Home / General / The Rigor of the Steroid Witch-Hunters

The Rigor of the Steroid Witch-Hunters


This exhaustive explanation of why Jeff Bagwell — an obvious Hall of Famer on the merits — wasn’t even named on half the ballots last time does indeed contain every “reason” not to vote for him:

Jeff Bagwell played from 1991 to 2005, and he was muscular.

That’s it. We don’t don’t even have an unusual aging patterns from which a witch-hunter might infer causation; he was an excellent prospect, was steadily good, peaked at age 27, and had his last good year at age 35. There’s no reason to keep him out of the Hall of Fame, not even the really terrible reason that he used steroids.

And, yet, this collective guilt illogic on the part of the drug warriors makes perfect sense. Obviously, the idea that great players should be kept out of the Hall of Fame for violating non-enforced non-rules is going to be unsustainable in the long run. But nothing is going to end the silliness faster than someone who’s already in Cooperstown admitting that they used PEDs. (Well, there are already people in Cooperstown who used PEDs, but I mean the PEDs that are associated with a higher-offense context in which players could break records that boomers believe should permanently belong to their childhood icons.) So the fewer sluggers inducted from that era the longer sportswriters will be able to keep up the witch hunt. Players against whom there is no evidence whatsoever of steroid use are going to have to be at least temporary collateral damage in this particular front of the War on (Some Classes of People Who Use Some) Drugs.

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  • Mike Kelly

    Wow. I don’t consider myself “staunch” anything (I realize what I do and don’t consider myself is not dispositive of anything), but still, the semi/not-so-veiled apology for the steroid era here is over the top. I am not a “boomer” (birth year 1970), and whoever Mr. Lemieux considers the “icons” of that “generation” may or may not be my icons. But I do know fraud when I see it, and I know when the foundation of a sport has been fucked with beyond repair, and I believe the steroid era embodies that. I don’t think non-steroid users will suffer, as is flatly asserted, but if someone is legitimately suspected of having used steroids to enhance performance – keep them out. This is much less nuanced than Lemieux makes it seem.

    • R Johnston

      Segregated leagues, sharpened spikes flying into the shortstop, amphetamines, extra balls hidden by the home team in the untrimmed outfield grass, stealing signs from the stands, sandpaper, vaseline, spit, corked bats, and more-uncomfortable-than-necessary visitors locker rooms all agree that your position is ridiculous.

      There is nothing at all to differentiate steroids from all the other illicit and grossly unethical advantages players and teams have taken over the years, beyond the fact that the league didn’t have rules against them until recently.

      • massappeal

        Limiting ourselves to performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs): you say steroids, I say amphetamines.

        Both “performance-enhancing”, one taken on the player’s initiative, the other taken on the team’s initiative. Other than that, what’s the difference?

        • Walt

          If amphetamines are so amazing as performance enhancers, then why didn’t the big offensive explosion happen 20 years sooner? I’m not buying it.

          • L2P

            The amphetamine era started in the 50’s, and there’s no way to tell that it DIDN’T fuel tons of offense.

            There was nothing like today’s training, filmwork, and coaching, the game favored pitching, and coaches wanted to play small ball. Without uppers, could be you’re looking at 30 homers a year for Cleveland until the 80’s. Who the hell knows?

            • Walt

              But we know the impact that steroids had on the game, so a reasonably conservative policy is to ding players for steroid use, and not amphetamine use.

              I actually sort-of wonder what fraction of performance gains from “today’s training, filmwork, and coaching” are really because of drugs of various sorts.

              • Actually, you had the right line of thought, just the wrong drug. We know steroids were in the game at least by the early 1980’s, so if anabolic steroids, Andro, et. al. have these magical home run producing properties, why did it take ~20 years for the explosion in home runs to happen? And why did Ryan Braun hit just 33 home runs, just the third highest total of his career, in the year he failed a drug test?

              • John F

                no we don’t
                first of all we know the “steroid era” started at least by the early 80s
                we also know HRs jumped in 1993/94 and stayed up for 15 years

                was no one taking roids in 1992 and everyone in 1994?

                we know offense jumped literally overnight in 1920/21- roids?

                we know offense cratered in 1942-45 – no PEDs, wartime shortage ?

                we know offense was (and is) routinely much higher in the Pacific Coast League than the International League- one league is clean and one isn’t?

                The overwhelming drivers of changes in offensive levels are
                1: Changes in the ball
                2: Changes in parks
                3: Rules changes
                4: maybe peds

          • Scott Lemieux

            Because baseball in the 70s was mostly played in large multipurpose stadiums rather than largely in small baseball only stadiums, plus Coors Field? Put 70s players in 90s stadia and a lot more runs would be scored.

            • charles pierce

              Not to be a really old guy here, but what amphetamines did for the players from 1950-1970-ish was to make the primitive and often surreal travel schedule possible. Players gobbled speed because it was the only way to get through the fourth of five three-game sets. (The work rule about days off came much later, through the efforts of Marvin Miller.) And isn’t making a performance in the first place the ultimate in enhancing it?

        • timb


    • snarkout

      There’s no evidence that Bagwell ever took steroids — beyond what’s in the link — and his Hall of Fame chances already seem to be suffering.

      • R Johnston

        There is, however, pretty conclusive evidence that he’s roughly the fourth best MLB first baseman of all time behind Gehrig, Pujols, and Foxx.

        • rea

          Oh, goodness, I wouldn’t have traded him straight up for Miguel Cabrera.

          • rea

            What I meant to say was, I wouldn’t have traded Cabrera straight up for him.

            • rea

              And Bagwell surely doesn’t belong on that list ahead of Hank Greenberg

              • Scott Lemieux

                Greenberg had a higher peak, but had 8 years as a quality player while Bagwell had 14. Factor in the tougher competition Bagwell faced and he’s easily better, I think.

                • Bill Murray

                  and missed most all of four years to the war and retired before he was washed up, so Greenberg had the same better WAR per season with this factored in (and his 1 at bat first year)

              • R Johnston

                Greenberg had a shorter career and less WAR per season than Bagwell. He was not as good as Bagwell even giving him credit for his lost WWII years.

        • BKP

          There is, however, pretty conclusive evidence that he’s roughly the fourth best MLB first baseman of all time behind Gehrig, Pujols, and Foxx.

          Four all-star games?

          I think its difficult to fit him in the top 15.


          Where does he fit in in that group?

          • rea

            McCovey really was good enough to be on the list twice

          • John F

            Around 4-7 I think

            He’s definitely behind Gherig, Pujols and Foxx.

            Mize is a tough one on the surface, but give him back his missing war years and he’s easily ahead, plus I think the standard deviation separating players was a bit higher during Bagwell’s playing days… come to think of it, it was high during Mize’s time too…

            Greenberg, depends on how much missing WWII credit you want to give him… but really 7th is the lowest Bagwell could possibly go

            • Bill Murray

              well he was only clearly better than Sisler, McGriff and Murray. Frank Thomas should be on the list, as could Roger Connor, and Thomas was as good or better than Bagwell, so I guess he should be somewhere in the 5-10 range

              • Scott Lemieux

                Thomas was a better hitter than Bagwell, but as a player I’ll take Bagwell without hesitation. The defensive gap between them is massive.

          • R Johnston

            All star games? Nonsense. How about you look at actual numbers and performance?

            On actual numbers and performance, in consideration of league conditions, Gehrig, Foxx, and Pujols clearly best Bagwell and no one else clearly does, though there are a few others that come close depending on how exactly you look at the numbers.

            80 WAR over 14+ seasons, a .408 career OBP, and a 149 career OPS+ are tremendous numbers that are comparable to or distinctly better than everyone on that list who isn’t Gehrig, Pujols, or Foxx.

            Bagwell was tremendously underappreciated as a player, but people who actually care to know better know better.

            • BKP

              All star games? Nonsense. How about you look at actual numbers and performance?

              Because numbers don’t transfer well across the years, especially when you consider this thread is more about the era Bagwell played in than anything.

              Its better to compare players against their peers from the same time.

    • rea

      “legitimately suspected” is an awfully low standard of proof on which to find someone guilty

      • Walt

        But it’s not “guilt”. He’s just not being voted into the Hall of Fame. They vote or don’t vote players into the Hall of Fame for stupid reasons every year.

    • Except…Bagwell isn’t “legitimately” suspected of having used anything. There’s literally not a shred of evidence to support the premise, and as best I can tell most of the voters who don’t vote for him and produce columns explaining their votes won’t even come right out and say “I think he used steroids,” preferring instead to beat around the bush.

    • timb

      You’re right about one thing…it is less nuanced, but that’s because you are wrong on the substance. Using steroids broke no rule established in baseball. Your personal belief that baseball is messed up because players used drugs that were not illegal at the time is not something which HoF votes should rest.

