Posts Tagged ‘Baseball’

The Agony of Atlanta

Friday, October 4th, 2013

The most miserable sports town in America is, without a doubt, Cleveland*. The Indians have not won a world series since 1948 and the city had a great team in the late 90′s that fell just shy (in heart-breaking fashion in 1997). Only the Cubs have a longer world series drought. The Cleveland Browns have not won a championship since 1964, although they have a lot more company in their misery than the Tribe do (for all the NFL’s talk of competitive balance, they are far more dominated by franchises than baseball). The Browns also had heart-breaking losses in the 1980′s. The Cleveland Cavaliers have not won a title in any of their 43 seasons. During the last decade, they had one of the best players in league history but couldn’t win a title. He then ran off to Miami, where he’s won two.

That’s 157 years of misery for Cleveland fans and 49 years since they could claim to be champions. They have it the worst. There are 20 cities in North America that have at least three major sports teams. The second longest drought is Minnesota at 22 years (and Washington, but the Ravens have won twice since then). And Clevelanders have born this burden with about 6% of the whining with which Boston fans endured the Red Sox drought while their Celtics were dominating the universe.

However, I would argue that Atlanta comes in second in sports agony**. Consider:

  • The Atlanta Braves have won one title in almost half a century of play. They were an awful team for their first 25 years — Lewis Grizzard once joked that Michael Jackson and the Atlanta Braves had one thing in common: they both wore one glove for no apparent reason. They then turned into one of the best franchises in sports. They have had two losing season in the last 23 years and went to the post-season 14 straight times. But they only won one title, including heart-breaking loses in 1991 and 1996. In recent years, they have flamed out every year and seem well on their way this year. The last time they even won a post-season series was 2001. Throughout the 90′s they lost on freak events, such as horrific umpiring in ’96 series. Last year, they lost on a fluke bad call.
  • The Atlanta Falcons have also gone nearly half a century without a title. They were also awful for a long time but have recently been one of the better franchises in the NFL, with five straight winning seasons. They have flamed out in the playoffs every time, only making one Super Bowl during their existence. Last year, they lost on a batted down fourth and goal pass that would have won the game.
  • The Hawks have not won a title since moving to Atlanta in 1968. During that time, they have made the playoffs 29 times and had the best conference record 4 times. They have not made an NBA final. They have not even made the conference final since 1970.
  • For good measure, the Atlanta flames played eight years and made the playoffs six times. The Atlanta Thrashers played eleven years and made the playoffs once. Neither team even made it to a semi-final.
  • The Georgia Bulldogs won a national championship in 1980. They lost the championship the next two years. Since then, Georgia has not made a title game. Over the last few years, they have been an SEC powerhouse but can’t put together a championship season. Last year, they lost the SEC title and a possible trip to the BCS title game when a pass was deflected and caught by a receiver, letting time run out inside Alabama’s five. Georgia Tech split a title in 1990 and have not done much since. That title, incidentally, should not have been split. It only was because of Colorado’s fifth down play.
  • Last year was particularly hideous for Atlanta sports fans. The Falcons, Dawgs and Braves all went down on fluke plays falling literally yards shy of a Super Bowl, a BCS title game and an NLDS appearance, respectively. And this year looks no better. The Falcons are already 1-3 and have lost three games because of an inability to punch it in from the red zone. The Dawgs lost a close game to Clemson and have looked shaky on defense. The Braves lost tonight and have looked hapless over the last few weeks.

    My brother thinks Georgia teams are cursed. I’m starting to believe him.

    (*After I posted this, the Great Posnanski posted similar thoughts.)

    (** Being me, I actually compiled a table for this. There are 20 metro areas that have three or more sports teams and six more that have had three at some point in the last 50 years. I compiled the number of championships and the number of years played since 1963. Some New Yorkers or Chicagoans may take offense at my math since I’m combining teams that play in the same city. Meh. I figure if you’re a Yankees fan and can’t get some small pleasure from the Mets winning a World Series, that’s your problem. A more meritorious gripe might be leveled at my merging of San Francisco and Oakland as well as Washington and Baltimore. But there is a lot of overlap between those fans.

