Why Marty Noble Didn’t Have Mike Piazza On His Hall of Fame Ballot

On Saturday morning, during an interview on MLB Network Radio, Mets.com beat writer Marty Noble told Casey Stern that Mike Piazza was not on his Hall of Fame ballot. Why not? The answer is, um, a little hairy …

Marty Noble didn’t place Piazza on his Hall of Fame ballot for the same reason he didn’t cast a vote for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Jeff Bagwell, nor anyone else from baseball’s “Steroid Era” — because he thinks there is reasonable suspicion that players cheated.

Only one name made Noble’s ballot: Jack Morris. We can argue over Morris, but I prefer to address the omissions, rather than the inclusion.

When pressed specifically about Piazza, Noble admitted that he had zero evidence that the former Mets catcher took PEDs during his playing career. However, he also admitted to suspicion that Piazza MIGHT have taken something. What caused this suspicion?

A hairy back.

I kid you not.

First, Murray Chass convicts Piazza of steroid use due to pimples on his back. Now, he’s accused for having hair on his back. Oh, and lack of it as well. Huh?

Noble claims that Piazza had a hairy back when he played for the Dodgers; Noble knows this because he saw Piazza shirtless on various occasions in the clubhouse (not sure if there are photos). Noble went on to explain that when Piazza was with the Mets, Piazza’s back was completely bare — not a hair on it — and loss of hair is a side effect of steroid use.

Hmm … I guess that’s true. Though, it can go the other way, too. I’ve seen players who grew back hair while “cycling” (I’m not talking about riding a bicycle).

At this point in the interview, an exasperated Casey Stern suggested that Piazza might have discovered vanity while a Met millionaire, and had his back hair removed. Noble dismissed such a notion.

In all fairness to Marty Noble, the back hair issue was not the only red flag. There were the monster homeruns to the opposite field, and the offseason in which Piazza gained nearly 30 pounds of pure muscle. As well as many other issues that Noble didn’t get into.

Now before you go skewering Noble, I’d like to applaud him for putting only Morris on his ballot (even if I don’t necessarily agree that Jack Morris is a HoFer). Putting aside the “evidence” that makes Noble believe a player did steroids, the fact he’s not voting for anyone from the PEDs era — yet — is sensible. Because once a player is voted in, he can’t be voted out. So what happens if Piazza, or Bagwell, or anyone else who played from 1990-2005 is voted into the Hall of Fame, and two years later, it comes to light that the player was doing PEDs?

The argument I hear over and over is “here in America, people are innocent until proven guilty.” Yes — in a court of law, when it comes to someone suspected of a crime. This is a ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame, not a courtroom. Further, no one has the “right” to be in the Hall of Fame, so if a player is not voted in, he hasn’t lost any of the rights afforded him as an American citizen. That’s why I view the “innocent until proven guilty” argument as nonsense.

Moreover, by not voting for, say, Jeff Bagwell, a writer is not necessarily indicting Bagwell as a steroid user. Rather, the writer could simply feel — like Noble — that there is suspicion that Bagwell might have used. And if that writer feels that using PEDs is cheating, and he doesn’t want cheaters in the Hall of Fame, he may want to wait a while before voting suspected players in. I find that to be a responsible and logical process of judgment.

Where Noble misses, however, is in his decision to suspect some players rather than others based on what he’s seen in comparison to his own limited knowledge of steroid side effects. For example, Noble voted for Roberto Alomar — how the heck can he be sure that Alomar didn’t use some kind of steroid? Certainly, he was teammates with several players who either were caught doing steroids (Manny Ramirez, for one) as well as at least one player who was caught with steroids in their baggage (Juan Gonzalez). And, little, skinny Roberto Alomar once exploded for 24 homers in a season — how can Noble be certain he did it on the “up and up”?