      It is, as Scott notes, an excuse for some sportswriters to prove how moral they are and they are fools for believing it.

      Meanwhile, somehow, somewhere on a college campus/pro football practice field a 350 pound man is running a 4.8 forty and has <10% body fat.

      Yet, the writers celebrate those accomplishments and attack a class act like Bagwell for following the rules of his sport, but maybe, possibly he violated the sportswriter code of conduct, which was discovered, much like Joseph Smith's golden tablets, fully formed (some time after the profits from the McGwire/Sosa duel were totaled) says he MIGHT be guilty.

      Class act, those sportswriters

  • Mike Kelly

    You’re right. I’m sorry. There is truly “nothing at all” that differentiates sharpened spikes from steroid use. My bad.

    • NBarnes

      Well, let’s make sure we’re comparing apples to apples here.

      Do you believe that Ty Cobb should be in the Hall of Fame?

      Do you believe that Gaylord Perry should be in the Hall of Fame?

      • Murc

        I’m not Mike Kelly, but…

        Is it impossible to hold the positions simultaneously that 1) Jeff Bagwell is being screwed over despite the fact that he’s done nothing wrong, and 2) that anyone, regardless of their significance as an icon of the game, doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame if their records and/or careers rest on a basis of either cheating or engaging in game-related illegality, regardless of the sensibility of those rules?

        • R Johnston

          It’s possible, but only if you also hold the position that 3) half the people in the Hall of Fame already, or more, should be kicked out, because they cheated at least as much as steroid users, who did nothing against the rules and merely took an advantage that was against the law for dubious reasons.

          • NBarnes

            It also bears mentioning that, measured in terms of in-game advantage, Gaylord Perry virtually certainly cheated to a much more significant degree than any steroid user.

            Yes, including Barry Bonds.

            • c u n d gulag

              My favorite Gaylord Perry story was when he was being interviewed late in his career, and his family was standing with him.
              Thinking he was being clever, the reporter turned to his 4 year-old daughter and asked if her Daddy threw a spitball?
              She looked him in the eye and said, “Nah, it’s a hard slider!”

              • efgoldman


        • Incontinentia Buttocks


    • rea

      Bloody hell, Mike Kelly–sharpened spikes are obviously a lot worse.

      • djw

        Right; what kind of twisted logic is gaining an advantage at physical risk to oneself more problematic than gaining an advantage at physical risk to your opponent? That turns the most basic, core rules of morality on its head.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks

          This is not–or at least shouldn’t be–about morality. It’s about the rules of the game. Cheating does not consist of immoral behavior. Cheating consists of violating the rules. Though I suppose one could argue that it’s immoral to engage in a rule-bound activity and then to intentionally violate those rules, the moral issue is very much secondary (something the purity-of-the-game crowd certainly gets wrong).

          Pete Rose’s gambling led to his being banned for life not because gambling is immoral, but because it violates the explicit rules of organized baseball.

          • Scott Lemieux

            Cheating does not consist of immoral behavior. Cheating consists of violating the rules.

            So steroid users in the 90s weren’t cheating. Glad we agree!

            • Incontinentia Buttocks

              Do we really have to have this debate again?

              Steroids were banned by Faye Vincent in 1991. He could do so because of the drug policy that had been established in the mid-1980s.

              You insist that Vincent somehow couldn’t do this. But he could and he did.

              • Well, Vincent could do it in the sense that the commissioner can do basically anything he wants to do if he’s only trying to make a show of it, but what Vincent could not do unilaterally was implement any sort of enforcement mechanism. Nor could he make anyone else care about it after he was finally deposed.

                So, roughly speaking, you had a situation where there was an edict with no official weight from the office of a former commissioner no one in the game liked or respected banning the use of steroids, but absolutely no means of testing players for them or of even punishing them if they shot up in the middle of the locker room, and a new governing structure that didn’t care about their use until roughly 2001.

                I guess there’s no way to resolve whether this is a state of illegality or not, but I think it tilts much closer to Scott’s view than to yours.

              • rea

                Just as a matter of basic labor law, Vincent didn’t have that power.

                • Right, which is why I find IB’s position so bizarre. The reason there was no enforcement mechanism for steroid use is because baseball didn’t collectively bargain one with the union until 2002. IB’s position is that management, or in this case one representative of management, can simply impose his will on labor in any intrusive way he likes so long as its done to baseball players. It’s rather strange.

                • Incontinentia Buttocks

                  That’s not my position at all.

                  I’m certainly not defending the way that baseball commissioners dealt with drugs in the 1980s and 1990s, which was to issue unilateral rules rather than seek solutions through collective bargaining. These problems started with Ueberroth and continued through Selig’s early years. Certainly the lack of an enforcement mechanism reflected this “strategy” on baseball’s part.

                  But what led Vincent to issue his letter was a change in federal law: in 1991, steroids became Schedule III controlled substances. And though I agree from a collective bargaining perspective baseball’s way of handling this fact was indefensible, steroids in 1991 suddenly became like cocaine. Vincent’s move was really an addendum to Ueberroth’s equally unilateral 1985 drug policy.

                  In my view, saying that it wasn’t against baseball’s rules to use steroids in the 1990s is a bit like saying it wasn’t against baseball’s rules to use cocaine in the late 1980s.

                  But the situation regarding steroids in the 1990s, as I have repeatedly said, was a huge mess. And that mess was nearly entirely the responsibility of the Commissioner’s office (and the owners backing that office), between Ueberroth and Vincent’s unilateralism and Selig’s actively looking the other way.

                • R Johnston

                  Just as a matter of basic labor law, Vincent didn’t have that power.

                  A thousand times this.

                  Fay Vincent unilaterally “banning” steroids is like Fay Vincent declaring that the Seattle Pilots won the World Series 50 times in a row.

              • John F

                No he published a wholly useless memo, and even Fay in his more lucid moments has admitted he had no authority to issue such a rule.

              • Mark FIeld

                That same memo by Vincent “banned” amphetamines too. To a first order approximation, every single player in MLB used amphetamines in the 90s. Are they all banned from the HOF too?

                • Incontinentia Buttocks

                  FWIW, I’ve never said that everyone who used steroids should be banned from the Hall of Fame.

                  What I’ve said is that the Steroids Era is an enormous mess. How to deal with that mess is a tricky question. And neither the views of the purity-of-the-game crowd nor those of the denialist handwavers seriously grapple with that question.

                • And I’m going to say that that’s just malarkey. The so-called steroid era is no more “messy” than the segregation era, the deal ball era, the amphetamine era, or any other point in baseball’s history where the game wasn’t the pure-as-the-driven snow contest of boyish heroes that inhabited Bob Costas’ wet dreams.

                  The only thing that makes it “messy” is that a large number of people want to pretend it’s somehow different, and those people are led by Costas and other children of the 60’s who are angry that Mantle and Aaron didn’t remain untouched gods for all eternity. The indiscretions of their heroes are thus either ignored or dismissed, while steroids is held up as the greatest blight on the game ever.

                • Incontinentia Buttocks

                  The fact that other people want to make this about the supposed past purity of baseball doesn’t force any of the rest of us to defend this so-called purity.

                  Steroid apologists don’t get to just choose their dumbest opponents to debate against.

                  Baseball created a situation in the 1990s where players faced a choice between breaking the law and the rules of the game or losing out to players willing to do so.

                  Unless you can honestly say that players did not experience this uneven playing field, we have a problem.

                  And the fact that baseball had created many other uneven playing fields in the past is really no excuse. Two wrongs don’t make a right (though all those past wrongs are excellent evidence against purity-of-the-game milarkey).

                • The problem with this is assuming that there was some mass outrage from the players as well, when in fact the players overwhelmingly didn’t care about the issue and were as anti-testing as anyone.

              • Scott Lemieux

                A “rule,” in any meaningful sense, needed to be 1)collectively bargained and have a 2)transparent enforcement mechanism that is applied with 3)some degree of equity. I don’t think you would disagree with this in any context but a steroid witch hunt, and the alleged “rules” against steroids during the relevant time period go 0-for-3.

        • Praise FSM you don’t have to spend the next month or so wallowing in this moral wilderness daily.

  • Josh G.

    The Hall of Fame’s approach to problems is generally to ignore them until people start complaining, then tinker with the rules. (Bill James’ The Politics of Glory contains copious details about its history in this regard.) In the long run, they aren’t going to allow an entire generation of players to be snubbed by moralistic sportswriters, because this would alienate too many fans and hurt the Hall’s core business. The most likely possibility is that they will eventually create what amounts to a “steroids commission” (though of course they won’t call it that) to elect otherwise qualified players who the writers refused to do so because of PED suspicions. Another possibility is that they might finally remove the monopoly on voting from the BBWAA cartel, but that seems unlikely. Still, we can dream. (It’s utterly absurd that in this day and age, writing for a newspaper or printed magazine is a prerequisite to the Hall of Fame ballot. These are forms of media that are fast dying.)