    Anyway, every city has won at least one championship in the last fifty years. New York, LA, San Francisco-Oakland, Chicago, Boston and Pittsburgh have at least ten. New Yorkers, if you throw in the Islanders and Devils — and I will — have basically enjoyed a championship every other year. All good and decent sports fans should cheer against New York teams. I mean, unless they’re from New York. The other cities have enjoyed a title once every 2-5 years.

    The cities with only one title? Seattle, San Diego, Cleveland, Atlanta and Phoenix. If you divide the number of seasons by the number of titles, the most barren cities are Phoenix (1 title every 102 seasons), Cleveland (1 every 144), San Diego (1 every 115) and Kansas City (1 every 104).

    Atlanta, however, comes in at 1 championship in 158 seasons of sports. Now that’s misery.)

    PS: Some more facts that came to me this morning:

  • Up until 1995, the only championship any Atlanta team had ever won was the Atlanta Chiefs, who won the inaugural season of the North American Soccer League.
  • Before then, you have the minor league Atlanta Crackers. Seriously.
  • 1991 was the first time any major championship was played within 500 miles of Atlanta.
  • 2012 League Cups

    Thursday, October 4th, 2012

    Last year, I suggested a way baseball could bring some relevance back to the regular season: by recognizing the team with the best record as the League Champion. This year’s League Champions, under that formulation, would be New York and Washington. I find that a far more useful metric of overall team quality than “made the post-season”.

    UK Linkorama

    Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012
  • The rise of resistant diseases is one of the biggest reasons I fear socialized medicine. Innovation is critical to the next century and I am afraid that price controls will kill it.
  • Amazing pictures of the Kowloon City.
  • This is why I read Joe Posnanski religiously. A post about nothing. And it’s beautiful.
  • I was going to write an article taking apart Buzz Blowhard Bissinger on the subject of college football. Now I don’t have to.
  • A study says women value sleep more than sex. This is unsurprising although the reasons are a bit different than what they think. It’s pure economics. For women, sex is available (mostly) when they want it so sleep takes priority. For men, you have to get it when you can, so everything else is secondary. I think Seinfeld did an episode on this, no?
  • Game Six

    Thursday, October 27th, 2011

    You know that excitement index I blogged about? Tonight’s game shattered the record. 4.5 — the highest in 110 years of baseball post-seasons. The old record was 4.1.

    For once, I think the system is right.

    Excitement 2011

    Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

    Back in 2007, I created the excitement index to rate post-seasons. The idea was to create a very simple way of using box scores to measure how exciting a baseball post-season was. It’s quick and dirty; not perfect. I’m sure others have more robust methods that use win probability or something. But it’s mine and I’ve posted on it in 2008 and 2010. The 2007 post has the details, last year’s some more data. Just some highlights:

  • To give you a sense of scale. The average games scores 1.9 points. The average 5-games series scores 7.2. The average 7-game series 10.8. The average modern post-season scores 60 points.
  • The most exciting post-season in history was 2003, which came in at a whopping 74.1 points. You may remember this one as the year both the Red Sox and Cubs were five outs away from a pennant and blew it. Pro-rated, however, the 1991 post-season comes in slightly better (40.2 points pro-rated to 78.5). That was the year the Braves came from nowhere to take the Pirates and then the Twins to seven games.
  • The most boring post-season, as I noted above, was 2007. Five series sweeps and a surprisingly dull 7-game ALCS. It game in at 47.6.
  • The most exciting 7-game series was the 1991 World Series (17.2). As a survivor of that, who watched the greatest Cinderella team ever lose a 7-game heart-breaker, I can vouch for that one. Coming in second is the 2001 World Series (16.1).
  • The dullest 7-game series was 1989′s blowout of San Francisco by Oakland in which the Giants never took a lead. It scored a pathetic 5.4.
  • The most exciting 5-game series was 1980′s Philadelphia-Houston epic ALCS which featured four extra-inning game. At 13.5, it outdid most 7-game series.
  • The most boring 5-gamer was St. Louis blowing out San Diego in the 2005 NLDS. There have been games that have scored better than the 3.9 the whole series did.
  • The most-exciting game, at a whopping 4.1, was game two of the 1997 NLDS. Huh? That game featured 8 ties or lead changes and was won on a walk-off single by Moises Alou. I’m inclined to think this a quirk of the system. Even though game seven of the 2001 world series only score 3.3, I would give that the nod as the greatest game.
  • There are many candidates for boring games. Technically, game seven of the 1996 NLCS scored the lowest (1.06). But the Braves’ 15-0 victory capped a comeback from a 1-3 series deficit. Game five of that series (a 14-0 blowout, 1.07 in the system) is another candidate, as is game one of the World Series that year. But I would probably go with game one of the 2005 ALDS (1.08), Chicago’s 14-2 blowout of Boston.
  • I’ve now taken the database through the entire 20th century. I’ve included the 9-game series of 1903, 1919-1922 and I’ve left out the games from the 1907, 1912 and 1922 series that ended in ties.