This is what really gets my goat: writers who refuse to vote for, say, Jeff Bagwell, because they suspect might have done steroids, but in the same breath admit they’ll vote for Bagwell’s teammate Craig Biggio because they didn’t see anything to cause suspicion. Really? Does a player have to hit 50 homers to be a steroid user? Does he have to have a back full of acne? I’m not accusing Biggio of steroid use, by the way. Rather, I’m pointing out that there’s absolutely no way anyone can assume that any player during the Steroid Era was clean. Remember when many people believed Alex Rodriguez “did it right”? Would anyone have suspected that little Alex Sanchez was on ‘roids before he became the first MLBer ever suspended for PEDs use? Would you have ever guessed that soft-tossing Jason Grimsley, whose fastball lived in the 87-89 MPH range, was using every PED he could get his hands on?

Suspensions for PEDs testing didn’t begin until 2005, therefore anyone who played from around the mid-1980s — when we know Jose Canseco started using steroids — through 2005 has to be under suspicion (hmm, I guess that means Jack Morris is under suspicion — and he should be, as should every other MLBer who played in that time frame). Is it a shame? yeah, it’s a damn shame. You know what else is a shame? That MLBers and most journalists completely ignored the pleas of Rangers pitcher Rick Helling, who said this at a MLBPA meeting in 1998:

“There is this problem with steroids,” Helling told them. “It’s happening. It’s real. And it’s so prevalent that guys who aren’t doing it are feeling pressure to do it because they’re falling behind. It’s not a level playing field. We’ve got to figure out a way to address it.

“It’s a bigger deal than people think. It’s noticeable enough that it’s creating an uneven playing field. What really bothers me is that it’s gotten so out of hand that guys are feeling pressure to do it. It’s one thing to be a cheater, to be somebody who doesn’t care whether it’s right or wrong. But it’s another thing when other guys feel like they have to do it just to keep up. And that’s what’s happening. And I don’t feel like this is the right way to go.”

Helling’s pleas, of course, were buried and forgotten. The players didn’t need Helling to speak up, but it was an opportunity to address the problem. They chose not to, and likely would never have addressed it had it not been for Congress stepping in. So while some may feel it’s “not fair” to “punish” players who played during the Steroid Era by not giving them HoF votes, I argue that the players made their own bed. They could have policed themselves, they could have rid PEDs from the game. They chose not to, and now karma is biting them in the butt.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Tommy2cat January 7, 2013 at 5:46 am
    Joe –

    Marty Noble is a lousy sports writer who lost his job with Newsday because he drank too much. I’ve never seen him drink, but his flushed appearance tells me that he’s just like many other writers in his day, many of whom drank too much.

    He was a very, very difficult read because he would “back into” his stories, often burying the lead paragraph somewhere in the body of his article. If I was his editor, he would’ve been cleaning bathrooms, or as far from a writing instrument as possible.

    Few things piss me off more than an absolute moron having credentials without merit that provide him the opportunity to affect the public’s perception of one of our true heroes.

    Yeah, fat, stupid Marty Noble. I remember him.

    • Joe Janish January 7, 2013 at 9:48 am
      C’mon, open up a little and tell us how you really feel. ;-)

      What do you think of his decision not to vote for anyone who might raise PEDs suspicion? Personally I think his logic is halfway there — it would be all the way there if he simply didn’t vote for anyone who played after 1990.

  2. LongTimeFan January 7, 2013 at 8:49 am
    Marty Noble did crappy work, period, writing articles that repeatedly contained factual errors. And when called out, didn’t give a damn. Just plain arrogant.

    It’s time to remove Hall of Fame voting from these self-serving imbeciles and give it to those who really care about the integrity of the game and voting process – the men who are in the Hall of Fame as well as retired umpires.

  3. Dan B January 7, 2013 at 10:29 am
    If I was a member of the MLBPA in the 90′s, I would of been furious. As I tell my own union, working conditions are as important as wages. Making money does me no good if I am going to die young. Owners and fans benefited from increased performance more so then the players. It was the responsibility of the MLBPA to police themselves because nobody else was going to do it and it was for the benefit of the players’ health. By the way, PEDs are not just about adding muscle, it was also about decreased recovery time. Injuries, age, and normal wear and tear don’t mean as much. Players could play more games, more innings, which add to their HoF credentials.
  4. MikeT January 7, 2013 at 11:37 am
    I just don’t care enough about the HoF as an institution representing the game. If it is a place to celebrate the game and honor those who played it well relative to their peers, then all of the steroid era greats need to be in it. There are enough admitted cheaters, racists, and scumbags in the hall already. Why are we choosing steroids as a battle ground? Why not kick out anyone who used greenies before those were banned? It’s all silly and I don’t have time or energy to care about it.
    • Joe Janish January 7, 2013 at 1:09 pm
      Steroids are the battleground because they can significantly improve a player’s performance — beyond what he’d be capable of doing naturally.

