The PED Eight: players who continue to take hits from Hall of Fame voters whether they deserve it or not

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This is not new. Ever since Mark McGwire appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time in 2007, a great many Hall of Fame voters have made it their mission to deny entrance to any player who was associated with performance enhancing drugs during his playing career. Or, even if the player was not formally associated via a report, a prosecution an admission or a positive drug test, if he was assumed to be a PED user he has fallen short of election. And the basis of those assumptions range from “fair” to “totally and utterly baseless.”

The 2014 election results are no exception.  Here are eight players — I’ve dubbed them The PED Eight — who, but for the fact or the presumption of their PED use, would certainly be in the Hall of Fame by now:

  • Craig Biggio: Yes, he fell just short, yes he’ll likely be inducted in 2015 and no, no one has ever made a credible, public accusation of Biggio using PEDs. But it’s madness to think that he wouldn’t already be in the Hall of Fame but for a whisper campaign that, however small, is real. Former New York Times columnist Murray Chass believes that Biggio did PEDs. ESPN’s Pedro Gomez left Biggio off his ballot and, when asked why, was quite cagey about it. If he simply did not feel Biggio measured up, he’d just say that. There are likely many others who do as well, either as a generalized suspicion of players of his era, more specific suspicion of an Astros team in which famous PED user Ken Caminiti was a clubhouse leader as Biggio was coming into professional maturity or because someone told them so third hand. Biggio was an all-around great player who finished with over 3,000 hits. He would’ve been inducted a year ago but for the whispers.
  • Jeff Bagwell: Biggio’s teammate is more directly in the crosshairs of a PED suspicion and, consequently, a PED-fueled Hall of Fame blackballing. Several writers have explicitly accused Bagwell of using PEDs, despite the fact that he has never been named as a PED user by any credible source and never tested positive for PEDs during his career. Bagwell had 449 homers and an OPS+ of 149. His career numbers are more or less comparable to a man who was born on the very same day he was: Frank Thomas. Thomas was just elected on his first ballot, with over 80% of the vote. Surely Bagwell would have been by now if not for the unsubstantiated allegations. Or perhaps if, like Thomas, he spent many years speaking out against PEDs toward the end of his career.
  • Mike Piazza: He’s in the same boat as Bagwell. Many have openly accused Piazza of PED use, none have provided any evidence of his PED use at all. And, for what it’s worth, he has denied ever using PEDs. Still, he is a PED user in the eyes of a great number of Hall of Fame voters, as is evidenced by his vote total of 62.2% this year. Which, yes, is quite good and is inching him closer to induction. But given his baseball resume — he is arguably the greatest hitting catcher who ever lived — he would have been voted in on the first ballot if not for the suspicions of voters.
  • Barry Bonds: Now we transition from the players who are merely suspected to the ones who either certainly or almost certainly did use performance enhancing drugs. Multiple well-researched books have been written chronicling the drug use of Barry Bonds, and multiple government and Major League Baseball investigations bolstered this evidence. The feds couldn’t bust Bonds for perjury when he claimed he did not use PEDs, but that says more about the criminal justice process than it does the actual information supporting his drug use. Still, as many, including this writer, have argued, Barry Bonds’ baseball exploits are so extraordinary — and were even so extraordinary before his documented PED use in the latter part of his career — that he should be in the Hall of Fame regardless of what he injected or rubbed into his body. Obviously, however, the majority of Hall of Fame voters disagree with that assessment, and continue to vote against Bonds on the grounds of poor character, even if his baseball bonafides are better than two or three other Hall of Famers glued together.
  • Roger Clemens: The same story as Bonds, though he has more stridently denied using PEDs. Those denials come in the face, however, of accusations from people who were willing to go under oath in courts of law to make them, and are supported by at least some physical and documentary evidence. Ask any Hall of Fame voter if the Rocket used PEDs and you can bet that virtually all of them will say yes. 35.4 % of them, however, don’t care, and voted for Clemens this year, agreeing that the Hall of Fame case for Clemens, PEDs notwithstanding, is overwhelming.
  • Mark McGwire: He admitted taking PEDs on national television after never previously denying that he took them. So much for honesty. The voters have raked him over the coals for years now. He only received 11% of the vote this year and it’s not at all certain that he’ll remain on the ballot beyond next year, as he is at risk of falling below the 5% threshold for eligibility. But for his drug use, McGwire would certainly be in the Hall now, as he was roundly talked about as a sure-fire future Hall of Famer when he was active and before the PED story began to dominate the conversation.
  • Sammy Sosa: 600+ home runs should be an automatic ticket to Cooperstown, but Sosa is hanging on just above the 5% threshold and is likely to fall off the ballot next year. Blame his presence — at least reported by the New York Times several years ago — on the list of players who tested positive for PEDs in 2004 when Major League Baseball ran a trial drug testing program to see if wider drug testing was needed. That information was never meant to be public. The test results were to be destroyed, but were seized by overzealous federal investigators before they could be. But its existence, even if only substantiated by one news outlet and denied by Sosa himself to this day has been enough to keep him out of the Hall of Fame. More than anyone, really, Sosa is believed by Hall voters to be a creation of PEDs — a player who would not have been more than very good if he didn’t take drugs — than any other player on this list, the rest of whom are generally perceived to have merely enhanced naturally-existing talent. It’s too easy a story by half and suggests some things many voters may not be comfortable acknowledging about culture and ethnicity, but that’s the narrative and nothing is going to change it, it seems.
  • Rafael Palmeiro: A 3,000 hit, 500 homer run player who has the ignominy of being the only one on this list to test positive for PEDs during his playing career and while a drug testing and penalty regime was in place. What’s more, he did it mere weeks after wagging his finger at Congressmen who had subpoenaed him, defiantly stating that he had never taken performance enhancing drugs. Oops. Palmeiro received a ten-game suspension for the flunked test, but received a defacto lifetime ban from Cooperstown for the test plus the finger-wagging. He fell below 5% this year and will not be on the writers’ ballot again.

