I will not lie–it gives me great pleasure to see Timothy Richard Tebow do his damn thing. I laugh in the face of Stephen A. Smith, much like Skip Bayless will do every morning this week on ESPN’s First Take.
I jumped on the Tebow bandwagon early on, when young Timmy was only just beginning to learn how much hate could be piled upon someone so seemingly undeserving of detestation. But the story of how Tim shocked the world by taking the Pittsburgh Steelers (albeit a depleted Steelers team) out behind the shed is neither here nor there.
Instead I would like to get an early start with my attempts to convince 573 of the stubbornest, most irritable, least compromising, nostalgic old fogies this side of Mount Crumpit–the Baseball Writer’s Association of America–that Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame has a responsibility to open its doors to many of the players whose careers have been tainted by playing in The Asterisk Era.
Barry Larkin was voted into the HOF, and his election is a nice story. Larkin is clearly deserving, posting solid career numbers and earning a reputation as a clubhouse leader.
But this year’s ballot pales in comparison to next year’s, when several of the greatest players in history are eligible–all of whom have at least tangential ties to steroid use: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling and Craig Biggio.
Even a brief look at the stats reveals that among those six players, three might be the best at their position–ever.
Putting aside any question of steroid use, Bonds flat out abused pitchers throughout his entire career. He won seven MVP awards–four more than anyone else–and ended his career with eight Gold Glove Awards and 12 Silver Slugger Awards.
Bonds is the all-time home run leader (762), walk leader (2558) and came tantalizingly close to 3,000 hits and 2,000 RBI coming up just short of each.
Oh, and he used steroids.
Clemens won seven Cy Young Awards, two World Series Championship and an MVP award (and we saw how difficult it is for pitchers to win MVP awards). He is one of just four pitchers to have more than 4,000 strikeouts, and also won over 350 games in a 23-year career.
And he was injected several times with performance enhancing drugs, in the butt.
Let’s look at Piazza, without question the best hitting catcher the game has ever seen. Playing what is notoriously the most difficult position for hitters to play because of the constant grind and nature of taking a beating for nine innings every night, Piazza hit .308 with 427 home runs and a career OPS of .922. Those are first ballot, sure thing, no-doubt-about-it numbers.
But he is suspected of taking steroids.
While Schilling only won 216 games and has borderline numbers for Cooperstown in the regular season, his ability to rise above when it mattered most in the postseason would ordinarily make him almost certainly a Hall of Famer.
Except he might have been juicing.
And with 3,000 hits, 250 home runs and 400 steals and outstanding defense at four positions, Biggio shouldn’t have to worry about much beyond who to thank when they unveil his bronze bust.
But he, too, is lumped right in with the rest of many of the best players of the era, and will have a steep uphill battle to the 75-percent of the vote required to gain entry.
I am not in any way apologizing for those players who used steroids. What they did was wrong and they all had the choice to steer clear of “the clear” or avoid the “flax seed oils.” But we cannot afford to act as if this situation is unique in baseball’s history, and it certainly does not warrant the knee-jerk reactions many writers have voiced.
Like many sports, baseball has undergone many changes throughout the years. I mean, the spitball was not outlawed until 1920, and was still in wide use through the 1960s. The minimum home-run distance in ballparks was raised in 1925– to 250 feet.
I can go on to talk about dropping the pitcher’s mound a whopping five inches in 1969, along with shrinking the strike zone. No African Americans were on major league rosters until 1947. A brand-new position was added to the American League as recently as 1973. Seriously.
And yet people aren’t clamoring to throw out the outstanding statistics put up by pitchers when the mound was high and the balls weren’t changed out every pitch. Or the offensive stats from American League players that benefited because they had a professional hitter inserted into the lineup and no longer had to rely on their pitcher to bat in games.
One of the prevailing wisdoms circulating has it that Bonds might stand a better chance to eventually make it in because it is assumed that he only began using steroids about halfway through his career and his stats before that time were nearly deserving on their own. But the Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy says that as in golf, cheating on the back nine gets you disqualified even if the front nine is clean.
Come on, Shaughnessy.
You cannot compare golf and baseball. And you cannot expect me to believe that these six players were in the minority of players taking steroids. I’ve met many former pros that tell me that everyone was doing it, and the league was also looking the other way until very recently.
The players were not victims, and their choices have tainted themselves and the sport. But I believe that the only fair way to look at this era is not to remove two decades from the record books, nor attach asterisks to the players’ names who have been convicted of taking PEDs or admitted to doing so.
Rather, we must accept that this was an era just like the dead-ball era, and continue to respect that the best players deserve to be enshrined. I hope to see Bonds and company right alongside other notorious “cheaters” like Gaylord Perry or John McGraw the next time I find myself in Cooperstown.
Miles would vote Tebow into the Hall of Fame if he took steroids, too. Send him your thoughts at milesbs “at” stanford.edu and check him out on Twitter “at” smilesbsmith.