      Greenies may help a .300 hitter keep his skill level during the dog days of August or through a hangover. In other words, Rod Carew can still be Rod Carew. But steroids can turn Rod Carew into Babe Ruth.

      • MikeT January 7, 2013 at 1:17 pm
        Okay, but Rod Carew might not have been Hall of Famer Rod Carew if he did not have the energy to play at his highest level every day. Many steroids, such as HGH, are notable because they helped the athlete recover fast from injuries and from tough workouts. In effect these PEDs helped the player not become greater, but instead be the best they could be for longer periods of time.

        I really don’t see a difference between greenies and these other PEDs.

        • Joe Janish January 7, 2013 at 3:05 pm
          MIke, I agree that one of the things PEDs can do is help recovery — but it is not the only thing.

          I have played with and against athletes who used steroids and HGH. In many cases, those athletes’ ceilings rose dramatically. For example, I have witnessed pitchers who went from 89-90 MPH to 95 MPH. I have seen 40-yard times cut from 4.9 to 4.6. I have I have seen batters increase their bat speed significantly enough to go from being gap hitters to home run hitters. I have seen guys who “maxed out” at 275 lbs. on the bench press, couldn’t go further regardless of training routine, then do a “cycle,” and improve their bench to 400 lbs. From these many experiences — and seeing the freakish change in Barry Bonds — I have a really, really hard time listening to the “PEDs are mainly for recovery” argument (which I’ve heard several times). Steroids may not turn a wimpy pencil-pusher into an Olympic powerlifter, but they can turn a borderline high school prospect into a #1 draft pick, a minor leaguer into a MLBer, or a “AAAA” player into an MLB All-Star. And yes, by the way they can also help with recovery.

        • MikeT January 7, 2013 at 4:00 pm
          Thing is though, I think we can all agree that steroids or any PED will not turn a scrub into a hall of famer. It can turn a borderline hall of famer into a sure thing though. So the solution seems to me to raise the bar temporarily for this era of players, i.e. compare them to their peers. So guys like Piazza and Bonds get in because they were the best of the best of their era, but a guy like Palmeiro does NOT get in. This is why the vote works. If everyone agrees that a guy was the one of the very best of his era, then he gets in, but if there is debate then he might not. Or he may eventually. It seems like both the system works and the institutional integrity remains. The problem of course is when there is no agreed criteria or process by the BBWA. If they all were instructed to vote based on only on the field contributions then it would work. When guys like Marty Noble decide they are going to take a stand it mucks the system up.
        • Joe Janish January 7, 2013 at 6:20 pm
          No, we can’t all agree on that perspective, because I don’t agree that PEDs can’t turn a “scrub” into a Hall of Famer. They may not turn, say, Mario Mendoza into Mickey Mantle, but PEDs can absolutely, positively, turn an above-average MLB hitter into an outstanding MLB hitter (Brady Anderson, Luis Gonzalez, Ken Caminiti, Rafael Palmeiro). Moreover, it can turn a MLB hitter with weaknesses and holes into someone who hits so many HRs that many people perceive him as an HoFer (Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire). It can also prolong a career enough so compilers can reach “HoF” milestones such as 3000 hits or 500 HR (Palmeiro).

          Are Don Mattingly or Keith Hernandez HoFers? What if they did steroids, and it helped either reach 3000 hits, and/or hit 40+ HR a year? Wouldn’t they walk in to the Hall?

          What if Mike Piazza did steroids and it helped him hit an extra 10 HR per year and add about 10-15 points to his batting average? And so he finished his career as a catcher who hit about 16-20 HR a year (about 250 overall) and batted about .290? Is that a HoF catcher? If so then Lance Parrish merits consideration, as does Bill Freehan, Ted Simmons, and a bunch of other catchers who put up similar numbers but never sniffed the Hall.