  • Manju

    Potential HOFers are compared to peers who played within the same era. This makes forgoing a Witch Hunt problematic.

    If you played when McGuire, Bonds, Sosa, etc were knocking the ball to the moon, you could hit 40 hrs and still not make the top-ten in that category.

    A lot of guys who had stats that would’ve earned them a spot had they played in the 70’s, will be left out due to inflation. If they didn’t do steroids, they are for all practical purposes being punished for that decision.

    One way or another someone is getting screwed.

    • R Johnston

      A lot of guys who had stats that would’ve earned them a spot had they played in the 70′s, will be left out due to inflation. If they didn’t do steroids, they are for all practical purposes being punished for that decision.

      1) Players cheated plenty in the 70s. They even had started using steroids by then.

      2) Players cheated plenty forever.

      3) Baseball conventional wisdom used to teach that strength training robbed a player of flexibility and decreased his productiveness. The preference for cheating with steroids rather than cheating some other way coincided with the widespread realization that this common wisdom was nonsense akin to believing that tax cuts always increase revenue.

      4) Steroid use wasn’t actually cheating under the rules until more recently than relevant to any argument about cheating in baseball. Sure, it was illegal, but the reasoning behind that illegality was pretty flimsy and pretty circular, relating primarily to concerns that sports records might be broken. The dangers of steroid use primary derive from the fact that self medicators tend to dose a lot more than necessary to achieve the results they want.

      • Manju

        R Johnston: all that may be true, but it still doesn’t change the fact that the non-steroid using player with 70’s hof numbers is getting screwed under the no witch hunt rule.

        its a matter of who you want to screw, not if you screw.

        • Rob

          No if anything the players of the 1970s are benefiting from the witch hunt. People ignore that players of that time were on steroids and they can claim they were better than they were.

          And the idea that the power was due entirely to steroids mean that people have to claim Tony Gwynn was on steroids or something else was behind the power spike in his late career.

          • BKP

            You mean that power spike when he managed to hit 40 HR over three seasons?

            • Rob

              I mean the power spike where his ISOs of 174, 176 and 180 the highest of his career happened in 1994, 1997, and 1998 when he was 34, 37 and 38.

              • BKP

                Yeah, that ISO of 180 in 1998 put him at 38th in the league, wedged between Jay Bell and Eric Karros.


                • mpowell

                  You’re just making yourself look like an ass. Instead of addressing the issue that Gwynn’s power spiked in a significant way late in his career, you are just being snarky. The point is that when you see results like that you need an explanation. Maybe Gwynn picked up steroids. Or maybe there were other factors in the game that led to the increase. There have been a lot of explanations about how increased power numbers in baseball are better explained by factors besides steroids, but there is definitely a set of people who have no time for logic or reason on this issue.

                • elm

                  Brad, is your argument that steroids turns everyone into a 60-homer-per-year player regardless of what they were before? Because if not (I’ll assume not), then the if steroids has any effect at all, one would expect to see it increasing a player’s power relative to what they did before.

                • djw

                  The evidence-based way to think about this isn’t to waive your hands at some player’s unexpected power spike as evidence of steroid use, but to measure the rate at which these spikes occur. Nate Silver did this, and found no significant increase in power spikes in the ‘steroid era’ once park/league effects are taken into consideration.(Indeed, power spikes were more common in the early 70’s–the “greenie era”.)

                • BKP

                  Instead of addressing the issue that Gwynn’s power spiked in a significant way late in his career, you are just being snarky.

                  No the point is that what you call a “power spike” is one of the greatest hitters in history reaching Jay Bell levels.

                  Tony Gwynn’s highest home run total before 1997 (or the “POWER SPIKE” was 14. He hit 17 hrs in 1997.

                  Barry Bonds, on the other hand, made a season high made a jump of 24 home runs when he had his power spike.

        • rea

          the non-steroid using player with 70′s hof numbers is getting screwed under the no witch hunt rule

          Name one.

          • BKP

            Fred McGriff

            • rea

              (rolling eyes)

          • L2P

            What about Larry Walker, Tino Martinez, and Jim Edmonds? They’re all right around Foster’s HR’s and I don’t think any of them were ever mentioned as musclebound steroid freaks. Could be wrong, though, I don’t pay much attention to the steroid rumors.

            • BKP

              Larry Walker enjoyed environmental steroids.

            • Jim Edmonds was built like a truck.

            • rea

              You honesttly think Larry Walker, Timo Martinez and Jim Edmonds belong in the Hall of Fame?

              • Is there an argument against Edmonds?

                • DivGuy

                  The only argument against Edmonds is steroids. If you don’t dock him for use – and no evidence exists that you should – he’s a top-10 all-time CF.

                  I’m expecting Edmonds will take quite a while to get elected – he never got the respect he deserved as a great player, possibly because he had the bad fortune to time his peak to a period when he was teammates with two peaking inner-circle 1Bs.

                • djw

                  Yeah, it really is striking how underrated Edmonds was during his playing days. His first six years in St. Louis were an amazing peak.

              • Scott Lemieux

                Walker has a very legitimate case, too (although he’s clearly behind Edmonds.) Martinez no, of course.

                • Walker has an interesting case, and it would be a slam dunk case if not for questions about the Coors Field effect.

              • L2P

                I’m not saying any of them do or don’t belong in the Hall. I was just trying to find players that look like HOFers in the 60’s or 70’s. Tino (who everybody agrees shouldn’t be in the Hall) routinely hit in the 300’s and he bashed ~350 HRs. That’s a hell of a career in the “pre-steroid” era, isn’t it? If he played on the 60’s Yankees, wouldn’t he be in the Hall?

          • Thlayli

            Alan Trammell.

            A great offensive player for his position at the time, but if you make Slappy the standard for “great offensive player at his position”, then Trammell suddenly doesn’t look so good.

      • Scott Lemieux

        3) Baseball conventional wisdom used to teach that strength training robbed a player of flexibility and decreased his productiveness. The preference for cheating with steroids rather than cheating some other way coincided with the widespread realization that this common wisdom was nonsense akin to believing that tax cuts always increase revenue.

        Really important point. The withering of the prejudice against weight training is a very important factor in players becoming bigger and stronger.

  • JMG

    I voted for Bagwell. Bonds and Clemens on the ballot next year. Bob Costas could become the first person to actually die of moral indignation.
    Mr. Lemieux, my guess is that sometime in the next 5-10 years, MLB takes the vote away from the BBWAA and sets up some two-tiered system involving a fan vote and a panel of Selig’s cronies.

    • MLB has nothing to do with the process. The Hall of Fame is its own organization.

      That said, one thing people really don’t think much of is the Hall’s own financial needs. Induction weekend drives the vast majority of their yearly revenue, and if we go through a phase where no one is getting inducted or fans are by and large outraged that THEIR guy is being left out due to steroid suspicions, it could certainly put a big dent in attendance, in which case the Hall itself would be highly motivated to find some sort of resolution to the matter (which will probably involve taking some measure of control over the voting rules and weighting them the way the Hall wants the vote to go).

      Additionally, though they’re still a stodgy old group, the BBWAA has been widening the pool of membership in recent years, and as more of the newer members get to the 10 year plateau needed to get a Hall vote, I think you’ll see attitudes on steroids rapidly.

  • rea

    It’s a Hall of Fame, not a Hall of Integrity.

  • DivGuy

    There have been a number of columns written about how a particular writer won’t vote for Bagwell due to concerns about steroid use. However, his 40% on the first ballot was about exactly what I expected regardless of steroids.

    Bagwell is a sabermetric candidate – look at the comments above that he wasn’t as good as Miguel Cabrera or Hank Greenberg, both clearly lesser players based on close analysis. You need to look closely at Bagwell’s stats, and adjust for context properly, to see just how great he was. Bagwell wasn’t a particularly prolific home run hitter – his greatness as a hitter was all-around. Bagwell was also an excellent defensive first baseman and an excellent baserunner for a first-baseman.

    Further, his quality as a hitter for most of his peak was hidden by playing in the Astrodome – when you look at Bagwell’s stats 1991-1999, imagine that he was playing in the 1980s, because that’s basically his offensive context. The Astrodome was a terrible place to hit, and Bagwell put up stats there which didn’t look out of place in the crazy times of the late 90s.