    One of the things I love about this exercise is being able to uncover things I didn’t know. For example in 1943 and 1945, the world series used a 3-4, rather than 2-3-2 format, presumably to save expenses. (The 1944 series was all St. Louis). I now feel a great kinship with Brooklyn Dodgers fans, whose world-series losses were as frustrating and agonizing as the 90′s Braves. And one of the great unknown games of all time was Game 3 of the 1914 World Series. Special mention should be made of the 1905 Series, where every game was a shutout.

    The most exciting post-season was 2003. However, the most exciting pro-rated is now the 1972 post-season. After having the ’69-’71 LCS series flop badly (all but one were sweeps), ’72 went the full measure, two 5-game series and one 7-game series. It featured:

  • ALCS Game One: Tied at 1-1 going into the eleventh, Al Kaline hits a homer for Detroit. But with one out, Gonzalo Marquez hits a single that ties it and a Kaline error lets the winning run score.
  • After back-to-back shutouts by Odom and Coleman, ALCS Game Four goes into the 10th tied at 1. Oakland scores two in the top of the 10th, Detroit wins it with three runs in the bottom of the inning.
  • ALCS Game five ends with a tight 3-2 win for Oakland.
  • NLCS Game five has the Reds, down by 1 in the 9th, tie it on Bench’s homer and win it on a wild pitch by Moose. This would be Roberto Clemente’s last game.
  • Six of the world series games are decide by one run. All six are low-scoring thrillers, including a 1-0 game 3. Cincinnati almost comes back down three games to one. In pivotal game four, Oakland scores two in the 9th to win it.
  • All told, it gets 36.16 points, best of the 1969-1984 era and pro-rated to 87 points.

    Anyway, 2011 is shaping up to be a good post-season. With 55 points, it’s guaranteed to be average and a great world series could push it up into the high 60′s, a level not reached since 2003. Five of the six series have been above average although only the Cards-Phils series was really great.

    The League Cup

    Thursday, October 13th, 2011

    Joe Posnanski has a post up about how the best team in the league rarely wins the World Series. This set off a thought.

    I wonder if one thing we could do to increase the drama of the regular season is to give the league championship title to the team with the best record, rather than the one that wins two playoff series. I was inspired in this by the Premier League in England, which gives out a League Cup to the team with the best overall record. It’s not like the FA Cup, which is won in a tournament. But it at least recognizes a season-long achievement. And the best teams in football are those that win the “double” of both cups.

    Baseball has separate leagues, so you would have two teams each year eligible for the “double”. And it seems reasonable to do so since it’s not always clear which league is better (although you could tip it to whichever league wins inter-league play). There’s also the problem of divisions, that the team with the most wins is sometimes from a weak division. Meh. Maybe that will create an incentive to abolish the division structure. I think we would stick with most wins because any scheme to correct for schedule difficulty ends up a matter of opinion and we don’t want this to become the BCS.

    If such a scheme were observed in baseball, here is the list of league champions for the wild card era. I’ve included 1994, when we didn’t have a world series. Bolded teams would have won the “double” for wining the World Series as well.

