Craig Calcaterra

Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell were not overnight PED creations

57 Comments

As I’ve said many, many times, I have no idea if Jeff Bagwell and/or Mike Piazza ever used performance enhancing drugs. Given the era in which they played and random hearsay which has floated around for years it would not surprise me if they did, but it’s also the case that it would not surprise me if any of their contemporaries did. We don’t know for sure and those who claim to know for sure don’t have enough evidence upon which to hang an actual report.

But one thing that we do know for sure is that the popular narrative which has surrounded Piazza and Bagwell since they became Hall of Fame candidates — that they were no-power jamokes when they were young and that their Hall of Fame-caliber careers came out of a syringe — is a big fat lie.

We know this based on Alex Speier’s story in today’s Boston Globe. There Speier interviewed Ray Fagnant, a Red Sox regional scout who worked with Bagwell when he was a minor league catcher back when Bagwell was in the low minors. He likewise got up close and personal with Piazza in the Florida State League. With both guys, Fagnant says that their power potential was huge and that, even then, they looked like major leaguers in the making.

Two years ago Dan Lewis of Amazin’ Avenue presented even more data on this score, in the form of early scouting reports for a 17-year-old Mike Piazza which, again, showed his clear power potential even at a young age. The bigger takeaway from Lewis’ story, though, is the reminder that the scouting which went into Piazza famously becoming a 62nd round pick was based on him being a poor, right-handed first baseman. A player who profiled like Piazza at the plate but who was a catcher was a 7th round pick. If Piazza had been a catcher then there’s a great chance he goes way earlier in the draft and the “he came out of NOWHERE” narrative that has surrounded his career does not exist.

All of this is information that has been circulating for years, of course. I recall a good bit of this kind of chatter when Bagwell and Piazza were stars and again when their careers wound down. It was forgotten, though, as the more influential columnists of the past decade have concluded that, no, there is NO WAY that Bagwell and Piazza would’ve amounted to anything without PEDs. It’s the ultimate irony, really. The old-line ballwriters were relying on stat lines and projections while ignoring what the scouts had to say.

Again, none of which is to say that Bagwell and Piazza didn’t, at some point in their careers, use PEDs. It simply means that they were not purely chemical creations as is so often claimed. It puts them in the same category as every player of the so-called Steroid Era: the bad ones who took PEDs didn’t suddenly become amazing. The good ones who took PEDs likely would’ve been good without them. A player’s drug use was and remains an ethical consideration on which to chew, but it does not render their on-the-field accomplishments utterly fraudulent.

It may be unfortunate that such a state of affairs robs us of a classic Frankenstein story and those always tasty “good guy/bad guy” narratives, but when the facts trump the narrative, go with the facts.

Dodgers make Kenta Maeda signing official, Maeda says there were irregularities in his physical

Kenta Maeda
4 Comments

The Dodgers officially introduced pitcher Kenta Maeda in a press conference today. And the seemingly insanely team-friendly contract Maeda received was made much more understandable.

Specifically, Maeda said, through an interpreter, that there were irregularities in his physical with the Dodgers that were factored into his contract. He did not say what those were. He said, however, that he is not worried about this season, saying “I’m confident I’ll be able to pitch.”

Certainly worth watching. And, from Maeda’s perspective, it’s certainly worth pitching. The deal is for eight years and a guaranteed total of only $24 million, but it includes an extra $10-12 million per year in incentives, almost certainly innings and games incentives, as specific statistical milestones beyond that are not allowable in major league deals.

As of now, he slots in the rotation mix along with Clayton Kershaw, Scott KazmirBrett Anderson, Alex Wood, and Hyun-Jin Ryu in some combination or another.

Looking ahead to next year’s Hall of Fame ballot

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - JULY 30:  Designated hitter Manny Ramirez #24 of the Boston Red Sox readies for the pitch during the American League game against the Texas Rangers at the Ballpark in Arlington on July 30, 2003 in Arlington, Texas.  The Rangers defeated the Red Sox 9-2.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
Getty Images
39 Comments

We’re less than 24 hours removed from the 2016 Hall of Fame class being announced but, hey, why not look ahead to next year’s ballot?