    Despite Bagwell’s greatness, I would have been shocked if the BBWAA had been able to pick through all the confounding factors and recognize Bagwell’s worthiness on the first ballot. It’s my guess that the steroid stuff is a very minor factor, and the need for voters to be educated about Bagwell’s quality is the real deciding factor. I’m thinking (and, admittedly, hoping) that his vote total this year will take a good bump up into the 55% range, on track for election in a few more years.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      This, too.

      The BBWAA has long treated first-year candidates irrationally. There’s an imaginary distinction between first-time inductees and those good enough for Cooperstown, but not as good as the folks elected on the first ballot. A ridiculous percentage of voters seem to be willing to vote against obvious HoFers the first time through, only to vote for them in later years.

      If Bagwell never makes it, I’ll buy the “steroids witchhunt” theory. Until then, this is more likely standard-issue HoF silliness, which can be exploited as an excuse for by-now standard-issue contrarianism about cheating and the distorted product that MLB allowed on the field in the 1990s.

      • Njorl

        I agree. Not getting in on the first ballot doesn’t mean much.

        I think Clemens and Bonds would be possible first ballot HoFers, barring steroids, but there’s no way Bagwell would be.

    • BKP

      There is no way Hank Greenberg was clearly a lesser player. His WAR numbers at the height of his career exceed Bagwell, and while Bagwell was hitting 40+ homers every year during the steroid eruption, Greenberg was volunteering for the Air Force in WWII.

      • DivGuy

        is WAR numbers at the height of his career exceed Bagwell

        This is incorrect. Bagwell’s best season (1994), he put up 8.9 WAR in a strike-shortened season. Greenberg’s best season (1935) matches only to Bagwell’s second best.

        Best seven seasons by WAR:

        8.9, 8.3, 8.1, 7.7, 6.7, 5.5, 5.4 – Bagwell
        8.3, 7.8, 7.1, 6.7, 6.6, 6.4, 5.2 – Greenberg

        Greenberg is a pure peak candidate, and Bagwell beats him on peak.

        Greenberg lost several seasons to the war, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to project him to perform at a peak level in his early 30s – those would be bulk / prime seasons, which would at best allow him to approach Bagwell on career. He’s still beaten on peak, and if you give him four seasons at 5 WAR, he only catches up to Bagwell on career.

        Bagwell played in an integrated league, too.

        • BKP

          Hank Greenberg had a 6.4 WAR in his last full season before he entered the service and a 6.6 WAR his first full season after he returned. You give him five full seasons at 6-6.5 WAR for his missed seasons, and 162 game regular seasons and his career WAR is gonna be up around 100.

          • He also played against much lesser competition, making a similar number to bagwell less impressive, as a replacement level player in Bagwell’s era is a much better player than one in Greenberg’s time.

      • rea

        When was Bagwell hitting 40+ HRs every year? He only did it three times.

        Application of modern sabremetric stats to old time players who played under much different conditions is somewhat problematic, anyway. If your conclusion is that Bagwell is clearly superior to Hank Greenberg, one of the most amazing players ever, you’re doing something wrong.

        • Well when the correct conclusion is pre-determined, how could one argue with that?

          • rea

            No, it’s a matter of testing your model aginst reality, and seeing if it’s a good match.

            If your model tells you that Ramon Santiago is a better player than Babe Ruth, what conclsuion do you draw? That Ramon Santiago is a better player than Babe Ruth?

            • Well, the reason Ramon Santiago being better than Babe Ruth would make you skeptical of your model is because such a result would almost certainly be an outlier that doesn’t begin to stack up based on objective measurements.

              Of course, here again, by even making the comparison you’re just assuming that Greenberg was clearly better than Bagwell, but the comparison holds no water. Whereas Santiago is obviously nowhere near Ruth’s level, Greenberg and Bagwell are, at the least, very similar talents. Greenberg was a .313/.412/.605 career hitter while Bagwell comes in at .297/.408/.540. Adjusting for park and league, Bagwell has a career 149 wRC+ to Greenberg’s 155. But then Bagwell is also regarded as an excellent defender and baserunner, which adds value.

              At the least, the two are very close historical comparisons, and I think it’s fair to give Bagwell the edge based on the fact that Greenberg’s numbers were put up pre-integration.

              • rea

                it’s fair to give Bagwell the edge based on the fact that Greenberg’s numbers were put up pre-integration

                A particularly odd approach given Greenberg’s role in the integration of baseball. Yeah, there was a time when they didn’t really let Jews play, either.

                • I didn’t mean it from a moral standpoint, but rather from the point that the level of competition was much deeper in Bagwell’s era than in Greenberg’s.

                • Bill Murray

                  was the level of competition much worse during Greenberg’s time? The population to team ratio isn’t much different. It’s true that blacks weren’t allowed to play, but essentially all the great athletes played pro baseball in Greenberg’s time. These were clearly not true in Bagwell’s time. It’s not clear which is the larger effect.

                  Also, kid’s growing up in the 20s seem to have spent much more of their free time playing baseball than kids growing up in the 70s/80s. OTOH, kids growing up later probably got more coaching when they did play.

            • NBarnes

              I’m unaware of any such standard. Certainly, I’m unaware of any such standard that suggests that Bagwell’s career stacks up below Greenberg.

              And counting raw HR totals isn’t just wrong, it’s silly.

            • djw

              This is like comparing a democracy measure that said North Korea is more democratic than Sweden to a measure that said Norway is more democratic than Sweden. We have all kinds of measures of this sort of thing, of varying quality, but all the remotely reasonable ones suggest that Bagwell and Greenberg are in the same ballpark. Whoever is better, it’s clearly a moderately close call–the only way I can even imagine a case that Greenberg is better and it’s not close would be a straight-up park effect denier, and I know you’re too smart for that.

    • timb

      What an excellent post. His range at 1B (not a commonly heard phrase!) crushed me and my Reds so many times that learned to really, really hate him

  • BKP


    Saying people are suspicious because he was muscular is kind of misleading. As you can see from that picture, Jeff Bagwell was not muscular when he got into the league in the early nineties.

    He went through the same mass explosion in the mid-to-late 90s that we saw in McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds. Plus the Houston Astros organization was steroid central.

    • Rob

      So the evidence is that he aged

      • BKP

        Find me an athlete in the NFL that went from 195 lbs to approximately 225 lbs over the course of their professional career.

        They age too.

        • An NFL player starts his career at roughly 21-23 years old after 3-5 years of world class training and strength programs from a college program (assuming they went to a big school). That’s not a good comparison.

          • BKP

            Bagwell started his career at the age of 22 after several years in the minors as a top prospect.

            He didn’t stumble on to weight rooms when he reached the majors.

        • dr

          I went from 195 to 225 over the course of my career. PEDs were the cause — I was working as an organizer and using whiskey to get by.

        • Tucker

          If you include college (meaning D1) which is professional, just about all of them.

        • elm

          In 2007, Junior Hemingway was a 202 pound freshman WR for Michigan. In 2011, he was a 222 pound senior WR. Troy Woolfolk weighed 174 pounds as a freshman in 2007, 191 as a senior. Will Heininger was a 223 pound DE in 2007 and 295 (!) pound DE/DT in 2011. Brandon Herron went from 199 to 221. Huyge 286 to 302. McColgan 220 to 240. Molk only went from 280 to 286. Van Bergen 260 to 288.

          This is only one team comparing true freshmen to RS seniors, but I would suspect you’d see similar patterns in other college teams.

          • BKP

            Jeff Bagwell was 195 after he went through the same sort of development. He was 6′ 190lbs when he was 23 after playing four years in the minors.

            • elm

              See, first, my point below, and, second, the changing perceptions of weight training in baseball that coincided with this period. “Bagwell gained 30 pounds over his career” is a ridiculously small amount of evidence for his taking steroids.

        • Rob

          Clay Matthews was 166 lbs as a high school Junior, he’s now 230+

          • Bill Murray

            and what this and the previous comment have to do with the weight gain of a 23 year old is hard to see.

            • elm

              That aging patterns in sports tend to include weight gain, particularly upon first exposure to big time sports nutrition and conditioning programs. All of the players listed in my comment were around 23 (as they were fifth year seniors). Unless one thinks that weight gain magically stops at 23, I’m not sure how it’s not relevant to the argument that 30 pounds of weight gain in a few years is not unusual for a top athlete.

              I suppose one could argue that athletes are still getting taller in their 18-23 year period but are highly unlikely to grow after that. However, none of the players I listed grew more than an inch in their listed heights and most did not grow at all. The weight gain was almost entirely muscle and/or fat.

              To restate my point: an athlete adding 20-40 pounds as they age, especially if they see their first exposure to heavy duty nutrition and weight training programs, is very common.