    1994 – New York (70), Montreal (74)
    1995 – Cleveland (100), Atlanta (90)
    1996 – Cleveland (99), Atlanta (96)
    1997 – Baltimore (98), Atlanta (101)
    1998 – New York (114), Atlanta (106)
    1999 – New York (98), Atlanta (99)
    2000 – Chicago (95), San Francisco (97)
    2001 – Seattle (116), St. Louis/Houston (93)
    2002 – New York/Oakland (103), Atlanta (101)
    2003 – New York (101), Atlanta (101)
    2004 – New York (101), St. Louis (105)
    2005 – Chicago (99), St. Louis (100)
    2006 – New York (97), New York (97)
    2007 – Boston (96), Colorado/Arizona (90)
    2008 – Anaheim (100), Chicago (97)
    2009 – New York (103), Los Angeles (95)
    2010 – Tampa Bay (96), Philadelphia (97)
    2011 – New York (97), Philadelphia (102)

    A few things to note: First, in contrast to the list of World Series winners, the league championship shows a much clearer picture of which teams were dominating baseball. Atlanta would have won five straight championships and seven overall. The Yankees would have won eight. The great Cardinals and Phillies teams would have gone back-to-back. Montreal would have been league champ in the aborted ’94 season. That’s a much cleaner version of baseball history than World Series title.

    Second, notice the teams that win “the double”. The 98-99 Yankees, in the running for greatest team of all -time, win two in a row. The 2007 Boston Red Sox, 1995 Braves, 2005 White Sox and 2009 Yankees also join the list.

    During the 1969-1993 era, when we had playoffs but no wild card, doubles were a lot more common, since you only had four playoff teams, two of which were eligible for the double. But even then, there some standouts, particular the 75-76 Reds and the 92-93 Jays, who won back-to-back doubles.

    I have no illusion that an idea on a backwater blog will get anywhere. Hell, Bob Costas could suggest this and baseball would demur. But if they want to inject just a little bit of drama back into the regular season, maybe recognizing the team with best record would be a good first step.

    And at least I can stop thinking about it now.

    Tonight in Baseball

    Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

    “The Art of Fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again.” – Red Smith

    ASG Non-Fixes

    Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

    Ugh. It begins. Various people are suggesting fixes to the baseball All-Star Game, chief of which is the ridiculous suggestion that we take away the vote from the fans. Because we all know that the game is not for the fans, it’s for the sportswriters!

    The thing is, that the fans are not the problem. Here’s the comment I left at the above link, which ridiculously tried use the 1957 ballot-stuffing scandal as a justification:

    Taking away the vote from the fans seems like an absurd over-reaction. Year-in, year-out, the fans do a good job and generally a better one than the managers do. It wasn’t the fans who picked Russ Martin, Ryan Vogelsong and Jordan Walden. It wasn’t the fans who decided to almost leave off Andrew McCutcheon. Look at the fan vote and I would say they got 15 out of the 17 positions right.

    Maybe you can criticize them for not valuing Johnny Peralta’s good three months over a first-ballot HOFer’s career at shortstop. But the reason so many Yankees and Phillies are on the roster (actually only one Philly was voted in by the fans) is because those are the two best teams in baseball. The fans also voted in three Brewers. Was that ballot-stuffing?

    We see every year. A scandal from half a century ago does not prove that fan voting is bad. It’s one of the few things about the ASG that works. Look at the starters from every year and don’t focus on the one or two bad selections and you’ll see the fans generally get it right. Almost all of the really dumb picks were made by the managers and players.

    Back in reality, Rob Neyer suggested adding a day to the All-Star break so that pitchers who went on Sunday could pitch in the game. That’s perfectly reasonable. Another suggestion might be that for every inning a player plays, a certain amount of money will be donated to his favorite charity. Weight it by their role, so that a starter gets the same amount of money for seven innings and a backup does for one.

    Bad Graph Watch

    Saturday, July 9th, 2011

    This may be the stupidest graph I’ve ever seen. They project Derek Jeter to get 4500 hits if he keeps going at his career pace for seven more years. I mean, gee, if we’re playing that game, why not project him to play another 20 years and get 7,000 hits?