Yesterday we talked about three guys knocking on the door: Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Trevor Hoffman. Beyond them were other gainers like Mike Mussina, Edgar Martinez and Curt Schilling. All of them and others will be back, but here are the most notable guys joining them, in no particular order:

Manny Ramirez: He’d be a no-brainer if he didn’t brainlessly take PEDs after the testing regime was firmly in place. As it is, two drug suspensions will obliterate his candidacy, perhaps even more than PEDs harmed the candidacies of guys like McGwire, Bonds and Clemens. Those guys did their dirty work before testing was in place. Manny was caught after, and many will consider that to be more serious and culpable transgression. That aside, he played 19 seasons for the Indians, Red Sox, Dodgers, White Sox and Rays. He was a 12-time All-Star, played for two World Series winners and smashed 555 home runs.

Ivan Rodriguez: “Pudge” was considered the best defensive catcher of his era and, perhaps, the best defensive catcher of all time. He hit fantastically too, hitting over 300 homers, posting a career average of nearly .300 and driving in over 1,300 runs. He has an MVP Award in his back pocket and was a key member of the 2003 World Series champion Marlins. I suspect he’ll get in eventually, but I likewise suspect that he’ll have to wait a bit, not unlike Piazza and Biggio due to unsubstantiated PED rumors. If you loved “Mike Piazza’s back acne,” you’ll LOVE “Ivan Rodriguez’s weight loss!”

Vlad Guerrero: A bit of a short peak and a bit of a short career for a Hall of Famer, having played sixteen seasons for the Expos, Angels, Rangers and Orioles. Still, it was some peak. He was a nine-time All-Star, the 2004 AL MVP, has a World Series ring, (sorry: brain cramp) had a career .318 average, .379 on-base percentage, hit 449 home runs, drove in 1,496 RBI and, in his prime, was one of the best defensive outfielders with one of the greatest arms anyone has ever seen. He’s an interesting case vote-wise. I think, if anything, the time he played in relative obscurity in Montreal will help his case as, over the years, Vlad’s exploits have become the stuff of legend far more quickly than that of many of his contemporaries. There’s an air about him, I feel, that he was even greater than his numbers suggest. I go back and forth on that. He was great, but he did have some flaws in his game and his defense and stuff did fall off quickly. I’d vote for him. I think he stands the best chance of the newbies to make it in next year, but he’s not necessarily a mortal lock.

Jorge Posada: All 17 years for the Yankees and a World Series ring for every finger of one hand. A better hitter than you may remember, with a line of .273/.374/.474, 275 home runs and 1,065 RBI. If you go by WAR — which is problematic, but just for the sake of argument — he comes in 13th, just ahead of a lot of catchers who didn’t make the Hall but probably should’ve. Guys like Bill Freehan, Ted Simmons and the like. Ahead of him: Pudge, Fisk, Carter and guys who are generally thought to be clear Hall of Famers. A tough case. It may be a Jeff Kent-style case in which, unfortunately, Posada becomes the living, breathing dividing line between a Hall of Famer and a non-Hall of Famer. And don’t tell me that East Coast Bias will save him. That didn’t do a heck of a lot for Willie Randolph and Bernie Williams.

Magglio Ordonez: He’s not getting in, but it’s fun to remember him. A 15-year career between the White Sox and Tigers in which he was a six-time All-Star and one of the better hitters around. Most notably: I can’t think of many players who could be fan favorites for both the Sox and the Tigers. Everyone loved Magglio.

Jason Varitek: A lot of baseball writers will spill a lot of ink talking about how great a career he had and how great a guy he was before ultimately not voting for him. Considered by many to be the heart-and-soul of the 2004 and 2007 World Series-winning Red Sox, he got on base at a decent clip for a guy who didn’t hit for average, had some pop, had that little “C” on his jersey and once shoved his mitt in Alex Rodriguez‘s face, endearing him to millions. That’s fun, that’s interesting, but that’s not a Hall of Fame case.

There are many other fun “oh my God, how has he been retired that long?” names that will appear on next year’s ballot. Melvin Mora. Javier Vasquez. Tim Wakefield. Edgar Renteria. But no one else who is likely to get serious consideration.