    • Spokane Moderate

      Wait. That’s the picture of the non-muscular Bagwell?!?

      The dude in the photo is a freaking rock.

      • NBarnes

        Nice forearms. Hardly surprising that baseballs went the other way when they saw him standing there threatening them with a baseball bat.

      • This, also. People who use the “he used to be skinny” argument seem to have a very warped perspective of what a muscular 18-21 year old should look like.

        • Bill Murray

          but since Bagwell is 23 in that picture, your point is not very well made.

    • elm

      I think everyone agrees that Griffey was clean (though why we all agree on this is anyone’s guess, but we do!)

      But, I mean, dude, look at the size of his head on this baseball card! http://millercards.net/bscarddetails.php?cardID=10780

      He must have been juicing!

  • TT

    Few sports-related outrages stick in the craw more deeply and persistently than the now decade-old spectacle of a bunch of hack sportswriters waxing indignant over the widespread use of PEDs by MLB players in the 1980s and ’90s and using that outrage as a cudgel with which to blackball players who would, in any normal universe, be cinches for Cooperstown–especially when widespread PED use in MLB was one of the worst-kept secrets in sports and these same sportswriters to a man and woman looked the other way while cheering lustily for the game’s alleged post-1994 rennaissance.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      Not all PEDs have an equal impact on the game, as the numbers from the steroid era suggest.

      And cheating is bad, but some forms of cheating are worse than others.

      After Fay Vincent’s 1991 letter regarding steroids, they were covered by MLB’s drug policy, which had only been in effect since the mid-1980s. That baseball adopted this rule regarding steroids without any enforcement mechanism is to their eternal discredit. But badly enforced rules are still rules.

      Which is not to say that I’m ok with sportswriter bullshit about the former purity of the game. Among other problems with it, as we frequently see on this blog, it underwrites handwaving and denialism about the steroid era.

      Steroids give more advantage than other PEDs. They alter the game more. Had baseball decided to allow steroids (assuming for the sake of argument that this would have been legal), the game wouldn’t have been as good (in my opinion), but it would have been a level playing field. Instead, baseball outlawed steroids but looked the other way, forcing players to choose between cheating and being left behind in an ever-increasing steroids arms race that, because of the need to keep it hidden, probably had a more serious impact on players’ health.

      Given baseball’s clear decision to look the other way during the steroid era, what to do about this mess is, in my opinion, a legitimately complicated question But pretending it isn’t a mess, or that the 1990s were just like the 1970s, because many players took greenies back then, is as ridiculous as the baseball-purity nonsense.

      • L2P

        They alter the game more because . . .

        I’ve never seen that part of the argument. I’ve heard lots of moralizing about PEDs altering the game in some unique cheating-related way, but I’ve yet to see anyone make some sort of case for it.

        Players are stronger today. But they’re stronger with modern training but without steroids. They’d also be stronger (and faster) without steroids, but with amphetamines. Don’t think so? It’s not hard to figure out. Go get some and do some laps around a track for yourself. Christ, to this day lots of people get jacked up on coffee before competing, and not for the taste.

        So go get me some studies showing that steroids affect baseball play more than amphetamines. Until then, you’ve got nothing except a hanging curve.

        • DivGuy

          This can’t be studied, not ethically. You can’t jack people up with legitimate doses of steroids and see what happens. And any kind of retrospective study is incredibly difficult due to the huge incentives to lie about use.

          Asking someone for knowledge that simply won’t be produced isn’t a fair thing to do. We have to draw conclusions about the effects of steroids and other PEDs on sport based on much less evidence than we’d like to have.

          It seems to me that the sillyball of the 90s was produced by a confluence of about four factors:

          (1) The ball. The huge jump in offense between 93-95 is really hard to explain without major changes having been made to the ball – and it would make sense that MLB would try to draw fans back in with a more offense-heavy game. There’s no way that steroid use alone took off from 93-95. (And if you want ot see what effect the ball can have, check out 1986-1988)

          (2) Strength training. I remember back in the late 80s that Brian Downing was famous for his weight-lifting, strength training, and watching his diet. That’s all close to universal in baseball right now. Players got bigger and stronger in part just because they finally smashed the old, false belief that real strength training would be counterproductive.

          (3) Steroids. If strength training matters, and steroids increase the rate at which you can add power and strength to your body, then surely steroids make a difference. It’s incredibly hard to parse out how much, and it will vary from person to person and regimen to regimen (no one else has turned themselves into Barry Bonds, but surely early aughts Barry Bonds didn’t happen without some chemical enhancement.)

          (4) Changes in approach borne of strength training. There was a study in Bill James’ NHBA to the effect that home runs to the opposite field jumped massively in the period from 1992-1997 or so. As players became stronger, they determined a new, better approach – crowd the plate and hit pitches on the outside corner for power the opposite way. This changed the balance of power in the game.

          What’s happened in the last two years, as offense has declined almost all the way back to 1980s levels, suggests that the ball was probably the main determining factor. Steroids, perhaps, but the drop in offense doesn’t map to the institution of testing regimes. It lags by two or three years.

          • Incontinentia Buttocks

            I basically agree with all of this.

            Unless you’re willing to deny steroids helped at all, the problem with steroid usage in the 1990s was that it was both illegal and against the explicit (if pathetically unenforced) rules of baseball. Players who chose to break the rules (and the law) thus put themselves at an unfair advantage (though we may never be able to quantify how much of an advantage that was).

          • (1) The ball. The huge jump in offense between 93-95 is really hard to explain without major changes having been made to the ball – and it would make sense that MLB would try to draw fans back in with a more offense-heavy game. There’s no way that steroid use alone took off from 93-95.

            Except if you trace the dispersal of steroids back (via players who were either admitted, or proven steroids users), you find the trail leads to the 1992 Astros, including Ken Camminiti.

            So yea, steroid use in baseball became rampant in the early 90s. Remember, they weren’t banned by MLB at that point.

      • “But badly enforced rules are still rules.”

        Not to be cliche, but I guess it’s safe to assume you are fully away of all of those arcane old ordinances on the books in whatever town you live in and maintain strict compliance with them, no matter how silly they are?

        • John F

          Except those arcane old ordinances really are legitimate “rule,” Fays’ memo purporting to ban steroids was not no matter how many times I.B. says it was.

  • c u n d gulag

    Not that I’m any expert at all by any stretch, but unlike Bonds, Sosa, McGuire, Clemens, etc., when I looked at Bagwell, I never thought ‘steroids!’
    And yeah, I know that’s not a good way to judge something.

    Bagwell had, as noted, a normal athletic progression/regression. Well, normal in terms of ‘human.’ It wasn’t ‘normal’ in terms of Baseball players – it was terrific, highly productive and sustained, and that’s what makes him a HOFer. He was a 40/30 HR/SB twice in his career – as a 1st Baseman!

    If the had some Bondsian/Clemensian spike late in his career, there would be reason for suspicion. As is, he’s certainly seems like a legitimate candidate. I don’t think he’s the best of all time. No one does. But he seems not only legitimate, but worthy. I’d vote to put him in.

    Them’s my $0.02.

    • BKP

      Jeff Bagwell did go from a slim guy to a monster and he was very proud of it, very much in the same vein as McGwire.

      • c u n d gulag

        Yeah, but I never thought he blew up like McGwire or Bonds. They were cartoonish. Sosa, too.
        But I rarely saw Bagwell – only when he was on GOTW, played the Mets, or were in the playoffs/WS, so I could easily be wrong about Bagwell and PED’s.

        And, in his defense, they all got thicker as they got older.
        Mantle did.
        Mays did.
        Frank Robinson did.
        So did Aaron.
        But PED’s weren’t around back then – or at least not prevalent or readily available. Except for greenies, of course.

        Like I said, I could be wrong, and Bagwell’s productivity ended when he saw the writing on the wall as far as testing, stopped doing PED’s, and had a normal decline.

        And this is the whole problem with this era – how the f*ck are we supposed to know if they did or didn’t do PED’s?

        And so, do we paint ALL players who played at this time as cheats, and exclude them all?

        Maybe we vote in the ones whose numbers indicate they deserve it, and just let time either judge them harshly, or let their numbers stand, hoping that people will draw the right conclusions?
        Like, hopefully, anyone with a half a fucking brain will realize that Palmiero was nowhere near the hitter that Mantle, Killebrew, and Frank Robinson were, especially as far as HR’s, no matter what the numbers say.

        But as this country decends further and further into an “Idiocracy,” can we depend on that?

        All I can say is – AAAAAARRRRRGGGGHHHHHHH!

        And this is why I hate this whole era.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks

          Well this blog’s answer is to claim:

          1) Steroid use wasn’t against the rules of baseball in the 1990s.