    You can see that the two comparison hit lines drop off abruptly when the players lost their skills. Jeter has already started doing that. At best, I’d expect him to finish with about 3300 hits or so, which is pretty damned good. (Bill James Favorite Toy projects 3400-3500.

    Wednesday Linkorama

    Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

    Non-political links:

  • Speak of healthcare, could information save $300 billion. That number sounds big but within an order of magnitude.
  • There were a number of cracked’s old-timey ads that gave me the facepalm.
  • This is one of the best article written about steroids and the drop in offense in MLB. I think he’s right that what has changed is not so much PEDs but the thinking about them in management circles.
  • Political links:

  • Texas passes tort reform. The usual suspects are screaming but I can tell you that the malpractice environment in Texas has produced a healthcare system that may not be cheaper but is massively more responsive than tort-happy Pennsylvania.
  • Yankees Suuuuuu … Zzzzzz

    Friday, May 27th, 2011

    See, I knew the Yankees and Red Sox dragged things out interminably. Whenever these guys play, I feel like I can go to the fridge, start making a sandwich, realize I don’t have any meat, buy a gun, sit through the waiting period, get the gun, go into the woods, lie in wait, identify my animal, wait for it to grow bigger, stalk and shoot it, take it home, cut and cook the meat, make my sandwich … and it will still just be the third inning. Announcer love it, but it drive me crazy.

    It was worse back in the 00′s when the A’s were good. When they played the Yankees in the post-season, you could have replayed the Hundred Years War in one Jason Giambi at-bat.

    The Dynasty

    Friday, May 6th, 2011

    It’s behind the pay firewall but today Bill James compiled his list of the greatest baseball teams of all time. It’s an impressive effort as he is considered single season performance, multi-year performance, post-season performance and the quality of the team (i.e., was this time comprised of great players or guys just having good years).

    My 1995 Atlanta Braves ranked 3rd, slightly ahead of the Big Red Machine.

    This will, of course, sound ridiculous to anyone who’s not me or Bill James. After all, the Braves of the 90′s only won one world series. But consider the totality of what they did between 1991 and 2005.

  • Won 1431 regular season games and lost 931, a winning percentage of .606 — a 98 win pace. They won 100 games six times.
  • Won 14 division titles and were a wild card when the ’94 strike hit.
  • Won 12 post-season series and lost 13. Between 1991 and 1999, they went 11-7, taking five pennants and one title.
  • Had future Hall of Famers Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz and Chipper as well as a near-HOFer in Fred McGriff and bona-fide stars in Lemke, Lopez, Galarraga, Justice, Gant and Andruw Jones.
  • Had a future HOF manager.
  • I was there for most of it. I watched every night, I frequently went to Atlanta, I attended World Series games. It was like nothing I had ever seen before or ever will again. We just knew they were going to win. There was an aura about the team that was remarkable. Even if they fell behind in the standings — 10.5 games in 1993 — we knew they would close the gap.

    The reason the Braves are not generally considered one of the greatest teams of all time is because of who is #1 on Bill James’ list — the 1998 Yankees. The Braves, like the great Brooklyn Dodgers before them, had the misfortune to be contemporaries with one of the greatest teams of all time. And they lost twice to them in the World Series including in 1996 when the Braves were clearly the better team.

    People wonder why I hate the Yankees so much as I’m not a big Red Sox guy. 1996 is why. The Braves had blown out the Yankees in two games. And then, with some bad luck and bad ump calls, it fell apart. And it became even worse after since the media swooned over the Yankees, portraying it as a wonderful story that they had won their first title since all the way back in … 1978.

    I’m still bitter about it. It still hurts. And one of the reasons it hurts is because it blinds people to the greatness of those Braves teams. Had they won the ’96 World Series, no one would question their greatness. But because they lost, they don’t get mentioned.

    If only Tim Welke had gotten out of Jermaine Dye’s way…

    The Steroid Thing

    Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

    Mike’s Rule #3: Human beings aren’t very good at reasoning; but we are dead awesome when it comes to rationalizing.