There’s a chance that the current ballot has a couple more guys who have lost votes due to PED suspicion. I think most of the reason for Jeff Kent’s criminally low 15.2% vote total is because voters don’t appreciate his talent and because the ballot is crowded, but it would not shock me if someone accused the power-hitting second baseman of something at some point over the next few years. And of course, at least a few voters submit blank ballots or vote for no one who played after some point in the mid-90s as some sort of generalized protest against the Steroids Era. But for the most part, I think these eight are the current players being kept out of the Hall of Fame because of PED use, real or imagined.

And their ranks will grow. Gary Sheffield, who was named in The Mitchell Report, comes onto the ballot next year. Others, who either tested positive during baseball’s testing era (Manny Ramirez), had their names leaked from the 2004 trial tests (David Ortiz) or who suffer the same baseless  whisper campaigns that bedevil Bagwell, Biggio or Piazza (Albert Pujols) will have to run this same gauntlet. I predict most will be caught up in limbo for many, many years.

Will they ever make it? Or, for that matter, will The PED Eight? Biggio probably will. I think Bagwell and Piazza have a decent shot. The evidence against them is so much weaker (or non-existent) and their current vote totals and time remaining on the ballot suggests that, over time, they’ll overcome.

As for the others? It’s hard to see it happening absent a fundamental change in the voting process. One that removes the “character clause” from Hall of Fame ballot or radically changes the Hall of Fame electorate to favor people who prefer a bit more evidence before denying otherwise worthy players of baseball’s highest honor. Or, in my preferred solution, a committee is formed to look into what are becoming mounting and damn nigh embarrassing oversights by the Hall of Fame voters. A committee which appreciates that, drugs or not, Barry Bonds was one of the best baseball players in history. A committee which appreciates that Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire didn’t hatch the idea of taking banned substances themselves nor did they do it in a vacuum.

I’m not holding my breath, of course. Against the current backdrop of the Hall of Fame’s structure and voting, that would be suicide.

And That Happened: Tuesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Nationals 2, Padres 1: Michael Taylor had a night. He made an incredible throw home to save a run, then doubled home the winning run in the bottom of the ninth.

Here’s the throw:

Here’s the walk-off double:

Jeremy Hellickson held the Padres to one run but had to leave with one out in the sixth due to a blister. The Nats’ bullpen took it from there, fanning five over the final 3 2/3 innings. Opposing starter Eric Lauer was also solid, yielding a run in his six innings of work. Bryce Harper hit his 14th dinger of the year.

Braves 3, Phillies 1: The Braves hold onto their first-place lead over the Phillies, winning this nail-biter. Brandon McCarthy and Vince Velasquez matched up for a fourth time this season. McCarthy has won all four starts. He gave up a run on on four hits and two walks with five strikeouts. He owns a 2.08 ERA against the Phillies this season and a 6.53 ERA against everyone else. Velasquez struck out nine, but lasted only 4 1/3 innings, giving up two runs (one earned) on six hits and three walks. Ozzie Albies hit his 14th homer of the season and scored all three runs for the Braves. His power progression has been impressive, to say the least.

Indians 10, Cubs 1: Ugly loss for the Cubs. Starter Tyler Chatwood walked six and gave up four runs in 2 2/3 innings. Mike Montgomery, who relieved him, wasn’t any better, giving up six runs in 2 1/3 innings. Yonder Alonso racked up three hits and three RBI. Jose Ramirez hit a three-run home run. The top-third of the Indians’ lineup combined to go 5-for-11 with four walks and six runs scored. Trevor Bauer continued to deal, tossing six shutout frames with six strikeouts. His ERA stands at 2.35. Something, something, spin rate. The first-place Indians are back at .500 with a 23-23 record.

