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.
About the Author
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.