    It’s Hall of Fame ballot time again and if any group illustrates Mike’s Rule 3 perfectly, it’s the Baseball Writers of America. You will rarely find such a pure distillation of the frailty of the human thought process. For every Joe Posnanski or Joe Sheehan, who use facts and data to inform their positions, there are five others who:

    1) decide in advance what they think

    2) twist the facts to suit their pre-conceived opinion.

    You can see it perfectly in the debate over Jack Morris vs. Bert Blyleven. It’s possible to vote for both, for neither or for just Blyleven.

    But it’s really difficult to vote for just Jack Morris. Blyleven had both better career numbers and better peak numbers and his post-season performance was a good (if not as notable). But there are a slew of writers who will, on the one hand, tell you that Blyleven was never the best pitcher in baseball, that he never won a Cy Young Award, that he was just a “compiler” of stats (as if there’s something wrong with that) — and then, on the other hand, will conveniently forget that those arguments apply doubly-so to Morris.

    That’s difficult to wrap your mind around until you understand that they are not reasoning, they are rationalizing. As Bill James observed long ago, many HOF voters and agitators care more about individuals than arguments. The Blyleven-no, Morris-yes writers don’t care about arguments … they care about Jack Morris. And whatever argument they have to use to make their case, they’ll use it, consistency and reason be damned.

    But nowhere does rationalizing become more painful and more odious than the debate over steroids and whether to put players from the steroid era into the HOF. Over the years I’ve laid out my thought on this (here, here, here). There are basically three options when it comes to voting on players from the Steroid Era:

    Option 1 – Vote for No One. This has the advantage of being clear and consistent. It also has the advantage of creating a very high horse from which the media can make up for their massive failure to uncover the scandal as it was going on (Wilstein exempted). The disadvantage is that it throws the innocent in with the guilty and means a very empty hall.

    While this option is reasonable, I don’t think its viable for one big reason — it rewards cheaters from earlier eras. Even leaving out sign stealing, corked bats and segregation, we know that PEDS long pre-date Mark McGwire. Baseball players chomped amphetamines for decades. HOF pitcher Pud Galvin drank a concoction with monkey testosterone. And steroids specifically have been around for several decades. I think it’s highly likely we will find out, in the near future, that someone already in the HOF used steroids. And when that happens, option 1 collapses.

    Option 2 – Innocent Until Proven Guilty In this option, the writers admit anyone who has not been implicated in or confessed to PED use. So guys like Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, etc. would be out while guys like Maddux, Johnson and Thome would be in. This has the advantage of requiring evidence of cheating before punishment is meted out.

    But I don’t think this option is viable either. First, it rewards players for not getting caught and makes it nearly impossible for players to be honest about what they did and didn’t do. Indeed, Mark McGwire has gotten caught in a catch-22 where the writers clamored for him to talk, then turned on him when he did. Both his silence and his admission were seen as incriminating. Innocent until proven guilty encourages players to lie and cover up.

    Even worse, it opens the door to smear, innuendo and statistical malpractice. Nowhere is that seen more clearly than in this year’s debate over the candidacy of Jeff Bagwell. You can read Peter Gammons and Joe Posnanski on why Bagwell should be an absolute lock Hall of Famer. And then, you can read Jeff Pearlman‘s ridiculous smear job. Pearlman asserts that Bagwell should be thrown in with the guilty since (a) he got bigger as he got older (see here on how little this means — check out Puckett specifically); and (b) he had “guilty knowledge” — i.e., he didn’t speak out about it.

    The latter point was the impetus behind Christina Kahrl’s diatribe on media arrogance and I agree with much of what she says. The guilty knowledge argument not only ignores that baseball culture is extremely hard on those who rat on team-mates (see Bouton, Jim), it makes the media the focus of the debate. That may be gratifying to their tiny media egos, but it’s terrible for the debate.

    And ultimately the innocent-until-proven-guilty argument founders on the same rocks as strategy (1): eventually we will find out that a steroid user is in the Hall. And since the door into the Hall only goes one way, he’ll stay there, a constant reminder to the players to keep their mouths shut.

