Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar got voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame today. Nate Silver wonders if too few players are getting in these days, what with there now being 30 teams and larger populations to draw from. In his first year of eligibility, Houston Astros slugger Jeff Bagwell didn't get in. Silver says:
Steroid use – actual or suspected – is another issue. Rafael Palmeiro, whose case was debatable on the statistical merits anyway, and who was actually suspended by Major League Baseball for steroid use, would not have made my ballot. Like Tyler Kepner, however, I cannot understand docking Bagwell for mere suspicion of steroid use when there is no evidence of it.
I can. For one thing, players have 15 years of eligibility to get voted into the Hall (and if they fail there, can get picked by a Veterans Committee later). But they can't get kicked once they're in. So, what's the rush? Blyleven had to wait 15 years to get voted in. Why not wait awhile to see what shakes out? Let's see what turns up. This would only be a major injustice to Bagwell if he suddenly drops dead before he gets in. And if he suddenly drops dead ...
One advantage that working sportswriters have over statistical analysts like Silver in voting on whether players who hit a lot of homers during the steroid years should be entrusted with permanent Hall of Fame membership is that many of the sportswriters, unlike the stats analysts, saw these players naked in the locker room. For example, when Jeff Bagwell went from a .516 slugging average at age 25 to a .750 slugging average at age 26, how much different did he look with his jersey off? Statistical analysts like Nate don't know. I don't know either. Some of the sportswriters who get to vote for Hall of Famers do know, and have, I would guess, talked to other voting sportswriters about it.
Personally, I don't know, I've never heard any rumors about Bagwell.
Tyler Kepner in the NYT says he's voting for Bagwell and all the other sluggers who haven't gotten official caught:
Circumstantial evidence can be used against anybody. Mike Piazza might have been the most productive offensive catcher in baseball history. But suspicion of steroid use has dogged him, even though, like Bagwell, there has never been a tangible link.
Did Piazza use steroids? I don’t know. He denied it in 2002 by explaining, ”I hit the ball as far in high school as I do now.” [Piazza was drafted in the 62nd round out of high school by the LA Dodgers, and he was the brother of Tommy Lasorda's godson, so he wasn't all that awesome in high school.]
All I know for sure is that Piazza played like a Hall of Famer and should be enshrined for that. The New York Times does not allow its writers to vote for the Hall of Fame, but to me, the playing record is the only fair way to measure those who were never suspended for using steroids.
The rumor I heard in the 1990s was that sponsors often wanted to feature Piazza shirtless in ads, but his back acne was so bad this made for a major issue. (Acne on the back is one possible symptom of juicing.) I recall finally seeing a commercial of Piazza shirtless, but with so much backlighting he was more or less in silhouette.
To me, the tough question is Barry Bonds, who was a first round Hall of Famer before, evidently, he started juicing in 1999. A lot of these other guys might not have gotten close to the Hall without the juice. Rafael Palmeiro, for example, was traded away by the Cubs because they had Mark Grace to play first base instead of him. Grace is the model of the pretty good player, the slick-fielding firstbaseman who never hit more than 17 homers in 15 seasons in little Wrigley Field, who doesn't belong in the Hall. He got only 4% vote for the Hall in 2009 and was dropped from consideration.