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Steroid Use, HRs, and the MLB Hall of Fame

Image courtesy of barrybonds.com

While filling out my hypothetical ballot for the 2022 MLB Hall of Fame class, it became clear that, as in year’s past, the use of steroids will be the make or break for many of the players.

It’s hard to say no to certain players and yes to other players when it comes to allowing steroid users into Cooperstown. When you have players like Ivan Rodriguez, Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell, and Mike Piazza, all long-time suspected steroid users, in the hall of fame, but players like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa seemingly barred from being allowed into the hall of fame, one can understand the frustration many fans voice. Arguably, all three of the latter players are better than the former.

The counter arguments do make some sense, I won’t deny that. People like Fred McGriff or Frank Thomas were clean their entire careers but could have been as good as or better than their competitors hitting 70+ home runs in a season with steroids. Especially in the case of McGriff, who despite an impressive 19-year career, wasn’t voted into Cooperstown while still eligible. I don’t want to detract from the accomplishments of people like McGriff, but the fact is that steroids were rampant throughout baseball during the late 90s into the early 2000s. Disallowing an entire era of baseball players, many of whom set astronomical records and helped changed the game, from joining the Baseball Hall of Fame would be blatantly ignoring a very real period of history in favor of unnecessary moral superiority.

When it comes to hitting, one thing specifically comes to mind with steroid users: their career home run total. Looking at the list of players with the most career home runs is pretty interesting when broken down by hall of fame status and suspected steroid use, especially this year, where Bonds and Sosa are in their final year of HOF ballot eligibility.

From that list of the top 50 career HR leaders, we find that:

– 28 are in the Hall of Fame
– 7 players are currently on the 2022 ballot
– 3 players are currently active
– 10 players did not make the Hall of Fame
– 2 players are currently ineligible to be on the ballot

Looking at the use of steroids on that list finds that:

– 14 are confirmed or suspected to be confirmed of steroid use.
– 6 are confirmed of not using steroid
– 3 are unknown/no definitive conclusion has been made

That means that 7 of the top 20 all time HR leaders are confirmed steroid users. Many of them during a time when it was not illegal in baseball. By no means am I arguing that steroid use is okay, but the vast majority of the players on this list (even Alex Rodriguez who deserves an article al by himself for his steroid use) should be in the Hall of Fame. The holier than thou attitude that so many baseball writers have is detrimental to the game. Barry Bonds won 7 MVP awards. He has the highest WAR of all time. He finished the 2005 season with an OBP greater than .600. Top that off with the most home runs ever and 8 gold glove awards, Bonds is by far the most deserving player not currently in the hall of fame, steroid use or not.

As for some of the others on the list, I can understand why A-Rod or Manny Ramirez might not get in. I understand why Rafael Palmeiro or Jose Canseco didn’t get in. Perhaps the hardest part of the Hall of Fame vote is the idea of comparing current day baseball conditions with that of 20 years ago, 50 years ago, and 100 years ago. It’s an impossible task but is so evident of many BBWA members’ votes. Pitchers weren’t throwing baseballs 100+ mph while Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs. It’s an impossible task but it’s evident that the effort to contextualize the various eras of baseball simply for the good of the game has been both hypocritical and severely lacking by the BBWA over the last 10 years.

 

