I missed it Sunday during the Yankees-Red Sox game, but apparently Buster Olney was talking about the Hall of Fame and said something along the lines of, ‘I’ll vote for Mark McGwire on my Hall of Fame ballot, but not [steroid-user] Manny Ramirez.’ Under siege from MLB fans on twitter, Olney’s been dealing with it all day. His logic, in a nutshell (my words, not his): MLB did nothing to police juicing in the 90s/early 00s, so how can you penalize everyone? If you’re cheating now, you’re a real jerk because baseball is trying to clean up the sport.
Do you remember the Baseball Friend? He would occasionally contribute baseball material for this site in 2006? He’s a former colleague who is the most hardcore fantasy baseball player I’ve ever met, and goes to Yankee games at an alarming rate. He’s been tweeting at Olney about this subject, and feels so strongly about it – his argument centers around how much better Ramirez was than McGwire – that he decided to submit his thoughts on the topic.
I respect Buster Olney and actually applaud him as one of the few baseball writers who has stood up and accepted their role in the steroids era. He’s clearly one of the handful of best baseball writers alive today, and quite frankly, a HOF lock in his own right. However, his stance on this is so beyond puzzling, it can’t go unchecked. Basically what Buster is saying with his ‘yes’ vote for Big Mac and his ‘no’ vote for Manny is that it IS OK to do something illegal, immoral and unhealthy as long as everyone else is doing it and the governing body is looking the other way. It is NOT OK to do the EXACT SAME THING when testing is put in place and fewer (not no one, because, well, c’mon,) people are doing it. The issue here is not whether or not you believe steroid users belong in the HOF. The issue here is what we demand of our arbiters.
What is it we want from a home plate umpire more than anything else? Consistency. We don’t care if he’s calling the ball six inches off the plate to righties a strike as long as he’s doing it for both teams and for the entire game. We need this consistency to help us understand what we’re watching. Well, baseball writers are the arbiters of the Hall of Fame, for better or for worse. We don’t care if they put all steroid users in or none of them, but consistency is necessary in order for the Hall of Fame to make any sense at all. Personally, I think all worthy players should get in, roids or no. I think it would be a incredible mistake and a massive oversight to just pretend that 15-20 years of baseball history never happened. I’m perfectly comfortable explaining to my son why all of the home run numbers went up for 15 years. I’m not comfortable trying to pretend that McGwire and Bonds and Sosa and Manny didn’t exist. That said, the idea that Mac and Barry can get in, but Manny can’t is simply a case of randomly setting the bar where you feel like it. It’s not impartial. It’s not fair and balanced. It’s nothing but an arbitrary placement in time of when the EXACT same behavior became unethical.
I understand that this issue is complex. I understand advanced baseball metrics far better than I do the steroid issue. Great writers like Olney and Keith Law have confusing points of view on this issue that I’m not entirely sure are clear even to them. Paul Simon once said that he loved being in a recording studio because, “there is no problem you can’t solve in a recording studio. It’s not like life.” I realize that understanding xFIP and BABIP are the recording studio and steroids are the life in this equation. But please, arbiters of the Hall, PLEASE just give us some consistency. We’re having enough trouble sorting this out for ourselves.
What we’ll never know: Was Manny juicing like everyone else throughout his career? Or was he cheating because his career and skills were in decline and he was looking for another year and a few more paychecks?