          What about Roger Clemens? I hear over and over that “Clemens was a Hall of Famer before the PEDs.” Really? Because he probably started juicing at some point around 1996, if not sooner, when he had 196 career wins and it looked like he was broken down and “finished.” Does Clemens get in with only 196 wins and 6-7 years of dominant pitching? And how does anyone know for sure he wasn’t juicing since his college days at Texas, where the football players have been popping steroids like tic tacs since the 1960s?

          From what I’ve seen, the raw talent level of AA and AAA ballplayers to MLBers is not as significant as many people believe. It doesn’t take much of an unnatural boost to separate one high-level pro player from another — anyone who gets to MLB has incredible athleticism, hand-eye coordination, etc. But if a player can increase his bat speed by a few MPH, or his vision from 20-20 to 20-15, or his fastball from 92 to 95, his performance can VASTLY improve over the “average.”

        • MikeT January 7, 2013 at 6:30 pm
          I think we are agreeing Joe. I don’t think any of those guys are getting in the Hall or should, because compared to their peers they were not good enough.

          Another point I’ve heard is that all along the history of baseball you can argue that the results were altered by events of that era. Segregation, expansion, higher mound, etc were all things that may have altered our perception of some players actual skill level and worth. We can never go back and change these things, so we cannot go back and undo their selection into the hall and the records that they set. So why do it for steroids?

          Let only the best of the best in this era get into the hall, be exceptionally picky about it if you want to, but don’t lock them all out.

        • Joe Janish January 8, 2013 at 12:48 am
          As someone who is extremely competitive and have both played and coached others at a fairly high level, allowing “cheaters” into the HoF incenses me. I put cheaters in quotes because not everyone agrees with my view that PEDs are / were cheating. But from my perspective, PEDs = cheating and I have a really, really hard time “honoring” people who cheated.

          Part of it might be my own bitterness — i.e., had I chosen to do steroids, maybe I would’ve played MLB — but at least 90% is basic, raw, fundamental sportsmanship. If a pitcher was cutting a baseball or using some vaseline, or if a team was stealing signs, it absolutely annoyed me — but in the end, that kind of cheating can only take someone so far. A little grease may put movement on the ball, but the pitcher still has to know how to use it, has to get it near the strike zone, and put some velocity on it. A batter can have an advantage knowing what’s coming but he still has to know what to do with the information AND execute properly using his god-given and developed skills (further, the pitcher has to be able to execute as well — how many times have we seen a catcher call fastball down and in, and the pitch wind up outside and high?). But steroids can grossly alter an athlete, turning him/her into a completely different person. It’s cheating on an entirely different level, in a different solar system. If/when we see a known steroid/HGH user get into the HoF, I’m completely done with respecting the institution. As it is I don’t have much respect for celebrating individuals who play/played a team sport, so that’s not saying much.

        • MikeT January 8, 2013 at 11:06 am
          I can respect that Joe. This was a nice dialog, I think.
        • Joe Janish January 8, 2013 at 11:47 pm
          Thanks Mike. Your dialogue was good for me. For you, maybe not so much, since you had to deal with all my hot air.
  5. Izzy January 7, 2013 at 1:50 pm
    How does Noble know that Jack Morris didn’t use? A little help to get thri those last years with the Twinkies? Gee, how did such an old guy pitch so many innings in the last game of the World Series when a much younger and stronger John Smoltz couldn’t? Hmm, come on Marty, you really need to suspect something of old Jack. It just doesn’t feel right does it?
    • Joe Janish January 7, 2013 at 3:10 pm
      I have to agree. How can anyone know absolutely for sure that Morris didn’t use anything? There was no testing, so we can’t. Everyone is presumed guilty.

      In fact, it would not surprise me to find out current HoFers juiced. The stuff was around baseball as early as the 1970s. I’ve always been curious about Brian Downing going from an average-looking, singles-hitting, third-string catcher to a musclebound, power-hitting, All-Star DH (for example). And was Nolan Ryan throwing 100 MPH into his mid-40s really because he was a freak of “nature” or because of something else? Who knows?