Blue Jays 5, Angels 3: The Blue Jays put up a five-spot in the first inning against Garrett Richards, proving to be all the offense they would need on the evening. The Angels helped them out with a wild pitch and a fielding error. Kendrys Morales capped off the frame with a two-run homer. J.A. Happ went seven innings, limiting the Angels to two runs on three hits and three walks with five strikeouts.

Reds 7, Pirates 2: Scooter Gennett put the Reds’ offense on his back, contributing an RBI double, a grand slam, and a sacrifice fly. You may recall Gennett hit four grand slams last year, becoming one of only a handful of players to accomplish the feat. He has five in the last calendar year. Matt Harvey limited the Pirates to just one run on three hits and two walks with five strikeouts over six innings. Jameson Taillon was on the hook for all six runs the Reds scored, going six innings with eight strikeouts.

Red Sox 4, Rays 2: It was mostly a bad night for the Rays, as starter Jake Faria and catcher Wilson Ramos both exited the game in the third inning with injuries. However, shortstop prospect Willy Adames crushed his first major league homer off of Chris Sale. Sale went 7 2/3 innings, giving up two runs (one earned) on four hits and two walks with nine strikeouts. He now holds a 2.17 ERA. Mookie Betts hit his major league-leading 16th homer of the season. Rafael Devers also went yard.

Marlins 5, Mets 1: Zack Wheeler pitched pretty well but the Mets just couldn’t swing the bats enough to support him. Wheeler struck out nine and gave up three runs (one earned) on seven hits with no walks over six innings. Caleb Smith was better, limiting the Mets to a lone run on three hits and two walks and eight strikeouts in 6 2/3 frames. Jose Bautista made his Mets debut, going 1-for-3 with a double.

Brewers 1, Diamondbacks 0: Another heart-breaker for the D-Backs. They have now lost six games in a row and 12 of their last 13. The Brewers’ lone run scored on a Domingo Santana sacrifice fly in the sixth inning. Jhoulys Chacin narrowly out-pitched Matt Koch and the Brewers’ bullpen took it from there. Matt Albers, Josh Hader, and Corey Knebel combined to hold the D-Backs scoreless for the final 12 outs. The first-place Brewers are 30-19. The Brewers might’ve scored more if not for Jarrod Dyson:

Rangers 6, Yankees 4: Jurickson Profar kicked things off for the Rangers with a three-run homer in the first inning. The Rangers scored two more in the second against Domingo German, who lasted 3 2/3 innings and was on the hook for all six runs in total. Cole Hamels held the Yankees to a pair of runs on four hits and two walks with seven strikeouts over seven innings. The two runs came on solo home runs from Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar. Austin Romine added two more in the eighth with a two-run shot off of Jake Diekman.

White Sox 3, Orioles 2: May continues to go well for James Shields, who now owns a 3.27 ERA in five starts this month (but a 4.62 ERA overall). He gave up only two runs on five hits and two walks with five strikeouts over seven innings. Kevin Gausman blanked the Sox over 6 1/3 innings on nine hits and a walk while striking out 10. Mark Trumbo went 3-for-3 with a pair of doubles and an RBI. Mychal Givens and Richard Bleier combined to fork over three runs to the White Sox in the bottom of the eighth inning, saddling Gausman with a no-decision.

Twins 6, Tigers 0: Lance Lynn finally put together a good start for the Twins. He shut out the Tigers across 6 2/3 innings, yielding only five hits and a walk while striking out four. The effort lowered his ERA to 6.34. The Twins scored three runs in the fifth and seventh innings, providing more than enough run support. Brian Dozier knocked in three of those runs with a pair of doubles. Ehire Adrianza reached base three times and picked up a pair of RBI in the effort as well.

Astros 11, Giants 2: The Astros singled and doubled the Giants to death, pounding out 12 total hits, none of which went for more than two bases, and drew five walks. Gerrit Cole gave up two runs on four hits and three walks with eight striekouts in six innings. His ERA ballooned all the way up to 1.86. Each pitcher that entered the game for the Giants gave up at least one run. It wasn’t all bad for the Giants — at least Brandon Crawford got to homer off of brother-in-law Gerrit Cole.

Royals 5, Cardinals 1: The Royals got homers from Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez plus seven strong innings from Jason Hammel. Hammel gave up nine hits, walked none, and struck out six in the effort. On a lot of other nights, Luke Weaver would’ve had a W, but settled for the L with seven innings of three-run ball. He struck out eight. Yairo Munoz and Marcell Ozuna each collected three hits. Gordon and Alcides Escobar had three hits each for the Royals.

Mariners 3, Athletics 2 (10 innings): Guillermo Heredia broke a 2-2 tie in the top of the 10th with an RBI double. Edwin Diaz worked a perfect bottom half with a pair of strikeouts to close it out. Both starters — Trevor Cahill for the A’s and Mike Leake for the Mariners — pitched into the seventh inning and gave up two runs.

Dodgers 5, Rockies 3: Chris Taylor hit a go-ahead two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth and Yasiel Puig tacked on an insurance run with a solo homer. Ian Desmond went yard for the Rockies.