- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
For the first time, there are signs that the morality police among the writers are beginning to recognize the cracks and inconsistency in their logic and voting standards. According the votes compiled over at Baseball Think Factory, the support for Jeff Bagwell is growing markedly, a significant development. He and Mike Piazza are to the Hall of Fall voting controversy what Ohio and Florida were to the presidential election -- the swing states, so to speak.
It does not appear that either Bagwell or Piazza will get in this year, but if their election comes in the next few years, they will represent a tipping point in thought among the writers.
When Jose Canseco's book was released in February 2005, it blew open the conversation about steroids in baseball, because Canseco named names, attaching some specific information to some and speculating about others: Mark McGwire, Jason Giambi, Juan Gonzalez, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Ivan Rodriguez and others. The book spurred a congressional inquiry and little more than a month later, some of the players were summoned to the infamous March 17, 2005, hearing, where McGwire declined to talk about the past, Sosa brought an interpreter and Palmeiro jabbed a finger while declaring his innocence.
It was an ugly day for baseball, and there was something entirely serendipitous about the whole specter. Baseball's culture of performance-enhancing drugs probably included thousands of users, among major leaguers and minor leaguers, but if you happened to be unlucky enough to be Canseco's teammate, that meant you lost the steroid lottery. And it was not lost among some general managers that no other players represented by Canseco's agency during his playing days -- the Beverly Hills Sports Council -- was named in his book; those players seemed to receive a get-out-of-jail-free card.
So this is the big-picture context: The only difference between McGwire and thousands of other users was that he shared the same uniform as Canseco, who finished his career bitter that he wasn't given more opportunity to play (and maybe a little jealous of McGwire's success) -- and didn't share the same representation.
It's just one more reason that the retroactive morality adopted by some writers seems absurd. They insist that they want cheaters to be kept out of the Hall of Fame and aim their righteousness at these handful of guys mostly hand-picked by Jose Canseco, or players they think used steroids -- and all the while, those writers have to know that if they really want to sanctify the sacred Cooperstown shrine of drug use, they would have to scrub the place of a half-century of baseball history. For decades, players used amphetamines and steroids and human growth hormone -- all banned substances now -- and all teams won and lost games and championships and made money with those players. Nobody is giving that money back. Major League Baseball and the Hall of Fame are not stripping accomplishments and attaching asterisks.
Drug use in baseball is part of the sport's history, just as it is in the NFL and the NBA and the NHL. Drug use is part of the history, just like segregation and the 1919 Black Sox and game-fixing. You cannot have a Hall of Fame without players from the steroid era any more than you can erase the accomplishments of Babe Ruth and Lefty Gomez and others because they didn't play any major league games against African-American players.
If there's specific and relevant information about the past drug use of players voted into the Hall of Fame, well, put it on the plaques.
Bagwell first became eligible in 2011, bearing a résumé overwhelmingly worthy of Hall of Fame induction: a career OPS+ of 149, a rookie of the year and MVP awards, 449 homers, 202 stolen bases and a Gold Glove. But some voters indicated they suspected Bagwell of PED use, because of his past connection with admitted user Ken Caminiti, because of his muscularity. In that first year of eligibility, Bagwell was named on just 41.7 percent of the ballot -- setting off something of an Internet outcry.
Last year, Bagwell got 56 percent of the votes. Now, according to some of the Baseball Think Factory exit polling, he's up to 65.3 percent, still short of the 75 percent needed for induction. But he's now within range, and so is Mike Piazza, who is polling at 62.1 percent despite the fact that some voters have indicated they aren't going to support him because of their suspicions.
If Bagwell and/or Piazza are elected, then the morality police among the writers will be confronted with the reality of baseball's history, once and for all. Players they suspect of using performance-enhancing drugs will be in the Hall of Fame (and, I suspect, the Hall of Fame would still be standing), and the voting stance against players like Clemens, Bonds, McGwire, Sosa and Palmeiro will seem increasingly ridiculous and apocryphal.
The morality police among the writers are trying to protect the Hall of Fame. Against what? Well, that's not so clear, when history indicates imperfect souls have already been honored and revered in Cooperstown.
Maybe the vote totals for Bagwell and Piazza are an indication that more and more writers see that the Hall of Fame is an extraordinary museum of baseball history -- nothing less, and nothing more.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. It's becoming increasingly apparent that the Diamondbacks will probably be faced with a choice: They can either trade Justin Upton in an imperfect deal -- for something they consider to be less than they really want -- or open spring training with Upton, a player they'd prefer to deal and who would probably rather be someplace else. If they go to camp with Upton, his relationship with the team -- diminished through multiple rounds of trade talk -- will dominate the conversation inside the camp.
The Diamondbacks have felt they could have a possible match on an Upton trade with pitching-rich Seattle, but remember, the Mariners are on the list of teams to which he can reject a trade. That means Upton could ask for some sort of contractual concessions/additions to accept a deal to the Mariners, or he could block the deal altogether.
2. The Phillies are likely to go with what they've got in their outfield, says Ruben Amaro.
4. A former Orioles outfielder is going to play football at Alabama.
5. Tigers GM David Dombrowski sounds like he intends to trade a starter.
6. The Cardinals have five guys eligible for arbitration.
9. The Rays have made changes with their scouting staff.
11. The Padres released their list of non-roster invitees.
13. Jurickson Profar is likely to start the 2013 season in the minors, writes Evan Grant. If the Rangers don't have a clear role for him, for which he is assured playing time, they might as well have him start in the minors -- and by keeping him in the minors into the last days of May, they could back up his free-agent clock by a year.
• Alex Rodriguez's doctor spoke to Joel Sherman.
• The Red Sox pitching needs to be better, but maybe not as much as you think.
• Boston's prospects are in town.
• Here's Marc Topkin's Hall of Fame ballot.
• Vanderbilt finished the season ranked 23rd.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza probably won't make the Hall of Fame this year, but they will. And when they do, it will be impossible to keep anyone suspected of PED use out, writes Buster Olney.