Putting Palmeiro in His Place
August 11, 2005
I had planned on writing this column about the impact one positive (irony thrown in for free) steroids test can have on Rafael Palmeiro's standing in the game and what steroids have meant to the game of baseball itself (and its beloved record book), but then I checked my e-mail this morning and read Lou Blasi's column from Insiderbaseball.com, and he pretty much summed up my argument. With permission from the good people at Insiderbaseball.com, here is the column in its entirety:
Let’s just all take a deep breath.
Everyone seems to be a little too worked up about Rafael Palmeiro who is set to return from his 10-game suspension today (although its expected that he won’t play).
If you want to go off a little on his Clinton-esque performance in front of Congress, that’s fine. If you are stunned by his audacity and stupidity in continuing to use steroids after so brazenly denying it, that’s fine, too. If you are upset about the fact that he had a 6-RBI game against your favorite team after he tested positive and before MLB announced the positive test, by all means have at it. But all the angst about the Hall of Fame issues and the place of steroid users in The Grand History of the Game seems a little misplaced.
We are all working under baseball’s Grand Illusion. We labor under the misconception that we can compare Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds because the game has been essentially the same all of these years. Other sports have changed so much that players from the past wouldn’t even recognize the game, but baseball ...baseball ... is still similar enough that we can have the discussion. We can reasonably compare Barry Bonds and Babe Ruth. And if not we can certainly compare Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds. And if not we can certainly compare Rafael Palmeiro to the rest of the members of the Hall of Fame ... And we can equalize his stats to adjust for his steroids issue and THEN make the comparison ... right?
The game has constantly changed. It has seen small, substantial, significant, and yes Virginia, dramatic changes over the years. To separate out the “Steroids Era” from the game is hypocritical if you don’t go further and separate out other stretches in baseball history.
It makes as much or even more sense to separate the era after the mound was lowered, or the era of medical advancements, TJS and the like, or the post-nautilus and year-round training era. All of those changes to the game had much more dramatic overall effects on the game’s players and stats than steroids.
So did the new smaller ballparks, plane travel, expansion, the arrival of Black and Hispanic players. So did the centerfield camera, advancements in scouting and advanced scouting, the availability of video and the further ability to collect and access extensive video of every player in the game under every conceivable situation and place it on every player’s personal DVD player right in their locker or charter seat. Even split stats have changed the game. Ask any lefty specialist and every lefty hitter.
There are more than a few changes to the game that should irk current HOFers as much, if not more than steroid use does. And if the discussion is era comparison, those changes should be just as big a part of the discussion as steroids are. But for some reason they aren’t. Maybe it’s just because this is what is fronting the USA Today sports pages this week, but steroids seem to be a history deal-breaker in many fan’s minds.
We also tend to look on players like Palmeiro (and I’ll limit my discussion to him because he’s the only HOF candidate to this point who has indisputably been proven to use steroids) and think that they were the only players taking them - that they gained tremendous advantage from steroid and stood as chemically-addled supermen among mere boys. I think its closer to the truth to think that steroid use was (is?) fairly wide spread and it was (is?) used much more extensively among pitchers, especially relief pitchers, than we normally account for.
How many homers did Palmeiro hit off of a steroid-using pitcher who had an extra half-foot on his fastball, or a hair more life on his change up or slider, or was just that much more effective in third day of work in four days because of it?
How many homers did he hit because he played in hitting-friendly Camden Yards and Ameriquest Park?
How many homers did he hit because he spent his entire career hitting pitchers off of lower mound than did Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays?
How many extra homers did it mean to Hank Aaron that he hit against relief pitchers and starters that didn’t have steroids available to them? How many homers did it mean to Babe Ruth that he never hit against black pitchers, or reliever specialists?
You and I know a little about baseball and the answers to these questions are beyond us.
Let’s keep in mind that during the steroids induced statistical explosion, all of two guys had 70 HR seasons and there were a handful of 60+ HR seasons. In a five year span I don’t how many actual player/seasons there were but it was well over a 1,000. The 70 HR seasons accounted for 0.002% of those player/seasons. No matter how you slice it those are still historical achievements. Can you compare their 70 HR efforts to Ruth's 60 HRs? No. But can you compare them to their peers during the time they played? I think so, unless you are willing to accept that Bonds, McGwire and Sosa were the only guys out there juicing. I think that’s a leap.
Let’s keep in mind also that for much of Palmeiro’s career steroids, while certainly unethical were not illegal.
It seems to me we are stuck with dealing with the 90s and beyond in the same way we treat other stretches of baseball. Steroids were what was (is?) happening in the game in the time. The years before had “greenies”, the mid-40’s had WWII, The 50’s had about half the teams we do now. The 60’s had a higher mound. Some consideration is given to these things when we think Hall of Fame, but nowhere near as much as we seem to be set to give steroids.
In my mind the steroid factor might sway me in a borderline player when it comes to the Hall and Raffy may be one of those players, but it wouldn’t, on its own, cause me to dismiss a worthy candidate. And I won’t ever again compare the feats of Bonds, McGwire and Sosa to Ruth or Maris, any more than I would compare the feats of Johan Santana and Bob Gibson, but I still believe that what they did was remarkable and notable within the context of the era they played ... the steroids era. That’s all that its fair to do in my mind, unless we want to segregate baseball memories into groups of players that played in all of these different eras.
And comparing a steroid user to Pete Rose in terms of the Hall of Fame? That’s comparing apples and dump trucks. Please ... that’s a whole ‘nother column.
republished with the written consent from www.insiderbaseball.com
I couldn't have said it better myself, so I didn't! Thanks again to Insiderbaseball.com. I can personally attest that their site is a useful, informative tool for a better fantasy experience because I pay out of my own pocket to get their in-depth, up to date perspective.