Well, the time has come. This is the first year that we have seen multiple candidates from the steroid era including the big 3, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Based on some unofficial surveys of sportswriters, all 3 will fall short this year. Whether or not they will eventually get in down the road is another matter. A key point overlooked by many is that then Commissioner Fay Vincent declared steroids illegal back in 1991. It simply was not tested until 2003 and penalties were not enforced until 2005. So if anyone says that steroids were not illegal at the time; that is untrue. According to the criteria for the Hall of Fame, "character, sportsmanship and integrity" matter. Most voters will not enshrine a cheater and I agree.
Here's a quick look at the big names and my comments:
Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro- Not just no, HELL NO! Both were juiced for the majority of their careers and thus their entire playing record does not even count in my book. Palmeiro even lied under oath looking much like Bill Clinton with his finger wagging "I have NEVER used steroids, period." He even went as far as to blame his teammate and still won't admit his guilt despite the fact that his name also appeared in the Mitchell report.
Sammy Sosa- Not quite as clear cut but still a convincing NO. With 609 HRs, he's a shoo-in under normal circumstances. Sosa was not juiced for his entire career and his numbers really didn't spike until 1998 and reportedly tested positive in 2003. He was arguably the best in the game for 4 years, averaging over 60 HRs per year but those years don't count in my book. He was clean early in his career and at the end of it and his numbers pre-1998 and post-2003 are not even close to HOF worthy.
Roger Clemens- 354 wins, 4500+Ks and a .650 winning percentage. Should be another shoo-in but I vote NO. In this case, there is a legitimate case for Clemens. He notched nearly 200 wins before age 33 but his stats had been declining for a couple of years. Then, he had a sudden resurgence at 34 and never slowed down until his last season at age 43. I know that he was found not guilty in court but I am convinced that he did in fact use steroids. His numbers were not quite HOF worthy before he juiced but if he had stayed clean and hung on for maybe 5 more years as a .500 pitcher, he is probably in because he was so dominant in the late '80s and early '90s.
Barry Bonds- This one is the most hotly debated. Based purely on stats, he's among the top 5 in history if not the best ever. Accounts say that he started using steroids in 1999 and before that time, he already had 411 HRs and had been among the best players of the decade. If he had suffered a career ending injury or played 5 more simply ordinary years, he's in for sure. He may have been clean for the last 2 years so he hit over 450 HRs clean, hit for a pretty high average and was a threat to steal. That's borderline HOF even if you throw out the steroid years. I still vote NO because of the character, integrity and sportsmanship clause and am adamant about no cheaters in the HOF.
Jeff Bagwell- This one is a lot more complex. Bagwell was a suspected steroid user that was never caught or named in the Mitchell report. Based on before and after pictures that I have seen, I believe that he was probably juiced but there is insufficient evidence to convict and he's innocent until proven guilty. He never played in the post-steroid era because his career was cut short due to a back injury. Thus, you really can't say that he dropped off after testing began. He ended up with 449 HRs and a BA just under .300. It's a close one but I vote no. I would not be upset if he did get in. If he does, it's harder to ignore McGriff.
Mike Piazza- Best hitting catcher of all time with 427 HRs. He's another one that probably did use steroids but is innocent until proven guilty. Unlike Bagwell, Piazza did play after steroid testing began and his numbers dropped off suddenly and significantly. He never hit more than 22 HRs after 2003 and was not even that old either (33 or 34). He was out of the game by age 36 after a mediocre final season. That's enough evidence for me to vote no but again, there is a strong case in his favor.
Craig Biggio- Never among the very best in the game but managed to compile some big numbers over 20 years including 3,000 hits but it took him over 10,000 ABs to do it and his lifetime BA was a rather ordinary .281. Also, he never hit more than 26 HRs in a season. You could count on him to hit .280ish with 15-20 HRs per year every year and for a middle infielder, that's pretty darn good. He was also a threat to steal and drew a fair amount of walks. He has never been linked to steroids and I say let's reward consistently solid if not spectacular play. This one is a YES.
Tim Raines- 808 career steals and was often overshadowed by his contemporary Rickey Henderson. Finished with a .294 average along with 2605 hits, a .385 OBP and a .425 slugging. The knock on him is that although he was a superstar for about 5 years, he was basically over the hill by age 29 and was a bench player by age 36. My vote is a "close no." He simply fell just a little short. With 2750 hits, a .300 BA or a touch more power, he's in. He needed maybe 2 more outstanding top-10 MVP type seasons. He's been getting near 50% of the vote and may yet get in.
Curt Schilling- 214 wins and a near .600 winning percentage. He had several outstanding seasons near the end of his career and has also been mentioned as a possible steroid user. I vote NO because his numbers are not quite good enough. With 250 wins, I'd vote differently.
Jack Morris- One of several in the "close but no cigar" group. 254 wins and a .570 winning percentage are both good enough to make it in this day in age. With fewer complete games, 250 will likely become the new threshold instead of 300. The knock on Morris is his ERA of 3.90, much of which was compiled in the pre-steroid era. That mark is only 5% better than the league average during his career. I see Morris as an above average pitcher whose win total is inflated by playing on a lot of good teams. I vote no but it's a close one. With a sub-3.50 ERA or even a sub-3.70, I'd vote yes.
Fred McGriff- He's been on the ballot for 4 years and has yet to get more than 25% support. There are several knocks on him. One is that he fell short of 500 HRs. Who cares? He ended up at 493 and if not for the strike in '94-'95, he would have made it comfortably. It's silly to vote against him and say that if he only hit 7 more homers in 20 years, your vote would change. Another is that he never was among the best in the game or even in the top 5 at his position. That is untrue. He was in the top 10 in the MVP voting for 5 straight years ('89-'93). McGwire and Palmeiro have been purged in my book as well as several other obvious steroid users. If not for them, he would have been among the best for several more years. A class act and clean athlete. He may never get in but I vote YES. That said, if you vote for McGriff, only "suspicion of PEDs" justifies excluding Bagwell.