just looking at Palmeiro's records going back to 2004, it tells us nothing about the long-term issues.

LJM: There's not a big enough asterisk to handle all of this. There has to be some penalty. I just don't know what it is.

If I sound angry, it's because I am. I just hate what I've seen happen. We brought this on ourselves. Now, every number, the suspicion is there, and that hurts more than what Pete did.

The game doesn't belong to these players today. It belongs to all the players who have ever played - Henry Aaron, Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Frank Robinson, the guys who helped build the game, not to guys who have hurt the game. Now these great players' numbers are being pushed back.

Alex: The most frustrating thing is that it's called the Hall of FAME. Not the Hall of Stats or Hall of Achievement.

Now in my mind, that makes Tommy John the most notable omission. After all, what other former pitcher is referenced in virtually every baseball broadcast? If that's not fame, I don't know what is.

PD: All right. Here's my last long e-treatise for the week on the scarlet letter S in baseball ...

For me dealing with the issue is not a matter of adopting an attitude, whether it's being naive, world-weary, or whatever, and sticking with it no matter what. It's a matter of being able to understand the game as it happens right in front of us. Does baseball analysis consist of just running numbers -- or does it include our powers of observation? I didn't care about steroids in baseball until a couple years ago, when I realized I had been suspending my disbelief to the point that I was just negating my own ability to analyze what I was watching.

Take Jose Canseco. How could he be hitting balls on different vectors, with different velocity, than anyone else? Laser shots line drives off the wall, homers to right-center in Oakland and Anaheim that exceeded Reggie Jackson's best pulled efforts, and so on. I ignored the steroid talk of the time.

Now, there have been thousands of big-league ballplayers. Was Jose Canseco naturally crushing the ball that much harder than anyone else? Or was there a more prosaic explanation? I'd like to think that Jose's 1989 Skydome HR, one of the highlights of my fandom, was clean. It wasn't. In retrospect, it should have been obvious that anyone exceeding performance standards -- I'm talking about the length and velocity of the homers here -- by that much was not just some off-the-curve talent. Especially not when he weighed 150 or whatever in high school.

Meanwhile, I was also slow to understand how the steroid issue is annoying not only ethically, but analytically. We don't know who used, for how long, while many retired players will never be found out.

I first read the Baseball Abstract in 1982, when I was 12, and I've always allied myself with the sabermetricians. When steroids made the news, I was puzzled. Why were so many sabr-people trying to deny any link between steroid use and performance, against all common sense, experience, and observation? Why were they all setting up this straw man that steroids alone don't make you a big-league hitter? Why was Bill James comparing Barry Bonds to a guy being lynched?

It's because steroids throw such a wrench into our ability to analyze the game with numbers, at present or over time. Baseball metrics depend on not having to make exceptions or really do anything on a case-by-case basis. But when you see Bret Boone, as just one example, suddenly get big and see his hitting stats get big, and then you see both shrink at the same time, it's just too obvious to ignore what's been going on. I feel as annoyed as the next guy that this throws uncertainty into our ability to run the numbers -- but so be it. Metrics will still work, just not as well in some cases. Bill James himself likes detective stories; but ignoring all the Bret Boone-type evidence is not a satisfying bit of detective work..

PD: And one last short point on Palmeiro. Didn't Jose Canseco say Palmeiro injected himself with steroids? Stanozolol is something you inject.

MBBR: I believe Jose claimed to have injected Palmeiro, but same difference.

Murray: Everybody make sure to read the Joe Morgan interview in the Philly Daily News today. How do you think we got Enron? Joe, of course, this that this scandal is worse than Pete Rose and that we're going to need a whole lot of asterisks to cover over the damage to Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, etc. (he never mentions Babe Ruth). On that front, I think it's not worse for a reason I have cited in the past: trying to enhance one's skills by taking these drugs is more like cheating to win, albeit in an unacceptable manner. It isn't the same thing as cheating to lose when it's to your financial advantage. There's a tendency to forget that the fundamental unit of account here is a ball game. It's not a number of homers hit, etc., all of which is accounting with respect to how a team wins or loses a game. But there's no way that steroids have a more detrimental effect on the outcome of an individual ballgame than very possibility that the integrity of the outcome is in doubt.

