The Steroids in the Hall of Fame Debate Verdict

January 13, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Babe Ruthless.

If ever the game of baseball found itself in a lose-lose situation, this would be it. Let me once again sarcastically thank the dirtbags who introduced steroids into the game for ruining it for EVERYONE!

Thanks to greed, egotism, and self-service over fair play and competition, an entire generation of baseball is forever sullied. And what angers me the most about the whole thing is that it was MY era that was ruined!

Ignorance Was Bliss

Our fathers got to grow up watching Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Reggie Jackson. Their fathers grew up watching Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Walter Johnson. These were titans. They were larger-than-life baseball stars turned legends.

Yes, there were “bad guys” back then, too. Ty Cobb was no saint on the base path, and the Black Sox made sure to leave a mark on history. But the actions of those few did not destroy the luster of an entire generation. In fact, for some players (like Cobb), it actually added to their legend.

I, on the other hand, grew up watching cheaters and drug users. The players I idolized during my youth – Canseco and McGwire, Strawberry, and Gooden… and now even more recent stars like Manny and A-Rod – have one-by-one toppled from grace.

At first, it hurt. It was the death of my innocence as a boy. I used to imagine myself in the same dugout as The Bash Brothers, or The Killer B’s. Now the curtain has been pulled back on those moments of herculean accomplishment that I witnessed, and with that action, the illusion of greatness vanished.

At one time I celebrated with these legends. I carried with me what I thought were indelible images, like those of McGwire and Sosa crossing home plate during their great 1998 homerun chase, or Roger Clemens’ twenty strike-out night against the Mariners in 1986, or of rookie sensation Wally Joyner winning the 1986 homerun derby.

Those have all been replaced by images of sad and broken men, none of whom are celebrating now.

Instead of wearing baseball uniforms they are now clad in business suits, standing before Congress or the cameras. Some are making tearful apologies, others making impassioned pleas. But they are all addressing the same problem – destroyed legacies.

The Time for Debate is Over

It is time for history to officially begin passing judgment on the actions of these athletes. Accomplishments that surely would have otherwise merited immediate induction into Cooperstown are now besmirched with an ugly (albeit implied) asterisk. Like a good pair of concrete shoes, no one with an asterisk has managed to break through the barrier that is the collection of HOF voters yet. None have been able to overcome the stigma of being a cheater.

So why do I include Roger Clemens in the same ranks as McGwire, Sosa, and Joyner? He has never been PROVEN to have cheated, and he vehemently denies any and all accusations.

The problem that faces Clemens, Jeff Bagwell, and many other players who are sure to follow after them comes in the form of a very simple question – Do I believe them? My answer is “not really.”

Here is where we find that lose-lose situation. Should the voters of baseball’s Hall of Fame ignore accusations and allegations of cheating and vote players like Roger Clemens into the Hall, knowing that there is a possibility of their being proven guilty after induction? Or do they preclude anyone shrouded in suspicion from ever being inducted, knowing that there will surely be innocent players unfairly denied an honor that they truly deserved?

In defense of those players still only suspected of steroid use, Babe Ruthless calls upon a predictable, but no less valuable, defense. The insistence that a player is “innocent until proven guilty” is one that is hard to deny, and Babe Ruthless wastes no time in applying it to this situation.

As much as I hate the overuse of that adage, I cannot deny its value. While a comparison to McCarthyism or the Salem Witch Trials may be a bit extreme (we are just talking about baseball), the notion that mere accusation could bar someone an otherwise deserved honor is very unpleasant to consider.

But that is nonetheless where Loyal Homer chimes in with hi argument.

There is already a cloud of unpleasantness surrounding this infamous era, and so avoidance is an impossibility. According to Loyal Homer, it is the integrity of the hall itself, not the integrity of the athletes, that is really at stake. Fairness to a player is secondary when you consider the virtues that the Baseball Hall of Fame embodies.

Induction into the Hall is a privilege, not a right. The voters each year want to ensure that only the greatest of baseball’s ambassadors are the ones chosen for immortality.