      • DaveSchneck January 7, 2013 at 6:26 pm
        Joe,
        I agree with you in that if everyone was given truth serum, the “public” would be shocked at how many pro athletes did PEDs. While I did not play college sports, I have heard from more than one person first hand that did steriods in the 1980s, not to land a pro deal or even be a star, but at mid and lower level schools, just to compete and not be embarrassed. During that time I also know from attending gyms that the roids were rampant among the bodybuilding community dating back to the 1970s. It may not have been a majority, but in the 1980s, if mid-level college athletes and bodybuilders were participating in this activity back then just for competitive or vanity reasons, we can probably block off 30 years of MLB history and question certain performances. How do these writers reconcile that? I have no idea how I would if given that responsibility, it’s just too murky, and I think that continues right now with the new cycling routines employed by guys like Ryan Braun.
        • Joe Janish January 8, 2013 at 1:05 am
          I’m glad you shared this. It reminded me of the day that steroids entered my life. No, I never, ever did them. But I remember vividly the day one of my best friends — who was a year older than me and shall remain nameless — called me from what was then a nondescript D-1 college football program that shall also remain nameless. He was a walk-on trying like hell to make the team, his best shot being as part of the special teams unit. He was a damn good athlete — ran a 4.6 40-yd. dash, benched about 350-370 lbs., worked as hard as anyone, but had hit his ceiling. He called to discuss with me his decision to take steroids in the hopes it would help him make the team. I was flabbergasted. He said “just about everyone on the team was juicing.” It made no sense to me. Again, it was a D-1 program that wasn’t big at the time, never even seen on ESPN the Ocho. And this was a 19-year-old kid who just wanted to make the team and maybe be part of the kickoff team. I said, “are you f’ing crazy?” Why take the chance of losing your hair, filling your body with acne, becoming impotent, suffering “roid rage” or depression, getting a dirty dose or a tainted needle, taking years off your life, just so you can be on the special team squad for a crappy college football team? The year was 1987. Little did I know that was the tip of the iceberg; steroids became more prevalent when I got to college myself and played semipro ball.

          Some people will argue that “the best” players will do anything to be better — even if it means taking years off their life. Well, to me, that’s going against the basic definition of “sport,” of one human competing against another to see who is better. Then again, maybe pro baseball is not really a sport, but entertainment — in the same way pro wrestling is entertainment.

  6. Joe January 7, 2013 at 2:06 pm
    “gets my goat”

    lol. Seriously. Good discussion. The karma point has some bite. Some make this sound like a criminal process, as if it’s an ex post facto law to block players or something given the rule simply was ignored. But, the rule was there. Now people care about it & violators are hurt.

    The concern about selectivity is still there. So, your OP has bite there. As to “why steroids,” well, we care more about such things in these times. It’s a battle we can fight now. It is not about revoking people in there, so that’s like complaining about keeping in racists in some other organization while not putting new ones in.

    I don’t know about simply not voting for anyone. I can imagine some sort of standards of proof being set up. It won’t be perfect, but the reasoning behind these votes isn’t rocket science to begin with. But, you have to do it sanely & if other baseball experts challenge people like this guy (I have no knowledge of his past work), it helps to keep everything honest.

    • Joe January 7, 2013 at 2:09 pm
      as to “steroids are worse,” maybe, but eh, the line drawing there gets hard to see as very clear. Basically, standards change over the years. This also shows that records need to be seen as a product of an era, though people at times act like a record being broken means the record meant the same thing for all time.
      • Joe Janish January 7, 2013 at 5:55 pm
        The all-time records are one of the major issues when discussing steroids and Hall of Fame candidacy, and you bring up a great point.

        For at least half a century, career numbers and single-season records were a big deal, because the game didn’t change all that drastically.

        However, things did start changing gradually with the lowered pitching mound; advent of protective headgear (and later, body armor); more tightly wound ball; new ballpark dimensions; more advanced lighting for night games; strike zone adjustments; advanced umpiring and fielding equipment; advent of weight training and year-round, advanced, sport-specific conditioning; modern medicine; accessibility to PEDs; the DH; and various other rules changes that were applied specifically to increase offense. Before the massive changes of the last 20-25 years specifically, there were numerical yardsticks that made sense for “automatic” HoF induction (i.e., 3000 hits, 400 HR, 300 wins). Now, none of those numbers make sense, or matter. Yet, I GUARANTEE that the bulk of writers who vote for Craig Biggio are doing so primarily because he collected 3000 hits. Which makes no sense at all.

