I railed against Danny Knobler’s exclusion of Jeff Bagwell from his Hall of Fame ballot for being cowardly. He clearly believes Jeff Bagwell took steroids, but he’s afraid to even offer an opinion to that effect. Dan Graziano of FanHouse is not problematic in that regard. He comes right out and says what he thinks:
I don’t know for sure that Bagwell took steroids or any other performance-enhancing drugs to help him attain his Hall of Fame-caliber numbers. I don’t have evidence, like we do against Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro. But I’m suspicious. And this year, that suspicion was enough to make me send back my ballot without the Bagwell box checked … This isn’t about whether I believe what Bagwell says. It’s about suspicions I harbored long before he spoke out on the issue. It’s about where he played and when he played and the teammates with whom he played and a whole bunch of circumstantial evidence that I readily admit wouldn’t hold up in a court of law.
I abhor such reasoning because it’s basically steroids McCarthyism — “I have here in my hand a list of steroids users …” — but at least he’s being honest about his unfairness. He knows he has no hard evidence against Bagwell. He admits the case against him is hearsay and innuendo. He just doesn’t care. Compared to Knobler’s ballot, it’s almost refreshing.
But I have to ask: if the hearsay and innuendo is enough to sway Graziano’s opinion on Bagwell, why not share it with us? Why doesn’t Graziano tell us why he, an insider who is privy to that which the rest of us are not, believes that Jeff Bagwell took steroids and Roberto Alomar did not. Or Jim Thome or Frank Thomas if you prefer power hitters. Clearly there’s something there that has caused him to believe that Bagwell was a ‘roider. What is it? It could be useful to all of us if we knew. It would at least help us understand the new standards being applied to future Hall of Fame votes, would it not? Maybe even some of the other voters would like to know so that they don’t make the mistake of voting for a known-cheater.
But no, Graziano won’t share. Maybe because he fears legal trouble:
People will hate this position, and I understand that. But I offer this in my defense: we writers who covered the game during the Steroid Era are often criticized for not reporting more skeptically based on the suspicions we harbored then. And while much of that criticism is justified, I believe the fact that we and our newspapers could have been subject to legal action for such reporting works in our defense.
Such a belief is flat wrong, of course. No reporter or newspaper could have been successfully sued if they published a truthful steroids story in the 1990s. The media’s unwillingness to report such things in the 1990s was a function of a lack of evidence, a fear of reprisal from the teams and players on which they depended for access, or both. Indeed, in the eight years since Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco started talking about steroids in baseball, we have yet to hear from one reporter who said that he had both the information and the desire to report on such things but was prevented from doing so for fear of a lawsuit. They either didn’t have the goods (for whatever reason) or didn’t have the will, and Graziano is admitting that he doesn’t have as much now:
The withholding of a Hall of Fame vote based on suspicion of illegal activity is not the same as writing a newspaper story accusing someone of illegal activity. I’m not accusing Jeff Bagwell of taking steroids or any other performance-enhancing drug. I’m just saying I’m suspicious.
I don’t have a problem with someone voting their conscience on the Hall of Fame, but let’s not make any mistake here: this is an accusation. Maybe not a legally-actionable one, but Graziano believes Bagwell took steroids and says it as plain as day. Which is fine. But he should at least have the decency to own up to it and explain it. Home run spikes? Change in physique? Dubious associations? Something he saw in the locker room? What is it? This isn’t a rhetorical question. Writers have been gone to great lengths to explain how difficult it is to vote for the Hall of Fame in the steroid era. There’s so much uncertainty. Well, in Graziano we have a guy who is a little more certain about Bagwell than others. Doesn’t he have an obligation to share?
And let me be clear about something. I don’t know what Bagwell did or didn’t do either. I won’t go to the mat for him being clean precisely because I don’t know. But that doesn’t really matter here. There were actual communists in the State Department and the Army in the 1950s, but that fact didn’t vindicate Senator McCarthy. It was his methods and his assumptions that were problematic. The fact that he’d willingly go after people regardless of the evidence he had at hand and in a manner that made it impossible for a target to vindicate themselves. The creation of a chilling rhetoric that made reasoned debate on the subject damn nigh impossible. We’re seeing that with Bagwell and the Hall of Fame, I think, and I fear that we will continue to see it as more sluggers from the 1990s reach the ballot.
A couple of years ago I got a lot of mileage off a column the Seattle Times’ Geoff Baker wrote about a blogger who wrote a post observing that Raul Ibanez’s nice start could theoretically be explained by steroids. I still take issue with Baker’s writing about the specifics of that, but he wasn’t wrong about the principle, expressed thusly:
But when you go all-in, you’ve got to go all in. He didn’t do that. When you write about topics like killers, or Hell’s Angels, or major leaguers and steroids, you can’t pussy foot around. You’ve got to go at it hard, directly, with no b.s. and be able to defend yourself afterwards. This blogger couldn’t because he went in only halfway. He tried to raise the “steroids issue” then claimed he really wasn’t pointing a finger at Ibanez.
Baker had most of the mainstream media on his side in that case. I wonder how much of the mainstream media is on Graziano’s side here. I wonder if we’re willing to tolerate this kind of pussy footing around Bagwell’s entire professional legacy when we wouldn’t dare tolerate it when it came to Raul Ibanez’s April and May of 2009.
I’m not willing to tolerate it, but I’ll admit I’m a bit of a radical in this regard. How does everyone else feel? Specifically, those folks with a BBWAA badge? Will this “I have my reasons, but I won’t share” line be the new gold standard of Hall of Fame debate for the next 20 years? Or do we — and does the Hall of Fame and those who would deign to enter it — deserve better?