So do you risk the integrity of the Hall, or sacrifice good faith at the expense of the individual athlete’s legacy?

Preserving the Institution

I am awarding this verdict to Loyal Homer for one reason – the Baseball Hall of Fame is the last piece of the game not yet tainted by steroids.

Records may be called into question and athletes’ resumes may be cheapened, but the Hall remains a bastion where the very best that baseball has to offer can still be respected and honored without question. As Loyal Homer states, the Hall must remain free from the cloud of suspicion.

Do I feel for the wrongfully accused? Absolutely. They are innocent victims, simply caught in the cross-fire of a witch hunt to clean up baseball. But that is not the concern of the Hall of Fame.

Cooperstown does not have to solve the problem of steroids. It does not have to pass judgment on players like Clemens or Bagwell. The only function which the Hall and its voters must perform is to honor the game’s greatest.

Unfortunately for players like Clemens, suspicion is all it takes. How can voters confidently induct him into the Hall of Fame if there are very real doubts as to the legitimacy of how he accomplished many of the things which would have made him great?

Let’s be honest, this would not be the first time that suspicion deprived someone from induction into the Hall (e.g. Shoeless Joe Jackson).

Voters for the Baseball Hall of Fame have demonstrated an ongoing commitment to preserving the purity of the game. If there is even a shred of doubt as to the validity of a players’ accomplishments, the voters cannot let him in. To do so would irresponsibly risk the legacy of the entire history of the game.

If just one Hall of Famer is found to have cheated AFTER the fact of his induction, the integrity of the entire Hall is lost forever.

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The Steroids in the Hall of Fame Debate

January 11, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Babe Ruthless.

Boy is it nice to be back! (A huge thanks to everyone here at TSD for picking up the slack while I was gone!)

What better way to get back into the swing of things than to tackle a debate that has probably been a long time coming – steroids and the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Although it feels like we have been talking about steroids in baseball for ever, the issue of steroids in the Hall of Fame is really a problem that is still in its infancy. We are just now at a point where players from the notorious “Steroid Era” such as Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro are eligible for Hall of Fame candidacy.

With each year of voting, it becomes clearer – steroids are a black mark that simply cannot be erased from an athlete’s resume. Voters are sending a message loud and clear that they will not reward any steroid-tainted player with baseball’s highest honor.

I think it is safe to assume that most people are in agreement with those voters when it comes to an athlete who has either admitted to steroid use, or some other form of proof has been provided to definitively confirm that fact.

But what about players who are only SUSPECTED or ACCUSED of steroid use? Should a player who has never admitted to using or been a proven user of steroids be shunned from the Hall of Fame by voters?

The cloud of suspicion around steroids can itself be a powerful influence in how the public perceives an athlete. Loyal Homer believes that suspicion alone should be enough to justify banishment for HOF voters while Babe Ruthless feels that mere suspicion should have no bearing whatsoever on a HOF vote.

How will history look back on the Steroid Era? It’s time to find out…

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The Which Player Should Hang ‘Em Up Debate… From Mannywood to Mannywon’t

September 20, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Sports Geek and Babe Ruthless.

I can still remember sitting at old Thurman Munson Memorial Stadium in Canton, OH, on a spring night in 1993 where the former Akron-Canton Indians, a minor-league affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, used to play their home games in the Eastern League. At this particular game, a kid that no one had ever heard of named Manny Ramirez stepped up to the plate and crushed not one, but two homeruns, one of which went all the way out of the stadium and into the parking lot.

I was only 14 years old at the time, but I was struck with such a sense of awe and amazement having never seen a display of power so impressive from a Minor League player, that I just knew I was witnessing the very beginnings of what would almost certainly become a special career in baseball.

That was 17 years ago, and for 14 of those years, I was right.

As the 2008 baseball season drew to a close, Manny Ramirez was widely regarded as one of the greatest hitters ever to play the game of baseball. His statistics as they were would have earned him legitimate consideration as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. And even at the age of 36, he was turning in remarkable performances, having finished that season with a .332 batting average, on 183 hits, with 37 HRs and 121 RBIs.