    (As self-indulgent as Pearlman’s article is, Perrotto’s article is equally self-effacing. He admits to not asking the hard questions and acknowledges that this makes him uncomfortable being judge and jury for the players. It’s one of the most refreshing things I’ve read this week.)

    Option 3 – Curve the Era In this option, we simply set a higher bar for players from the Steroid Era, especially when it comes to hitting for power. 500 home runs ceases to be an automatic admission, high slugging percentages weigh less. We only take the best players from the era. In this scenario, known steroid can use can be used as a factor in judging borderline candidates (the HOF voting instructions include a character clause). But it’s not a determining factor.

    In the end, this is the option I favor. For one thing, it acknowledges that the Steroid Era was about more than steroids. The power explosion of the late 90′s was a result of many factors, including smaller ballparks, smaller strike zones, more elastic balls and players standing on the plate to drive outside pitches. In fact, it’s not clear at all that steroids had that big an impact. As Joe Sheehan has pointed out relentlessly, many of those who tested positive for PEDs were not power hitters at all, but fringe players and pitchers. The biggest impact of steroids may have been keeping players on the field (for a while, at least).

    Another advantage is the acknowledgment that we will never know, with absolute certainty, who used and who didn’t and what impact it had on their performance. The best way to deal with that uncertainty is to let it be, not try to slice and dice it based on rumors, gut feelings and rookie baseball card pictures.

    Finally, one of the defining elements of the Steroid Era, as I noted before, was the complicity of the league, the teams, the media and the fans. As homers soared out of ballparks, no one asked the tough questions, no one cried “foul!”, no one wanted to hear the whispers. We created an environment in which PED use was, if technically illegal, still tolerated and even tacitly encouraged. To block players from the Hall because of steroid use — real or imagined — is to put the onus entirely on them.

    Granted, they are the ones who stuck needles in their bodies. But they did it because everyone else looked the other way. They did it because, as Buck O’Neil said, they could.

    The only real disadvantage of option (3) is it throws in the innocent with the guilty. If a clean player hit 400 homers, he sits out of the Hall while a dirty player who hit 500 gets in. Furthermore, it encourages future cheating for just that reason — that a small extra advantage could be the difference between stardom and immortality.

    I’m not entirely comfortable with that. But in the end, there is no perfect solution and the “curve the era” option, for me, has the best combination of trade-offs (especially since I think the impact of PEDs on the game was and is overstated). As with most human endeavors, we simply need to do the best we can. And curving the era seems the best we can hope do with the information we have.

    —-

    As for tomorrow’s ballot … I expect Alomar and Blyleven to get in. I expect Morris and Larkin and possibly Lee Smith to surge ahead, possibly getting elected in 2012. I expect Edgar Martinez and Jeff Bagwell to both poll in the 30′s or 40′s. Everyone else will poll in the 20′s or lower, including Raines, Trammell and McGwire, who deserve better. Walker, Palmeiro, John Franco and Kevin Brown will stay on the ballot, but many of the other first-timers will go quietly.

    But the real story is coming two years from now. For many of the players on the ballot, they need to get elected by 2012 or they won’t get elected at all. Starting in 2013, there will be a slew of massively-qualified guys hitting the ballot. For my money, we will see six definite HOFers in 2013 (Bonds, Clemens, Biggio, Schilling, Sosa and Piazza), five more in 2014 (Glavine, Kent, Maddux, Mussina and Thomas), three more in 2015 (Johnson, Martinez and Smoltz) and at least one already in 2016 (Griffey).

    It’s going to be very interesting to watch what happens with such a crowded ballots, especially as a number of those guys are going to struggle to make it due to steroid allegations (Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, Piazza) or writer ignorance (Biggio, Kent). The BBWAA has not elected more than two players in a year since 1999. The last time they elected four players was 1955. They not elected five since the first election in 1936.

    We may be in for a calamity like we did in the 1940′s and 1950′s, when there simply too many qualified candidates for anyone to command enough votes to get in. The Hall had to respond with run-off elections and I suspect they will end up having to do the same about 2016.

