I’m pretty sure I’ve written a post along these lines before, but a reader asked me about it in the comments to my imaginary Hall of Fame ballot post — and the issue of PEDs and the Hall of Fame are going to come up again as more and more writers reveal their 2011 ballots — so let’s go back into the breach.
The question presented: why did I not include Rafael Palmiero in my imaginary Hall of Fame ballot. Was it the PED association or was it a performance-based thing? The answer: Both. As in, I see the issues as intertwined.
My take on PEDs has long been that they should not automatically disqualify a player from Hall of Fame consideration. We don’t know for sure who did them and who didn’t. For those whom we know did them, we don’t know when they started, when they stopped, how much juice they took or what kind of juice it was. We don’t know whether the hitters or the pitchers were aided more by it. We can’t ignore all of the numbers posted by PED-associated ballplayer because there are other factors in play — ballpark size, strike zone, etc. — that affect them.
So what do we do with guys like Palmiero? My best answer so far — and if you have a better one, I’m open to it — is to determine whether, roughly speaking, we think the guy was a Hall of Famer even if he never used PEDs. Yes, I know that invites its own form of chaos, but I see it preferable to either assuming his entire record was fraudulent or assuming that PEDs had zero impact because we know neither of those things is the case. Put differently: uncertainty is preferable to being certainly wrong.
I look at Palmeiro and I see a guy who was very good for a very long time in some very friendly hitters parks while playing a good bit of DH. I see a guy who, while crossing over the magic 500 home run and 3000 hit barrier, was never considered the absolute best hitter in the league. And then I have to take a couple of mental ticks off because of the PED association.
Putting those things together, I think he’s a close call. I may change my mind on him one day. But he’ll be eligible for a long time yet. In that time, we may come to learn more about his own history of PED use and the history of PED use in baseball in general. That information may make Palmeiro rise in my estimation. It may make him sink. But I feel like I need to take that time in his case due to that uncertainty. If our information on Palmiero and PEDs in general remained static for the entire time Palmiero was on the ballot, I’d probably err on the side of not voting for him.
In contrast, I don’t believe that Mark McGwire is as close a call under such an analysis, though I think reasonable people can disagree about him. I certainly don’t think that Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens is a close call given that they’re so far beyond worthy of election based on their performance that even the most harsh PED-discount would drag them below the line. The only people who should be voting against them are the hardliners who think no PED-user should ever be elected, and like I said, I’m not one of those.
Palmiero may be as close as we get. Kevin Brown is in that boat as well. Either way, they’re tough cases. Abd if I had the franchise, I’d hold off on them for a bit.