As far as career totals are concerned, he was batting .314 lifetime, with 2392 hits, 527 HRs, and 1725 RBIs. When you consider that there are only about 200 players in the history of baseball who can boast a career batting average greater than .300, and only about 75 who hit better than .314, Manny was sitting in some very exclusive company.

Then came the charges of Ramirez having used performance enhancing drugs, and everything changed. And while we can only speculate as to what his numbers would have been had he NOT used PEDs, there is one thing that we can be sure of – Manny Ramirez has played as only a shell of his former self since his return to the game after having served a 50 game suspension.

Ramirez returned to the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 3rd, 2009, from which time to the end of the 2009 season, he recorded 260 at-bats. Of those 260 ABs, though, he only recorded 70 hits for a batting average of .269. That result is a far cry from Ramirez’s career average, and is matched only by his 1994 season as being the worst performance of his career.

And although he still managed to hit 13 HRs and 43 RBIs during that time, it was not enough performance to bring Ramirez any job security. So in 2010, after he suffered a hamstring injury during the middle of the season, the Dodgers placed Ramirez on waivers.

He was simply getting paid too much money for the level of performance he was putting out, and the Dodgers decided they just couldn’t afford to pay him anymore.

Deciding to make a play for the postseason, then, the White Sox claimed Ramirez, and brought him over to the south side of Chicago . Their hope was that Ramirez’s hitting capabilities would provide a jolt to the White Sox lineup, giving them the last push they needed to compete for a postseason spot.

How has that decision worked out for the Sox?

In his 17 games since joining Chicago, Ramirez is a pathetic 13 for 64, with only one HR and one RBI (which came as a token run scored in a 9-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers. He has, however, struck out 18 times, has gone hitless in more than half of his games since joining the White Sox, and has only been good for five runs.

Corresponding with that very poor performance, the White Sox as a team have played to a record of 7-10, including being swept twice by the Detroit Tigers, and a third time by the Minnesota Twins. And now, the same White Sox team that was hoping to make a push for the postseason (as they were only four games behind the AL Central leading Minnesota Twins when Ramirez arrived on September 1st), are today a full ten games back from the Twins, and have virtually no shot at playing October baseball.

It has been a tale of two Mannys, and the Manny that we see today is doing no one any favors by sticking around, especially himself.

Before the 50-game suspension, Ramirez was a World Series champion, a 12-time All Star outfielder, and a nine-time Silver Slugger. After the 50-game suspension, he has become a financial liability and an injury risk that cannot produce any offense. He WAS a feared hitter who no pitcher wanted to face, especially in a clutch situation. Now, he is a 38 year old player who can’t run, apparently can’t hit, and is in grave danger of further damaging a legacy already marred by scandal.

His Hall of Fame candidacy is already in question, simply from the merits of having admitted to cheating in the game of baseball. But thanks to his decision to hang around still, two years removed from having made any REAL contribution to his team, he sits in danger of destroying what little hope he had remaining.

Perhaps it is sentimentality speaking, but as a longtime fan of Manny Ramirez, I hope for his sake that he retires from the game BEFORE it is too late.

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The Mauer versus Pujols Debate Verdict

June 4, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Sports Geek and Loyal Homer.

What are the most important qualities that a team should look for in a player that they intend to build their franchise around?

Performance is clearly at the top of the list. This player should almost be guaranteed to produce All-Star caliber stats on an annual basis. Building a team around an average producer will net only an average team.

Leadership is another important factor that the player must possess. Being a high-producer is worthless when it comes partnered with locker room poison. A franchise player must be someone who can motivate both in words and actions. He must be someone respected within the organization, and who will hold his teammates accountable to the same high standards he holds himself to.

Finally, the player must demonstrate reliability, because you cannot build a team around a player that you cannot count on in terms of longevity, health, and commitment. As a team, you must be able to look to that player whom you have designated as keystone to provide the highest levels of sustained production and leadership at all times.

So between Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer and St. Louis Cardinals first-baseman Albert Pujols, which of the two better represents those qualities that help set “franchise” players apart from your run-of-the-mill ball player?