          2) Steroids don’t do much of anything anyway.

          3) There’s been cheating throughout baseball history…and Ty Cobb was an asshole.

          Claim #1 is false. Claim #2 is, at best, highly tendentious. Claim #3, while useful in combatting idiotic prose poems to the purity of the game, is pretty irrelevant, unless one’s argument is that all cheating is ok.

          • 1. Nope, simple answer is, it was a level playing field, just not the one you thought it was.
            2. Context matters. You probably shouldn’t judge across eras. Baseball has this thing about certain numbers being sacred. They’re not; just a product of their era.
            3. If you’ve ever watched a game, then the best players in any era are obvious.

            It’s fun to argue though

            • c u n d gulag

              That’s a great point!

              If you look at the mid 20’s to mid 30’s, those offensive numbers are hugely out of whack with what came before (which was pretty much solely Ruth putting up those numbers), and what came afterwards.
              And we know there were no PED’s, at least as we now know them, around back then.

              Bill James has written pretty extensively about this era in his abstracts, and in “The Politics of Glory,” which has sadly retitled, “What Ever Happened To the Hall of Fame?”, and about how over represented the HOF is by players of that era.

              And still, despite the overinflated numbers of that era, you can still tell who the best were – they had the most inflated numbers of all!

              Sadly, this isn’t the case in the PED era, when Palmiero’s numbers make it look like he belongs in the same league as Mantle, Killebrew, Frank Robinson, etc.

              He didn’t. He doesn’t. He never will.
              Ah, but the numbers…

              Again, that’s why I hate that era.

              And it’s not over yet. Just look at Ryan Braun.

              The question is, if his protests are proven to be false, and he DID do PED’s, should his MVP be taken away from him?

              What do you all think?

              • “Sadly, this isn’t the case in the PED era, when Palmiero’s numbers make it look like he belongs in the same league as Mantle, Killebrew, Frank Robinson, etc.

                He didn’t. He doesn’t. He never will.”

                This is ridiculous on a number of levels. First there’s the weird Palmeiro bias, which can’t generously be called anything other than letting bias and pre-conceived notion take precedence over facts. Secondly, there’s the fact that the statement is just laughably false on its face. The 4 players by career bWAR:


                Palmeiro (and Killebrew, for that matter) don’t even sniff the level Mantle and Robinson played at.

                • c u n d gulag

                  You’re right, and I should have been far much more specific.

                  I wasn’t talking about WAR, I was talking about HR’s and RBI, where Palmiero surpasses Mantle by a lot in the both, Killebrew in the latter, and comes very close to Robinson in both.

                • See above for discussion of the anomaly of the post-strike home run boom.

            • Incontinentia Buttocks

              Serious question: can you really have a level playing field founded on violating federal law?

              Rightly or wrongly, steroids became Schedule III controlled substances in 1991. However you parse the mess of MLB’s drug (non-)policy in the 1990s, players using steroids were making a decision to break the law.

              I’m entirely on board the proposition that one could, in theory, decide to have a baseball league that allowed steroid use and that doing so wouldn’t violate any fundamental “purity” of the game. However, MLB in fact didn’t decide to do this (at least not openly) and, given federal law, they couldn’t have done so after 1991.

              • I don’t know, do we need to empower a panel to study whether or not we need to make sure all players’ income taxes are on the up and up to insure a level playing field?

                • Incontinentia Buttocks

                  Do you really think income taxes have as much (or any) impact on a players’ on-field performance as steroid use (or non-use) does?

                • Now you’re moving the goal posts and only singling out some federal laws and not others. In much the same way people who complain that it was “cheating” are routinely only concerned with some forms of cheating and not others.

                  You can’t just cut and paste your standards to narrowly tailor them only where you want them to be. If steroids were de facto against the rules of baseball simply because they were illegal under federal law, then the same standard must be applied to all federal laws, or there’s obviously no standard at all.

                • Incontinentia Buttocks

                  They were against the rules of baseball because baseball banned them in 1991. Baseball did so, in part, because they became against the law in 1991, which meant that baseball really couldn’t have openly allowed their use for anything not approved by the FDA (and, e.g., “beating Maris’s and Aaron’s records” was not an approved use of steroids).

                  As I keep saying, the situation created by baseball was extraordinarily messy, both because of the unilateralism of the Vincent letter (which, I agree, was terrible labor practice) and the active looking-the-other-way under Selig.

                  But steroids had already made their way into baseball by 1991. So it’s really not a situation like income-tax evasion (which is not, after all, a performance-enhancing activity).

                  With federal law banning an activity that was becoming increasingly common because it affected on-field performance, baseball had to do something. I don’t think any of us are arguing what baseball did was at all sensible or defensible. But it cannot be ignored.

                • Now you’re arguing in circles and pure tautology. Baseball did not ban them in 1991. Fay Vincent issuing a memo is not the proper protocol for such a rule change, meaning that said memo had no authority at all. You can oscillate on this point all you want, but Fay Vincent’s memo will never represent baseball banning or instituting a rule against anything, no matter how many times you say so.

                  Vincent was a rogue and a boar and a pure authoritarian who thought that the office of commissioner gave him the authority to rule the game as a petty dictator, not just ignoring the role of labor and the union but actually lording over the owners’ collective as well. So of course he would issue a memo pretending to have a power he didn’t, but said memo had no more binding authority than a hypothetical executive order from George Bush eliminating the capital gains tax would have.

              • Mark FIeld

                Amphetamines have been Schedule III since 1965, and use was widespread. That playing field was level.

                You’re making an implicit assumption that steroids were not widely used, but there’s lots of evidence that it was.

          • Scott Lemieux

            Well this blog’s answer is to claim:

            1) Steroid use wasn’t against the rules of baseball in the 1990s.

            Correct. I’m not sure why you become an anti-rule of law union-buster in the context of steroids but I’m certainly not going to follow.

            2) Steroids don’t do much of anything anyway.

            That’s not my position. I agree with djw that it’s essentially impossible to prove that steroids had a substantial effect because there are so many intertwining factors, but I think that steroids probably did play a real role in the offensive explosion, and I certainly think that they played a large role in allowing some players to extend their peak performance years.

            3) There’s been cheating throughout baseball history…and Ty Cobb was an asshole.

            I don’t use the Cobb example because it confuses the important distinction between breaking rules and being an asshole. But, yes, I don’t think any serious case can be made for the proposition that Barry Bonds is somehow morally worse than Willie Mays or that the former’s achievements should be arbitrarily discounted.

            • As to 3), it’s important to remember that the crutch of choice for sportswriters on this question is the “character clause” in the Hall voting mandate.

      • rea

        It is perfectly normal for an athlete to add bulk between age 23 and age 29–you don’t need setroids for an explanation.

        • Corey

          Yep, this line of argument is ridiculous. I’m 26, have added around 30 lbs of muscle in the last two years – while, of course, a) working a 9-5, b) having other interests and c) not having the genetic bonanza that Bagwell presumably does. Without steroids and only the odd bit of protein powder here and there.

          If you paid me to work out? I’d have added a lot more than 30 lbs.

          • Steroids have little to do with putting muscle on, and a lot to do with a) recovery and b) muscle exhaustion.

            You can take steroids and still be a gymnast or a pole vaulter or marathoner.

            In a sport that values power, it allows you to work your muscles harder and have shorter recovery times. Trust me, if you had the extra time, you wouldn’t put on a “lot more” than 30 pounds, because there comes a point where your body simply can’t make another rep.

            With steroids, however…

            • Corey

              Right. I wasn’t suggesting that steroids helped in muscle development beyond a certain point, just pointing out that it’s not at all absurd for anyone – much less a professional athlete – to be skinny at the age of 22, and bulked-up at the age of 27.

      • djw

        Jeff Bagwell did go from a slim guy to a monster and he was very proud of it

        What a bizarre observation. What does this even mean? What concrete statements or actions made him excessively ‘proud’? Was he supposed to be ashamed of his body? And what does this have to do with steroids anyway–is the argument that someone who got their muscled physique without the use of steroids be a) less proud of his body, b) and in a way that is detectable through the television?

        • BKP

          What a bizarre observation. What does this even mean? What concrete statements or actions made him excessively ‘proud’?


          And I was just responding to c u n d who said:

          Not that I’m any expert at all by any stretch, but unlike Bonds, Sosa, McGuire, Clemens, etc., when I looked at Bagwell, I never thought ‘steroids!’
          And yeah, I know that’s not a good way to judge something

          I’m just saying that Bagwell was very much in that group that desired and acheived massive bulk and considered it a benefit.

    • If you looked at A-Roid, would you say the same thing?

      • c u n d gulag

        A-Roid’s filled out a lot. Take a look at the photo where he’s flexing in the mirror and kissing his own reflection.