        Now, the real conundrum is trying to figure out what the “new” milestones for HoF entry should be — because the Steroid Era included PEDs, which clearly had an impact on stats. I don’t think you can accurately compare a 50+ HR season from the late 1990s to someone hitting 50 HR today, for example.

        • MikeT January 7, 2013 at 6:21 pm
          Agreed Joe. This harkens back to my point that players should be compared to their peers. It also means that all-time records and milestones are not as important as we grew up believing. I feel like the only people still upset about that is the BWAA. This is why it is shoved down our throats.
        • Joe Janish January 8, 2013 at 1:11 am
          Maybe I’m getting old, but I’m kind of sad that the numbers 714, 755, 60, and 61 (not to mention basic milestone numbers like 3000 and 400 or 500) don’t mean what they once did — and I HATE numbers. There was some comfort in those figures being a measuring stick for so many years.
  7. argonbunnies January 7, 2013 at 7:59 pm
    Mark McGwire was as natural a HR hitter as was ever born. Yeah, the ‘roids didn’t hurt, and maybe he never passes 60 without them. Or maybe he does; I dunno. The one clear thing the ‘roids did for him was get him back on the field in his prime (though they may also have forced him off the field in his mid-30s). Now, if the voters are willing to penalize McGwire for taking drugs to stay on the field, fine. But then, shouldn’t the cloud of suspicion fall over players who were not just exceptionally muscular, but also exceptionally durable?

    Craig Biggio
    Greg Maddux

    Two guys who played during the steroids era and offered absolutely historic durability. Not to mention that the most innings pitched in the last 20 years was by a 35-year-old:

    Randy Johnson

    Pretty much the only superstar from ’93-’05 who has no signs of steroid use is Pedro (no bulging muscles, plenty of injuries).

    • Joe Janish January 8, 2013 at 1:15 am
      AGREED! This is EXACTLY my point. Hey, how do we know — absolutely for sure — that Cal Ripken, Jr. played in all those consecutive games without any “help”? I hope like hell that he was clean, but only Cal himself knows for sure.

      And further, even though Pedro passes the “eyeball test,” we really can’t say for certain that he was clean (again, I hope like hell he was). Trying to pretend we can figure out who juiced and who didn’t is a dangerous road to go down.

      • argonbunnies January 8, 2013 at 2:39 am
        Yeah, Ripken’s willingness to play a full game at shortstop the night after rolling his ankle was a testament to the competitiveness, determination, and pain threshold for which he’s famed.

        But his ability to do that? I mean, at some point the human body tends to say No. Unless you inject it with enough numbing agents… and perhaps “something to speed up the healing”…

        I had the same thought when hearing about Clemens’s workout routine. The implication was that he did more sit-ups than everyone else because he was more motivated than everyone else. Well, no, the way I see it, if players try to do that many sit-ups without ‘roids, they’ll injure themselves.

  8. HARRY E. January 11, 2013 at 3:31 pm
    There are pitchers from the “spitball era” in the HOF including some who were known to have thrown it. So why not have guys from the “steroids era”?
    • Hobie January 12, 2013 at 7:50 pm
      Because the spitball was allowed to be thrown until 1920. PEDs without a prescription were never legal.
  9. Roger C January 15, 2013 at 8:01 pm
    Dear Baseball writers,

    I have no idea what you were thinking when there were no players inducted into the HOF? I do not believe the writers’ should have the final say. The game is not for the writers’ to decide. The game is for the FANS. We supply the money for the game and hence give you a PAYCHECK at the end of the day. Half of the baseball writers’ have never even played a day of professional baseball. Where is their expertise or actual knowledge of the game?

    - Just SAYIN’

  10. Jason Sullivan January 17, 2013 at 9:32 pm
    Loss of back hair….He could of just used a BrazilianBack!!! That is a bit of a stretch to accuse him of such charges due to the lack of back hair!!