After reviewing the arguments presented by Sports Geek and Loyal Homer, the answer of which player would make for a better foundation around which to build a team is Albert Pujols. And although I know that I will be subjected to a barrage of emails and comments from Sports Geek contesting this verdict, it is Loyal Homer who wins the debate.

In considering the qualities of Performance, Leadership, and Reliability, all of which are essential for a player around whom a franchise will be built, Mauer only takes the edge over Pujols in Leadership.

As highlighted by Sports Geek, the mental demands placed on a catcher certainly exceed those of a first baseman, and Mauer has undeniably mastered his position. The ability to lead a team while on the field is extremely valuable, and although Albert Pujols has demonstrated a tremendous ability to lead in his own right, Sports Geek is correct in arguing that Mauer as a player brings more to the table than Pujols in this regard.

Leadership, though, is only one piece of the puzzle, and in terms of performance and reliability, Mauer comes up shy of Pujols’ mark.

Both Sports Geek and Loyal Homer agreed that Pujols is the better offensive asset (although Mauer comes in VERY closely behind). Pujols has never hit below .300 for a season in a ten-year career, and carries a greater career average. Pujols’ at-bats also produce greater results in terms of runs, extra bases, RBI, and HRs.

Defensively, the two players are essentially equal. Mauer may have greater responsibility as a catcher, but in the strictest terms of output, their fielding percentages are virtually identical.

While the debate was not solely about production, batting statistics cannot be ignored, and Pujols clearly owns this category.

The next item that both writers agreed upon was the additional physical strain that Mauer is subjected to as a catcher. While Sports Geek argues that this fact makes Mauer more valuable for succeeding in a more demanding physical position (something I don’t entirely disagree with), Loyal Homer raises the issue of wear and tear, which also cannot be disregarded.

Mauer may be three years younger than Pujols, but the rigors of playing catcher in the Majors will catch up with Mauer far sooner than will the demands of playing first base for Pujols. In fact, statistics show that the average career for a first baseman spans 250-300 games longer than that of a catcher. When you consider the number of games that Mauer is good for in an average season, that number equates to a career that will essentially fall two to three years SHORTER than that of Pujols, essentially negating the age difference between them both. While Pujols career began three years sooner, his remaining shelf life is virtually the same as Mauer’s.

Compounding that ongoing wear and tear is the already present history of injury that Mauer has demonstrated. While those injuries have not been particularly serious, Mauer has shown a greater susceptibility than Pujols at finding himself sitting out of games, earning a moniker (whether deserved or not) as being injury prone. In his BEST season, Mauer still missed 16 games, while Pujols’ WORST season by comparison saw him miss only 19, and in his entire career he has missed more than 10 games only twice.

Mauer may be the better leader in a single-game comparison, but Albert Pujols can be relied upon to provide his own exceptional leadership along with better, more consistent results over what is likely to be a greater number of games to come.

When considering the TOTAL package for who I would rather build my team around, I will take Albert Pujols.

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The MLB Team Rebuilding Debate… Should Baseball Rebuild the Rebuilding Process?

March 25, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Loyal Homer.

April has always been one of my favorite months for sports.

March Madness in full swing, the NBA playoffs will be kicking off mid-month, and the NFL Draft is slated to take place toward the end of April. All three of those are very interesting and exciting events for a sports-addict like myself!

Putting the cap on this month, though, is the commencement of the new baseball season. Now that an unnecessarily long Spring Training draws to a close (I don’t care what the judge wrote, Spring Training is RIDICULOUS!), we can FINALLY settle in and watch some baseball that actually MEANS something!

Around the league teams and fans are gearing up for the start of another 162-game marathon, but that preparation looks different for each team in the majors.

The Yankees and the Phillies are getting set for what looks to be another very strong year where they will defend their respective pennants, while other contenders are putting their best efforts into an attempt at unseating the reigning champions.

But what about the “other” teams? Clubs like the Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals, teams that have not been truly competitive for years, are once again considered unlikely challengers for baseball’s ultimate prize. These teams always seem ne bad (at least over the last 15-20 years), and by all appearances they will remain bad.

