While the moral grand standers continue to place an illogical negative emphasis on performance enhancing drugs over the equally prominent, less talked about drugs in baseball of the seventies and early eighties, players from Jeff Bagwell’s era suffer the terrible misfortune of having to prove their innocence from accusations based solely on circumstantial evidence.
It’s enough to write a run on sentence about.
Bagwell, who has adamantly denied steroid use in the past, sat down to speak with ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, ahead of his first year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame.
There can be little doubt among objectively minded voters that Bagwell’s numbers ensure his enshrinement.
His career .297 AVG, .408 OBP and.540 SLG compares well to the fact that every eligible player with .290 AVG, .400 OBP and .500 SLG is already in the Hall.
However, there are still those voters who see themselves as some sort of upholders of character, who could never vote for a cheater, despite the Hall’s long history of inducting such players. And despite no evidence ever linking Bagwell to PEDs, his size and status as a slugger are enough to raise questions that poison his chances.
I never used [steroids], and I’ll tell you exactly why: If I could hit between 30 and 40 home runs every year and drive in 120 runs, why did I need to do anything else? I was pretty happy with what I was doing, and that’s the God’s honest truth. All of a sudden guys were starting to hit 60 or 70 home runs and people were like, ‘Dude, if you took [PEDs], you could do it too.’ And I was like, ‘I’m good where I’m at. I just want to do what I can do.’
Later in the interview, Bagwell talks about playing through the excruciating pain it took just to throw a ball for three years. It’s hard to imagine that type of competitor saying things like “I’m good where I’m at,” but it’s even harder to imagine that level of unlikeliness proving anything.
The heavy lifting all started in 1995. I was going through a divorce and I came to spring training, and I thought everything was good. Then I got to spring training and I’ll never forget it: Mike Hampton looked at me and said, ‘Dude, what’s wrong with you? You’re so skinny, you look like you’re on crack.’ I look back at the stats and they weren’t bad. But I told myself, ‘I’m never going to have somebody say that to me again.’ I said, ‘I’m going to find a trainer and get strong.’
Bagwell didn’t actually accumulate muscle weight until after 1995, making it hard to criticize his phenomenal 1994 campaign in which his OPS was above 1.200 and he hit 39 home runs and led the league in total bases.
If you played in my era and hit any home runs, you know people are going to sit there and say something. It’s just the state of the game now. The one thing I don’t understand is how people can talk about the era I played in and make it sound as if there weren’t any great players in the 1990s and 2000s. That doesn’t make any sense. Are you telling me that there were great players in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, but there weren’t any great players in the ’90s and 2000s? I mean, come on. That’s crazy.
I don’t agree with it in the least, but the thinking among Hall of Fame voters seems to be that there were no shortage of great players between 1990 and the early 2000s. There was a shortage of morally upright great players between 1990 and the early 2000s, and circumstantial evidence is enough for them to block their entry into the Hall of Fame.
I look at Andy Pettitte, and I can say this because it’s documented. Andy came out and said, ‘Listen, my elbow was killing me. I was making $12-13 million a year, and they told me it was going to help me and all I wanted to do was pitch.’ I mean, how can you even argue that? That’s not a performance enhancer. That’s just a guy who wanted to get healthy. How do you separate ‘I want to get healthy’ from ‘I’m trying to get better because I don’t feel like I’m the same player I used to be’?
I don’t think you really can separate the two because baseball players and all athletes in general are always going to have knocks and never be 100%. That’s part of the problem in judging the safe use of anabolic steroids and the dangerous use.
So much has gone on in the last eight or nine years, it’s kind of taken some of the valor off it for me. If I ever do get to the Hall of Fame and there are 40 guys sitting behind me thinking, ‘He took steroids,’ then it’s not even worth it to me. I don’t know if that sounds stupid. But it’s how I feel in a nutshell.
This sounds like a frustrated man who knows that even if he gains first ballot admittance to the Hall of Fame, an honour which his career screams he deserves, it’s going to be tainted by questions, whispers and innuendo based solely on his slugger status during a time in which performance enhancing drugs were prevalent.
For the record, my Hall of Fame ballot would include Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro, and most certainly Barry Bonds next year.