Mike Piazza, performance enhancing drugs, and the Hall of Fame have become a topic on the Internet the past few days, starting with one blogger’s continued accusations regarding Piazza and PED use. Mets Today’s Joe Janish has more on the subject, as does NJ.com’s Matthew Artus, who is quoted above.
I mostly agree with everything Artus is saying, with one exception: PED suspicious will be the stated reason Piazza doesn’t get into the Hall, but not the real, underlying reason. Opening up the dialogue will help, but it won’t solve the real problem.
Here’s why: Every single baseball player from the 1990s and 2000s, Piazza included, could be under suspicious for PED use (and, really, every single player from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s as well, as amphetamines have been widespread in baseball since at least the ’60s). If you played major league baseball in the last fifty years, it’s more likely than not that you used PEDs, because it’s probable that more than 50% of players used amphetamines, steroids, or HGH at some point.
We are also entering a period when there are more deserving Hall of Famers than ever before, or at least players with numbers deserving of enshrinement. As Rob Neyer pointed out, that means some players with Hall of Fame numbers are going to be left out, unless the writers decide to up the number of candidates inducted each year. So how do you pick who gets in and who gets left out? How do you justify leaving out worthy candidates?
With Jeff Bagwell this year, I think we saw a solution: point to possible PED use as the reason you’re not voting for whomever you’re not voting for. There’s no evidence, other than vague suggestions, that Bagwell used illegal steroids. Same for Piazza. Both were the best players of the era at their position, so it’s hard to come up with on-field reasons to keep them out (though facial hair reasons for exclusion are significantly easier to find).
But the voters seem set on letting in one or two players a year. Which means, as Neyer guesses, we’re going to see Barry Larkin elected next year, Craig Biggio and maybe Curt Schilling the year after, Greg Maddux in 2014, and then two of Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, and Pedro Martinez in 2015. Throw in Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven from this year, and you see a pattern of electing just middle infielders and pitchers developing — or the players who physically appear less likely to have used PEDs. Meanwhile, Greg Maddux is safe from suspicion because he was a normal sized human (no ‘roids) who always looked exhausted (no greenies). We’re now picking Hall of Famers based partially on their physical appearance.
So the stated reason for leaving out players like Bagwell, Piazza, and Frank Thomas will be suspicions of PEDs, if only because they’re big dudes who hit a lot of home runs. But the real underlying cause is too many deserving candidates, a problem that is only going to continue to get worse. How many of today’s players are going to finish with Hall of Fame numbers? Probably more than anyone would guess — I can count fifteen players active in 2010 who already had Hall of Fame careers, not including those in the middle of HOF careers and those just starting them.
And eventually, someone is going to get elected and then reveal they were on steroids the whole time. Hopefully they’ll do so on their induction day by going up to make their speech and just saying, “FOOLED YOU!” in a Dark Helmet voice. And then how do you justify keeping the Piazzas and Bagwells out? The Hall of Fame has a serious problem of too many dudes.
The solution? Probably something like Bill Simmons’ Hall of Fame pyramid. I think Bill James has advocated something similar. Make it a many leveled Hall of Fame, with the best at the top, and the lesser but still great below. It doesn’t have to require an actual redesign of the hall, just as there isn’t a physical writer’s wing or broadcaster’s wing. This allows all the deserving candidates to make it in, but keeps the “Willie Mays Hall of Fame” feel at the top. Make the Hall of Fame bigger, but also make it deeper.
And then eventually Mike Piazza and his bacne get in. Besides, do we really want a Hall of Fame without the best hitting catcher of all time, anyway?