While each team has a responsibility to prepare itself as best as possible every year for a run at the World Series, fans of these perennial losers become more and more accustomed to diminished expectations and ultimately lose interest in their team’s season before it even begins. Dwindling fan interest due to annual poor performance is a potentially costly inevitability for the teams of Major League Baseball!

One of the issues facing MLB is that the “business” of baseball can make the rebuilding process very slow-moving, often taking several years before any real progress can be realized within an organization. A great example of this came back in 2001 when Cleveland Indians General Manager Mark Shapiro predicted that the next time the Indians would see the postseason would not come until 2007, SIX full season later (he was right, by the way).

Shapiro understood the long road of rebuilding that lay ahead of him in 2001, and did not expect his team to see October baseball again for more than half a decade. That is a LONG time to ask fans to sit and wait for their next shot at a winner, especially when the NFL, by comparison, has become renowned in recent years for its immediate turnarounds and plenty of “worst-to-first” stories.

So the question for today is: Should baseball change the way it does business to accommodate a faster rebuilding process for “bad” teams?

Arguing the position that baseball should NOT change how teams currently rebuild is Babe Ruthless, while Loyal Homer will present his reasons for why changes should be made.

Sports Geek, however, is taking the day off today. He has been a bit preoccupied lately, tirelessly writing lengthy odes and soliloquies for tomorrow’s debate, where he will finally profess his undying love for Michigan State Men’s Basketball Head Coach Tom Izzo!

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The HGH Testing in the Minor Leagues Debate – To Test or Not To Test? That is the Question For MLB

March 4, 2010

Read the debate intro and the opposing argument from Bleacher Fan.

Recently, Terry Newton—a rugby player from the United Kingdom—made headlines as the world’s first professional athlete to receive a suspension for using human growth hormones (HGH). What is even more shocking is the fact that he actually owned up to it. While on the surface this looks to be a giant leap forward in the battle against performance enhancing drugs, the truth is a test for HGH has been around since the Athens Olympics in 2004. Now, however, baseball officials seem to be chomping at the bit to start testing players. Bud Selig’s current plan is to experiment with the blood based test in the minor leagues and then potentially bring it to the major league. Today’s debate addresses the issue, should Major League Baseball (MLB) bother with beginning testing for HGH in the minor leagues or just go straight to testing in the Majors?

Suggesting that HGH testing move straight to the Bigs is a knee-jerk reaction at best. Baseball officials have been functioning in damage control mode because of performance enhancing drug scandals for so long that they seem to have forgotten how to address issues – with a plan. Nothing would be gained from rushing the implementation of the test, except a shallow perception that baseball is somehow tougher on performance enhancing drugs. Testing for HGH would not change the weak suspensions that MLB issues for offenders. So what is to gain by hastily implementing a controversial “new” test that baseball has previously criticized? Absolutely nothing!

Let me play devil’s advocate for a moment by posing the questions, what is the big deal about HGH use in the first place? Is it really that bad? Dr. Richard Hellman, the president of the board of directors for the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) states that, “careful scientific studies show that the effect of the growth hormone on improving muscle strength [to a professional athlete] is relatively small and much less important than their training regiment.” Hellman also states that, “When a healthy adult male takes growth hormone either to improve athletic performance, or to improve muscle building, or to prevent aging, he is always making a mistake and wasting his money…There is little benefit from these substances [HGH and androgens], and unlimited risk.” The side effects of excessive HGH use include changes in temperament, anger problems, excessive sweating, arthritis, and even diabetes. These side effects are most certainly a punishment in their own right, not to mention the fact that they could actually shorten a player’s career. In my opinion the negatives far outweigh the positives and the athlete engaging in the risky behavior is in reality cheating himself.