        Much more so than Mantle, who, as he got older, added on ‘beer muscles.’

    • If the had some Bondsian/Clemensian spike late in his career, there would be reason for suspicion. As is, he’s certainly seems like a legitimate candidate. I don’t think he’s the best of all time. No one does. But he seems not only legitimate, but worthy. I’d vote to put him in.

      Actually, if you look at his career home run numbers…

  • dr

    Bagwell had LASIK surgery. That makes him a cheater. End of story.

  • BKP

    I gotta wonder how WAR is calculated at this point. I was looking at some of the numbers, and I noticed that Joey Votto was tied for tenth in 2010, five spots behind Shin-Soo Choo.

    • John F

      Basically WAR saw Votto as being negative 7 runs on defense, negative 2 as a baserunner, and gets a 10 run penalty for being a 1B

      It saw Choo as being a +11 fielder , and he only got a 7 run penalty for being in RF, purely with a bat WAR actually Votto as being a win and half better…

    • djw

      Brad, what site are you using? Fangraphs, which is generally where I look first for WAR (out of habit, rather than a conviction that their tweaks of the formula are superior to others) has Votto 2010 at 7.3, and Choo at 5.9. (They rated Votto’s defense at +1.6, and Choo at only +6; if you changed those numbers to -7 and +11 respectively, they’d basically be tied).

      • BKP


        • Rob

          Baseball ref defensive stats are really questionable

  • Joshua

    What gets me is how the drug warriors seem to arbitrarily pick their targets. Okay, obviously Bonds, McGwire, and Clemens aren’t getting near Cooperstown anytime soon. But Bagwell isn’t either, and there is no dirt on him. Ken Griffey Jr. will be there his first year of eligibility, and he has exactly the same amount of dirt on him as Bagwell.

    • mark f

      Griffey hit 600+ home runs and was a flashy CFer who was also almost Rose-like in his willingness to sacrifice his body for even low-leverage outs.

      Bagwell hit 450 or so homers as a slugging 1B who looked like a slugging 1B.

      I think Bagwell should be in the Hall but comparing his case to Griffey’s is ludicrous.

      • djw

        This got me thinking. Based on fangraphs WAR, Griffey and Bagwell are tied at 83.9 for their career. They’re both no-brainers on the merits, but the question of which is better comes down some philosophical questions about how to evaluate players. I was there watching Griffey’s extraordinary oufield play, but the cold hard truth is that over the course of his career, he was merely an average defensive player–he gave it all back with terrible outfield play in the 00’s. 600 HR is definitely an impressive counting stat, but he reached it by turning in five years of sub-replacement level baseball, something Bagwell probably could have done, but didn’t. How much extra credit should he get for that?

        I think Griffey gets a mild boost over Bagwell on the merits for having such a unique, exciting, impressive peak, but it’s hardly obvious he’s more deserving on the merits.

        • mark f

          I admit that I responded before I looked up the numbers. I shouldn’t have done that, and purely on the numbers their cases are about even.

          I think the intangibles overstate Griffey’s case versus Bagwell, but I think the career WAR stats overstate Bagwell’s vs. Griffey. I do think Griffey’s willingness to sacrifice his body and play the way he played count toward his merits, even if they did cause him to miss time and lead to a limping finish.

          Since I already used the word “intangibles” I’ll throw an “at the end of the day” out there, too; at the end of the day, they’re both obvious HoFers.

          • djw

            Agreed on all counts.

  • norbizness

    Hopefully a rising Biggio will lift all boats; it would be neat to see them both get in the same year after being lifelong Astros (you don’t see that opportunity every day). And also Frank Thomas, who was born the same exact day as Bagwell.

  • Joe Schmoe

    While I frequently agree with the posts on this site, I am tired of the steroid apologists here. Those who used steroids “cheated” because they took something that gave them a significant advantage over those not willing to take illegal drugs that would do harm to their bodies. Whether or not they were banned in baseball is beside the point. At each level, high school, college, the minors, etc., those players who were taking steroids were taking a roster spot from someone who was unwilling to cheat by taking illegal drugs. To this end, they robbed those legitimate players from their spots, and their careers.

    • c u n d gulag


    • And, of course, the response of “apologists” is to point out that this outrage is entirely arbitrary and oddly seems to not apply to any form of “cheating” other than said action that was not actually against any official baseball rules.

      • Amanda in the South Bay

        But against Federal Law and quite obviously cheating still. *waits to be called a right wing thug and apologist*-cause isn’t that how these debates always run?

    • Woodrowfan


    • dave

      I agree! Similarly, all players who came from privileged backgrounds cheated by using their superior nutrition and financial resources to better train their bodies, thus taking a roster spot from someone who was unable to to cheat by utilizing these methods.

      Also, Tommy John was a cheater when he underwent a risky, untested surgical procedure to prolong his career. He took a roster spot from other players who were unwilling to undergo such risky surgery.

      Also, all players who undergo LASIK, are cheaters.

      Also, all players from the segregated eras are cheaters because they they took something that gave them a significant advantage (their whiteness) over those not able to take such an advantage, thus taking roster spots from legitimate black players.

      Ditto for greenies in the 1950’s and all the thousands of supplements, vitamins, and other concoctions which provide varying degrees of advantage and are not at all illegal but pose health risks of varying degrees.

      There never has and never will be anything close to perfect and fair competition in baseball or any other sport. Its never never going to happen. Why tie ourselves all up into knots about it.

      Personally, for Hall of Fame purposes, I think we have to look at players in the “steroid era” in the context of their era. The best players of the steroid era should make the Hall of Fame. If that means that some player doesn’t make the hall of fame who “but for” the existence of steroids would have made it, then so be it. That guy (if he exists) had a pretty good career and made a lot of money playing a game. There’s no reason to cry over it.

      • Scott Lemieux

        And, also, Roger Maris totally cheated by playing against two incredibly shitty expansion teams and hitting ahead of a better hitter in 1961, allowing him to break a record he otherwise wouldn’t have. Bring back the non-existent asterisk!!!!11!!!11!

    • Incontinentia Buttocks


    • BradP

      Its not about the privileges cheaters receive, but the pressures it places upon other players.

      No business or organization should tolerate one group of employees putting pressure on another group of employees to break the law and wreck their bodies.

      • This only makes sense if the players themselves cared, which they certainly did not.

        • BKP

          The players don’t care or the union?


          In the summer of 2002, months before baseball’s first testing program was negotiated, USA Today conducted a poll; 556 players answered at least one question. Seventy-nine percent — that’s 79 percent — indicated they would accept independent testing for steroids. In addition, 37 percent agreed with the statement that they felt pressure to take those substances; 7 percent strongly agreed. That means almost half of those polled personally felt the specter of steroids, whether to keep up competitively with others who might be using or because of their own desire to max out as a player.

          If you run a business, and 39% of your employees report some degree of pressure to use an unhealthy substance, you have a severe problem.

          • Well the date here seems relevant: 2002 was the year in which MLB and MLBPA initially agreed to put testing in place. This result really tells us nothing about attitudes in the early 90’s, but suffice it to say that the union made no effort to get drug testing on the table during prior CBA negotiations, not were there large blocs of aggrieved players rushing to blow the whistle on players who were using at the time.

      • Mark FIeld

        You’re assuming your conclusion here. Players obviously had no qualms about breaking the law in order to perform better. The widespread use of amphetamines proves that.

        As for health hazards, the health effects of amphetamines are pretty severe. Steroid use might be, but the studies are less clear and nobody knows the specific drugs or doses, so we can’t really say. Maybe players would “wreck their bodies” using steroids, but you need to prove that first.

        • Ed

          Maybe players would “wreck their bodies” using steroids, but you need to prove that first.

          No, you don’t. The point is about pressure put on players to ingest substances with unknown and potentially bad long term effects on health in order to be competitive. And we know the lengths to which athletes will go and the risks with their health they will take to keep working.

          Not only that, but this is an argument for the steroid users being in the Hall of fAme–they were coerced into using

          “Coerced” seems a bit extreme. They can try making that argument but I don’t think it will go far.

          • rea

            You can’t complain–in the same paragraph!–about “about pressure put on players to ingest substances” as a reason why steroid use was bad, and then turn around and deny that players were coerced to sue them.

          • Mark Field

            If the substance doesn’t have “bad long term effects on health” then we don’t need to worry about coercion. Until someone actually demonstrates the bad consequences, the hysterians are assuming their conclusion.

            • BKP

              Right, because people don’t care about injecting chemicals into their body when they aren’t sure what it will do. Only when they know its bad.

              • Mark Field

                Like amphetamines?