Rank Name Home Runs PAs PA/HR Bats Seasons Status Steroid Use?
1 Barry Bonds 762 12606 16.543 L 22 On ballot Yes
2 Henry Aaron 755 13941 18.465 R 23 Hall of Fame
3 Babe Ruth 714 10626 14.882 L 22 Hall of Fame
4 Alex Rodriguez 696 12207 17.539 R 22 On ballot Yes
5 Albert Pujols 679 12690 18.689 R 21 (active) Active Yes
6 Willie Mays 660 12545 19.008 R 23 Hall of Fame
7 Ken Griffey Jr. 630 11304 17.943 L 22 Hall of Fame
8 Jim Thome 612 10313 16.851 L 22 Hall of Fame
9 Sammy Sosa 609 9896 16.250 R 18 On ballot Yes
10 Frank Robinson 586 11744 20.041 R 21 Hall of Fame
11 Mark McGwire 583 7660 13.139 R 16 No HOF Yes
12 Harmon Killebrew 573 9833 17.161 R 22 Hall of Fame
13 Rafael Palmeiro 569 12046 21.170 L 20 No HOF Yes
14 Reggie Jackson 563 11418 20.281 L 21 Hall of Fame
15 Manny Ramirez 555 9774 17.611 R 19 On ballot Yes
16 Mike Schmidt 548 10062 18.361 R 18 Hall of Fame
17 David Ortiz 541 10091 18.652 L 20 On ballot Unknown
18 Mickey Mantle 536 9910 18.489 B 18 Hall of Fame
19 Jimmie Foxx 534 9677 18.122 R 20 Hall of Fame
20 Willie McCovey 521 9692 18.603 L 22 Hall of Fame
Frank Thomas 521 10075 19.338 R 19 Hall of Fame No
Ted Williams 521 9792 18.795 L 19 Hall of Fame
23 Ernie Banks 512 10396 20.305 R 19 Hall of Fame
Eddie Mathews 512 10101 19.729 L 17 Hall of Fame
25 Mel Ott 511 11348 22.207 L 22 Hall of Fame
26 Gary Sheffield 509 10947 21.507 R 22 On ballot Yes
27 Eddie Murray 504 12817 25.431 B 21 Hall of Fame
28 Miguel Cabrera 502 10993 21.898 R 19 (active) Active
29 Lou Gehrig 493 9665 19.604 L 17 Hall of Fame
Fred McGriff 493 10174 20.637 L 19 No HOF No
31 Adrian Beltre 477 12130 25.430 R 21 Ineliglble (2024) Unknown
32 Stan Musial 475 12721 26.781 L 22 Hall of Fame
Willie Stargell 475 9027 19.004 L 21 Hall of Fame
34 Carlos Delgado 473 8657 18.302 L 17 No HOF No
35 Chipper Jones 468 10614 22.679 B 19 Hall of Fame
36 Dave Winfield 465 12358 26.576 R 22 Hall of Fame
37 Jose Canseco 462 8129 17.595 R 17 No HOF Yes
Adam Dunn 462 8328 18.026 L 14 No HOF Yes
39 Carl Yastrzemski 452 13992 30.956 L 23 Hall of Fame
40 Jeff Bagwell 449 9431 21.004 R 15 Hall of Fame
Nelson Cruz 449 7737 17.232 R 17 (active) Active Yes
Vladimir Guerrero 449 9059 20.176 R 16 Hall of Fame No
43 Dave Kingman 442 7429 16.808 R 16 No HOF Yes
44 Jason Giambi 440 8908 20.245 L 20 No HOF Yes
45 Paul Konerko 439 9505 21.651 R 18 No HOF No
46 Andre Dawson 438 10769 24.587 R 21 Hall of Fame
47 Carlos Beltran 435 11031 25.359 B 20 On ballot No
48 Juan Gonzalez 434 7155 16.486 R 17 No HOF Yes
Andruw Jones 434 8664 19.963 R 17 On ballot Unknown
50 Cal Ripken Jr. 431 12883 29.891 R 21 Hall of Fame

 

For those interested, here’s my hypothetical HOF ballot for the 2022 class. I’m a biased Red Sox fan but did my best to remain as neutral as possible. I think Jimmy Rollins, Tim Hudson, Omar Vizquel, and possibly Gary Sheffield will have a good chance in future years, but not this year.

 

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Connor Dolan
Connor is co-founder of First And Fan and head of all website operations. He's a die hard Boston sports fan with a passion for sports, media, and all things David Ortiz.
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