July 11, 2020

Steroids and the Hall of Fame – Part 3

March 16, 2009 by · 3 Comments 

The Psychology of Voting

In the previous two articles, I have stated that given the evidence supplied by Mark McGwire’s first three years of eligibility for the Hall of Fame, I do not believe that the BBWAA writers will ever elect him to the Hall.

And if one believes this to be true, then it is reasonable to assume that the writers have taken a very firm position on the subject: If we feel you have taken steroids, you will not be elected to the Hall. And so, I feel certain that the same outcome awaits seven other very good players who would be prime candidates for the Hall were it not for the taint of steroids abuse: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriquez, Rafael Palmeiro, Gary Sheffield, Sammy Sosa and Jason Giambi. That is, none of these players will ever be elected to the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA.

It has been suggested elsewhere that a distinction should be made between those players who had established HOF credentials BEFORE they did steroids and those who did not. Of course, this assumes that a voter knows for certain when exactly the steroids were used. I have heard this argument being made particularly for the BIG THREE – Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez. The argument goes something like this. These three players obviously had HOF credentials prior to ever taking steroids while the other players mentioned above did not. So, they would have made it into the Hall even if they did not take the drugs.

There is one very obvious problem with this argument – even if you accept the assumption being made. And that problem is that the reason a player who took steroids is being denied induction really has nothing to do with the degree of talent the player possessed. The reason the writers are not voting for Mark McGwire is presumably because they feel HE CHEATED. It does not appear that the voters really care whether he would have established HOF numbers had he not taken the drugs.

There may be no question that Bonds, Clemens and ARod had considerably more talent than the other five players mentioned. And it may be true that they would have been shoo-ins for the Hall even without the artificial assistance supplied by the drugs. But the bottom line is that any player who took steroids to enhance his skills did indeed cheat. And I feel that the majority of the writers who vote believe that there is no room in the Hall of Fame for cheaters regardless of how good they were.

What we must all keep in mind is that the writers do not need any proof of anything to decide not to vote for someone. I believe that just the strong suspicion that a player did steroids will suffice for the majority of writers to decide that he cheated. It seems clear that they have decided that using steroids is cheating and are voting accordingly. And I do not see any reason to think that they will change that opinion over time. After all, gambling on baseball has been considered a major infraction for more than 100 years.

Indeed, I think there may be at least one other consideration at work here. And that is the psychology of “how the mighty have fallen.” It is not completely outrageous to suggest that a number of the voters will take a certain pleasure in “punishing” players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens – men who (the writers may feel) compromised their considerable talents (and the game) in order to appear even better than they were. Keep in mind that one of the elements that the voters may consider is “character.”

The writers after all are lovers of the game just like any other fan. And it is certainly true that if someone feels completely betrayed by one’s “hero,” then that person’s wrath at times may know no limits. Rightly or wrongly, I believe that no player who is identified with steroids abuse will ever be elected to the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA.


3 Responses to “Steroids and the Hall of Fame – Part 3”
  1. Christopher says:

    Interesting. Another possibility is that there have been so many slugging first-basemen the last 15 years that McGwire is just one of many now. He held the single-season record for several years, and his legendary power briefly made him the Paul Bunyan of baseball. But that mystique vanished quickly when people starting thinking of him as a fraud. So what separates him now from Bagwell, Thomas, and Thome, and all the rest?

  2. Mike Hoban says:


    Good comment. One thing that separates McGwire from some other first basemen is that he does, indeed, have HOF numbers according to the CAWS Career Gauge.

    However, this does not separate him from the three first basemen you have mentioned. All three, Jeff Bagwell, Frank Thomas and Jim Thome also have obvious HOF numbers – presumably without the benefit of steroids.

    In fact, both Thomas and Bagwell have numbers far superior to McGwire. Thomas is #32 and Bagwell #40 among all position players of the 20th century (McGwire is #56).


  3. John Lease says:

    Of those three firstbaseman, only Thomas would get my benefit of the doubt of not taking steroids.

    Don’t forget the jerk factor too. That was going to weigh against Bonds and Clemens in any event. Writers will definitely punish those that were jerks.

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