Murray: Lee Mazzilli just got fired. As my brother noted, maybe that's how Palmeiro got his 'roids.[Editor: This is pure speculation, no lawsuits please.]

MBBR: Wow, and Lloyd McClendon still has a job?

Mike (Not me): Isn't managing the Pirates punishment enough?

PD: Late update:

In "Juiced," Jose says he first started injecting Raffy, J-Gonz and I-Pud, but that later they started injecting themselves. He says they first came to him for 'roid advice.

And he says he had them on a cocktail of Winstrol, Deca Durabolin, and testosterone.

Winstrol is Stanozolol, the thing Palmeiro has tested positive for.

OK, did anyone guess that LJM was Lil Joe Morgan as quoted in the above mentioned interview? Did he remind anyone of James Stockdale at the Vice-Presidential debates? Maybe just me. Great to have him aboard.

2005-08-08 07:47:47
1.   Rikki
The mention of Harold Baines in the above colloquy provokes me to ask: if demonstrable lack of character, as exemplified by cheating (steroids, corked bats, betting, etc. etc.) should/could disqualify a great (measured statistically) player from membership in the Hall, what about the obverse--i.e., demonstrable sterling character, as exemplified by the demeanor, work ethic and a family and civic life outside the lines lived in almost saintly fashion? Shouldn't that tip the scales in favor of a person such as Baines, whose membership will be debated on two levels--whether a DH should get in under any circumstances, and whether his (perhaps marginal)statistics qualify him--but who is a genuine role model, universally admired in The Game?
2005-08-08 09:12:52
2.   Todd S
Good stuff, Mike. Thanks for the post.

I'm sure I would get lumped into the sabermatricians since I think Palmeiro should be in even if he retired right now. But the thing I don't get in all of this steroid talk is: pitchers. Why do they get a free ride? Weren't they juicing too, to get extra velocity or improved recovery time? Weren't these great juiced hitters competing against other juiced hitters, and still managed to stand out? Or are we assuming that the ONLY players taking steroids were all of the great ones from the era? I just don't feel comfortable making these types of assumptions, and so with the lack of objective evidence available, I would vote Palmeiro in.

What Rose did was potentially far more damaging to the game, and clearly illegal from a baseball standpoint.

2005-08-08 14:41:42
3.   MTR
Very interesting. I registered just so I can comment.

I'm of several minds. On the one hand, I wouldn't have voted for Palmero before the steroids story broke. Put simply, I would prefer the hall be more exclusive and based more on peak performance.

On the other hand, I don't see how steroids are so much worse than corking a bat or doctoring a ball or the hundred other ways of cheating players have invented. And baseball has traditionally been very gentle to players caught cheating.

On the other other hand, I wish cheating did carry a real penalty. I'd like it if a player caught with a corked bat was subject to the same type of treatment as the steroid users.

I'd like to hear from people who lurk here: why do you think steroids are a "worse" form of cheating than other methods?

2005-08-08 15:31:29
4.   Murray
Steroids are illegal, not just baseball-illegal. That's worse than corking a bat. The spitball is unsanitary. Steroids are potentially unhealthy. Pitchers who cut the ball don't do it on every pitch. Steroid users don't have an on-off switch.

(As a complete aside, I understand that physicists think that corking doesn't work. The loss in mass at the bat's sweet spot is outweighed by the loss of resilience caused by drilling out the core of the bat. Nevertheless, the intention is to cheat, and I think that's good enough to justify treating the practice as an attempt to gain unfair advantage.)

2005-08-09 10:04:14
5.   MTR
While steroids are illegal (without a perscription) so are the greenies players used to (still do?) pop like candy. No fuss over those. But chiefly I don't see why the "illegal by the laws of the country" should affect what baseball does - if you break a law it's up to the government to deal with it, not baseball. If Barry Bonds broke a US law it's up to the US to determine his punishment - not Selig. Baseball needs it's own rules to cover stuff that hurts it but isn't covered by the ordinary laws.

I guess my feeling is this: let baseball have rules like "you must touch 1st base before 2nd" and "no doctoring the ball" and leave "you can't kill an opposing player" to the US.

BTW, I understand that corking with actual cork doesn't do much (might help you get some singles, but at the cost of power) but there are other things you can use (like superballs) which help quite a bit.

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