      • rea

        Not only that, but this is an argument for the steroid users being in the Hall of fAme–they were coerced into using.

  • Woodrowfan

    OK, if it wasn’t against the rules why did the player using PEDs do so much to hide it, including lying under oath to Congress??

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      Apparently just one of those baseball traditions, like not discussing a no-hitter in progress.

    • Would you apply that standard to defend the Clinton impeachment?

    • Scott Lemieux

      Because witch hunters don’t actually care whether something is against the rules or not?

      • But Scott, if you ignore all of the other bad things that could have happened to them, they should have just admitted to it if it wasn’t against the nominal rules of baseball!

        By the same token, if Bill Clinton didn’t think getting a blowjob was an impeachable offense, why didn’t he just admit to it in the first place?

  • Forgive me if I’m wrong here, Scott, but HoF inclusion at this point is at the discretion of the sportswriters, is it not?

    Perhaps they knew something the rest of us are not privvy to?

    For instance, Pete Incaviglia testified that Bagwell provided him with steroids in the early 90s, even when he was on the Phils (who not coincidentally won their first championship in 1994, with a clearly juiced Lenny Dykstra, who also was allegedly supplied by Bagwell)

    Indeed, the modern steroid era can be traced to the 1992 Astros, Bagwell and Incaviglia included, but also Ken Camminiti, Luis Gonzalez and Steve Finley.

    Now, admittedly, little of this has anything more than anedoctal evidence, but this isn’t a court case, it’s a subjective decision to allow someone to enter a hallowed environment based on accomplishment and merit. And while his accomplishments are undeniable, the merit question certainly lingers.

    After all, no one would argue that Pete Rose’s accomplishments as a player wouldn’t warrant his entry into the HoF but does he merit?

    That’s a debatable question.

    I come down against Bagwell on this question. Given the pervasive steroidal environment and the way his early career power numbers amp up…I mean, really, 39 home runs in only 400 at bats in 1994, years before he “hit his stride” as a bomber?…the answer that he never took steroids seems unlikely.

    • This seems farcical. If the writers had good information Bagwell used steroids, why doesn’t one of them explicitly say as much?

      • Access. Starry eyed. Who knows?

        The 1986-87 Mets were a bundle of drunks and coke heads. No one talked about it until Gooden went into rehab, even tho it was clear from the antics on and off the field that they were toasted half the time.

        And mind you, Gooden went after Strawberry had his first run on the DL for rehab.

        • Also, back in the 90s, steroids weren’t a banned substance in MLB.

        • But why wouldn’t they say so now?

          • c u n d gulag

            Maybe lawsuits?

            Falsely accusing someone of using PED’s may cost someone the HOF, which radically lessons their future income doing speeches, showing up at card shows, or other paid events.

            You’re talking about potentially millions of dollars if you consider that he lives a normal lifespan.

            Take a look at Bagwell – he could have had up to, and over, 40 years of doing nothing but selling himself and his career.
            How much more would it be worth if he’s in the HOF, than if he’s out?

            If PED use is proven, there’s a great case for HOF exclusion, and I can’t as a player bitch about that. And if it’s proven after being elected in, the fact that your income decreases can be explained by people feeling that you cheated.

            But if nothing is ever proven about it and you cast aspersions, well, if you accused me of that, I’d probably sue the living shit out of you – and I’m not the suing type.

            • c u n d gulag

              It doesn’t “lesson,” it lessens.

              The “lesson” here is that to “lessen” errors, please add either preview, or edit, or both – like sites that are nowhere near as great as this one.

              Christmas is just around the corner, boys!

              Give us, your commenter’s, the gift of preview, edit, or better yet – BOTH!!!

            • No, that doesn’t make any sense. If the journalist had reasonably credible evidence of steroid use, then correct or incorrect they couldn’t be sued for an allegation.

              This isn’t that complicated. The reason it doesn’t happen is because they don’t have said evidence, and they don’t want to risk a defamation suit nor do they want to be pinned down by criticisms. It’s surprisingly similar to right-wing dogwhistling in this respect.

              • c u n d gulag

                Yup, good point, Brien.

              • Perhaps they will, Brien.

                Remember, a lot of the Clemens stories didn’t hit the fan until after the accusations and just before his testimony in front of Congress.

                I doubt any reporter saw Bagwell or whomever shoot up, just as I’m sure no reporter ever saw Gooden snort coke.

                But the credible evidence for the latter was pieced together eventually and put into stories.

                Why not now? Maybe because Bagwell simply isn’t a big enough story.

                • “Remember, a lot of the Clemens stories didn’t hit the fan until after the accusations and just before his testimony in front of Congress. ”

                  Also his former trainer ratted him out to the Mitchell Report. So there’s that.

                  “Why not now? Maybe because Bagwell simply isn’t a big enough story.”

                  That’s not really plausible. There was a relatively big stick about it last year, plenty of different writers are basically applying the same standard, and I think Verducci even wrote a column about it last year.

    • Hogan

      the Phils (who not coincidentally won their first championship in 1994

      Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Tug McGraw and the 1980 Royals would like a word with you.

      • For that matter, so would the ’94 Phillies, to thank actor212 for awarding them a championship they never won.

        Now if he’s talking about ’93, then it’s a Mr. Joseph Carter on line 1…

        • mark f

          Shorter Montreal Expos:

          D’abord la grève finit prematurément notre meilleure saison, alors acteur212 le crédite au Phillies!

          • Scott Lemieux

            Anybody who suggests that the ’94 Phillies won anything again will receive a lifetime ban.

      • I didn’t say Series, did I?

        • Hogan

          Oh, was that the year they won the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award? Long overdue, I thought.

        • Bill Murray

          they also won the NL championship in 1915 under Patsy Moran with Bud Weiser, Fred Luderus, Possum Whitted, Ben Tincup, Beals becker, Dode Paskert and GAvvy Cravath in addition to Grover Cleveland Alexander the Great

          • elm

            We need more baseball players named Possum.

          • mark f

            They won the NL penant in 1950 as well, but lost the WS to the Yankees.

            • Njorl

              Yeah. You can’t leave out “The Whiz Kids”, the only team known for their urinary antics.

  • This is the best treatment of steroids in baseball I know of: http://steroids-and-baseball.com/. Highly recommended. Posnanski gives a précis of the argument here: http://joeposnanski.si.com/2010/08/06/what-if-we-are-wrong-again-about-steroids/

    • BKP

      Read that before and have several problems with it:

      1. I don’t buy that steroids would help with power and power alone. Swing speed improves the chances of contact as well as power and would increase the likelihood of singles making it through the infield just as much as it would increase the likelihood of line drives reaching the gap. It would not be surprising in the least to me that someone who experienced a power boost would maintain a similar “Power Factor” ratio. Some steroid users have claimed psychological boosts as well.

      2. When showing his graph, he shows a precipitous fall through the 60s, 70s, and 80s that flattened out through the late 80s and 90s. If I remember correctly he explicitly states he isn’t concerned with the causes of the drop off during those decades, and then concludes that the level period conclusively proves no power boost. Appropriate analysis would require one to determine a reason for the drop off. If the cause for that drop off are continued into the 90s, then the leveling would seem to support the emergence of steroids as a counterbalance.

      3. While he is correct that arm strength is largely irrelevant to swing power, the core and torso are absolutely essential to gaining rotational torque. And any glance at pictures of known PED users show huge gains not only in arms but also in their torso.

      • L2P

        Yeah, just look at what ‘roiding did for John Kruk’s torso!

        I admit I’m a little confused about the bat speed/strength connection (except perhaps some VERY minimal effect). As I understand it, bat speed comes largely from technique; foot position, bat angle, throwing the bat correctly, quick wrists, timing (as in load, stride, etc. at the right time), correct posture and angles. That’s why we talk about bat speed v. strength. Those little guys have quick bats, too.

        If your bat’s slow, you’re supposed to choke up or get a smaller bat. I’m at a loss here. What are you getting at?

  • John F

    and GAvvy Cravath

    From 1913 to 1919 he hit 105 Homers, the next highest totals were:

    53 (home Run Baker)

    clearly he was juicing

    • Tracy

      You’re joking, of course, but he was playing in a juiced park. Cravath hit 92 of his 117 career HR in the Baker Bowl, which was 280 down the lines.

  • From today’s Times, evidence that steroids use was not only known in the 90s, but was worrisome, yet went basically unreported.

    If I have one regret — one pitch I’d like back — it is my upbeat commentary during the McGwire-Sosa home run frolics of 1998, after Steve Wilstein of The Associated Press spotted androstenedione in McGwire’s locker. The drug was not illegal in baseball; the sport did not have testing yet; and great newspapers do not indulge in idle speculation. Still, I could have been a bit more cautious a bit earlier.

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