There is also a matter of timing to consider. Baseball’s current labor contract does not expire until 2011. Taking action at the major league level before that time would require the consent of the players’ union. Supposing that the players union rejects the proposal to test in the majors in 2010, which both the MLB and NFL players unions have done previously, the media backlash would be monumental. Baseball already has a tarnished image, due in no small part to performance enhancing drug scandals. The last thing Bud Selig wants right now is to have to explain away why baseball players do not want to submit to more drug testing. If HGH testing is something MLB deems essential, then they should test it in the minor leagues this year and make it a sticking point for the Majors under the next labor agreement. We are seriously talking about the difference of waiting one season at the major league level. Anything more drastic could potentially cause a work stoppage. Can baseball afford that right now, during the current economic recession? I do not think so. Certainly baseball has a responsibility to clean up the game, but that does not mean that they should sacrifice good business sense to do it.

Plus this debate hangs on a very fine point–should HGH blood testing be instituted at the major league level this year. No one is suggesting that baseball bury its head in the ground like it did during the steroid era of the 1990s. I merely suggest that MLB use caution moving forward. HGH blood testing is not universally seen as trustworthy. Although an HGH blood test has been around for nearly 6 years, baseball officials have previously questioned the tests validity. Now, in the wake of one suspension issued because of one unchallenged, positive test on a different continent in another sport, and baseball officials are starting to sing a different tune. It just does not seem like a well thought out plan to jump head first into full blown, major league 40-man roster testing without at least trying it at the minor league level first. Imagine the publicity nightmare that would ensue if a high profile all-star, like Albert Pujols, tests positive and then publicly disputes the validity of a test which the league also previously questioned. That would require some major back peddling from Bud Selig. Baseball has a plan in place, and there is no justification to push this on the Majors without having tested it at the minor league level first.

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The Length of the Baseball Season Debate – How Long is YOUR Season?

October 20, 2009

Read Sports Geek’s argument that the length of the baseball season is appropriate, and Loyal Homer’s argument that 162 games is too many.

The NFL regular season is 16 games in length. For the NBA and the NHL, each team will play 82 games. Even the MLS season stops after 30 games. Will someone please explain to me, then, why Major League Baseball feels the need to play 162 games in a single season?! I am not saying I disagree with the length of the baseball season, but I do want to understand it.

Teams in Major League Baseball play ten times as many games as the NFL, and twice as many as in hockey or basketball. They will literally play the length of an entire NBA season, then take three days off for their All-Star “Break” only to start the entire process all over again.

In some instances, such as when you consider the American League Central Division of 2009, a schedule of that length makes perfect sense. At the close of the season’s first half, the Detroit Tigers led the division by 3.5 games over the Chicago White Sox. The Minnesota Twins were actually in third place in the division, trailing Detroit by four full games. After the second half of the season, however, things looked a little different. The White Sox had fallen completely out of contention, and the Tigers made a historic collapse allowing the Twins to climb from third in the division all the way up to claim the division crown. In fact, 162 games was not even enough to settle the AL Central, as it actually took a 163rd game – and even THAT game went into extra innings – before the champion was crowned!

Had the season ended just ONE game sooner, it would have been the Tigers who faced the New York Yankees in the ALDS instead of the Twins.

On the other hand, was it REALLY necessary to play 162 games in order to prove that the best teams in baseball this year were the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels, Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, and Boston Red Sox? Were 162 games required to show that the Washington Nationals and the Baltimore Orioles were the worst teams in baseball, or that the Cleveland Indians had NO shot of competing for the postseason?

Of the 30 teams in the Major League, 16 trailed their division leader by AT LEAST ten games (that is more than half of the league) at the close of the season. Twelve of those teams trailed by more than 16 games (the full length of the NFL season), ten of whom actually trailed by at least 20 games (that is a full one-third of the league)!

The purpose of MLB’s regular season is to determine which teams should go on to the playoffs. For some teams, that determination is made a long time before game 162 is played. For others, though, every inning of every game counts, with each being a potential difference-maker in deciding playoff fate.

Fortunately, we have the expertise of the writers at TSD to call upon these tough times. Maybe they can help shed some light on the situation…

Is a 162-game season appropriate for Major League Baseball, or is the season too long?

Sports Geek will argue that the season is the appropriate length and Loyal Homer will take the position that the season is too long.

I just hope it does not take 162 debates to determine a winner!

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