When you look at the current ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame, the list of players reads as a who’s who of great players over the past decade. Unfortunately for baseball fans, the use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) has taken the excitement out of what was an annual rite of passage; where the great players of a generation would have their immortal credentials scrutinized.
There are this seasons first time ballot candidates; and from the top of the list it is most evident that the true impact of the steroid era is upon us. Here is a look at the top tier of candidates based on their career statistical credentials.
In the top 10 in career wins and strikeouts, the seven-time Cy Young award winner should be considered a true Hall of Famer. His alleged involvement in PEDs have blanketed Clemens much the same as McGwire, Canseco, Sosa and Bonds. Given the tone of the voting writers, it is very unlikely that they will allow Roger in on the first ballot; but could see him inducted over the next few seasons based on his early career (pre-PRDs) performance.
The home run king. Nothing more should be needed to justify his inclusion in the pantheon of greats. But his physical transformation after leaving Pittsburgh and subsequent surreal statistical output is what makes this former shoe-in for Cooperstown now a tarnished player. As such, he will be like Clemens in his lack of immediate induction but will likely see his way to the Hall of Fame in the years to come.
Along with Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa was joined at the hip and helped usher in a new era of baseball. With the stigma of the 1994 shortened season still lingering, the home run chase these two players put on re-energized the fan base and made national news headlines.
Unfortunately, like his slugging partner McGwire, his association with PEDs and more importantly his statistical explosion after a pedestrian career to that point make him very unlikely to be voted in any time soon.
The shame in Clemens and Bonds in particular is that both would have been Hall of Famers based on their career production prior to their believed use of PEDs. As a result of their actions, their induction will have to wait; which opens the door to others who have been great players but not at the level of these mentioned men.
The next tier of players stand a good chance of getting voted in more so because of the tainted image of the aforementioned trio than their career performance. With a couple of close-call carry over candidates up for consideration, there is likely to be a few of these players inducted in the hall of fame in the very near future.
While Schilling’s regular season statistics are attributed more to his longevity than his dominance, the right-hander made a name for himself in the playoffs. With 11 wins in five playoff years, Schilling holds the distinction of being an ace pitcher on three different World Series winning teams; few players can make that claim. Not only is an 11-2 record impressive, his 2.23 postseason ERA in 19 starts is more 1.41 lower than his career regular season mark.
Hurting Schilling’s candidacy is the same issue that has plagued a similar pitcher from a decade earlier; as Jack Morris established himself as one of the better pitchers of the 1980s based on his durability and consistency. Schilling’ like Morris’ real claim to fame was in their ability to elevate their game when the stakes were greatest. Whether the hampered candidacy of the other prominent pitching name (Clemens) helps his chances will be known soon enough.
The slugging catcher is likely another player who will gain benefit from the writer disqualification of the steroid-linked players. Never having a confirmed connection to PEDs, Piazza’s 427 career home runs and .308 average are impressive considering he played most of his career as a catcher and not benefitting from the designated hitter position in the American League or manning first base for a lengthy period of time.
The combination of power and plate discipline at a challenging defensive position will make Piazza a favorite candidate for many of the voters.
The diminutive second baseman put together a very impressive career; collecting 3,060 hits to go along with 291 home runs and 414 stolen bases. As far as second basemen are concerned, the power production could be a flag that Biggio’s performance could have been chemically altered; considering that his power production came more towards the latter part of his playing days.
With no evidence to prove PED usage, Biggio will be strongly considered for induction because he played the game clean and his performance was of a natural nature. There is a slight chance that Biggio could join his former teammate Jeff Bagwell as an inductee this season, but with other new entrant players like Piazza and Schilling, the likelihood is that we will see Biggio’s name called sooner rather than later.
Probably should have been in last season. His name was never connected with steroids and hs put up a legitimate HOF profile (.297 BA, 449 HR). Compared to the inflated stats of his contemporaries, this is likely his year to be chosen.
If Curt Schilling doesn’t get voted in then Morris won’t either. Both pitchers resumes are very similar based on their postseason accolades more than their regular season dominance.
Morris came very close to being inducted last season; with his name appearing on 66.7% of the ballots. With no new names likely to be enshrined this season, I would be surprised to see Morris not get the nod this time.
Simple put, Smith is one of the most unappreciated closers of all time. In the past 30 years, there are few closers that were as dominant for as long as Lee Smith was; as his large frame lumbered to the mound. Amassing 478 career saves makes Smith a legitimate lock for induction; whether it is this season or not is questionable.
If the steroid era never existed, names such as Clemens and Bonds would be automatic locks for induction into Cooperstown. Because of the proliferation of performance enhancing drugs, players with lesser credentials for induction will be considered the leading candidates because they played a “clean game” and their lesser statistical output will be attributed to the chemically enhanced stats of the era’s more prominent names than a lack of qualifications of their own.
Now with the accomplishments of players like McGwire, Palmero, Bonds and Clemens sullied by their alleged use of performance enhancing drugs, even if they eventually make it to the Hall of Fame, their mark on the game will be equally shared for what they did off the field as they did on it.
Scott Duhaime is a Boston Red Sox and Washington Nationals fan for over 30 years.
Follow Scott on Twitter: @Scott_Duhaime