    Expect a long backlog that drag outs until at least 2020, followed by the Veteran’s Committee picking up the stragglers like McGwire, Martinez and Raines, who simply got crowded off of the platform.

    Update: Tom Verducci disappoints me by throwing in with the “I know a steroid user when I see one” crowd. He even quotes Andre Dawson … since no one in Dawson’s era used PEDs … as the players having “chosen their legacy”.

    What sanctimonious claptrap. The players did not choose their legacy — baseball did by not taking the issue seriously until an unpopular player started breaking records. The players were the largest part of that, obviously. But they played in an environment in which the only negative impact of steroid use was long term health risk — something many would trade for success. What Verducci and others are trying to apply is an ex post facto judgement. They looked the other way when steroid use was happening. Now that it blew up in their faces, they suddenly want to start issuing retroactive penalties.

    Verducci even dusts off the criticism of McGwire and Bagwell for claiming that steroids did not make their careers. While I think the players are wrong to claim this, it puts the players into yet another BBWAA Catch-22: we will not forgive you until you admit that your entire career was a fraud. After which confession, of course — as they did with McGwire, as they did with Pete Rose — they will turn their backs again and say, “Well, I definitely can’t vote for him now.”

    In the end, what the BBWAA wants is not consistency, justice or logic. What they want is for the players to grovel to them, to suck up to them, to kiss their feet, to show what they think is requisite amount of contrition. This was the chief reason the narrative on steroids changed when Barry Bonds started using them — because he was famously hostile to certain members of the press (although that too involved revisionist history — they elide the part of the infamous “back off or I’ll snap” incident where they were trampling his kid).

    I see every reason to hold players accountable for what they did. But I see no reason to let everyone else off the hook. And I see no reason why players should have to crawl and grovel to a bunch of people who continually forget that voting for the HOF is a privilege, not a right.

    In the end, they are going to end up with egg on their faces when it turns out that an existing HOFer was a steroid user. And their self-righteousness and preening will be revealed for exactly what it is.

    Update: Jayson Stark comes through, as he usually does. Stark is one of those writers, like Gammons and Verducci, who I’ve watched evolve and change over the last 15 years. The man thinks, which is rare.

    Mac

    Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

    The news that Mark McGwire used steroids is not surprising.

    What is also not surprising, but incredibly disappointing, is the titanic and hypocritical self-righteousness which still accompanies the issue. McGwire is a Hall-of-Famer who is being denied because he used steroids. This represents the apex of blaming the player — and only the players — for the rampant use of performance enhancing drugs throughout the game. The completely ignores that:

  • The owners certainly knew who was using and who wasn’t. As the Mitchell Report made clear, teams do not make $100 million investments without knowing what players are putting into their bodies.
  • Either the media knew or their much-ballyhooed “inside access” is a load of crap. The Sports Media Twerps are constantly telling us how their access to players and their inside knowledge makes them so much smarter than the rest of us. How could the SMTs have such insider information and not know what was going on? How could they turn on the reporter who found that McGwire was using Andro? I think that’s why the press is so vicious and judgmental on the steroid issue. They are compensating for their own complicity. Shame on them.
  • The fans knew or suspected what was going on. I mean, we knew Mac was taking Andro. We at least suspected that Canseco was using. But we didn’t care as long as homers flew out of parks. We looked the other way and cheered the juicers, which just encouraged more use. Then, suddenly, we got religion when someone we didn’t like — Barry Bonds — broke the home run record. We’re content, of course, to ignore the obvious drug abuse in football.
  • The players did steroids, in part, because they were allowed to. They did them because the owners, the press and the fans knew what was going on and were happy to ignore it. When we suddenly decided PEDs were bad, we refused to take any responsibility. Instead, we have heaped scorn only on the players. They are, after all, rich and popular, so we have to tear them down, right?

    Screw that. I’m all in favor of a clean game. But I’m not in favor of white-washing the past and blaming the most convenient party. It’s time to admit what we allowed to happen.

    Update: Incidentally, the commish knew about steroids in 1993.