Not Convicted? Not The Point (Updated)

This is the first time in my life – and this wish began when I was nine or ten – that I’m glad Santa never answered my request that he bring me a Hall of Fame ballot.

Watching the handwringing by the voters has been entertaining and curiously satisfying (you ignored Dale Murphy for ten years? Great – you deserve Bonds and Clemens). But one part mystifies me: The argument, repeated again and again in various fashions, that one somehow has to vote for Bonds or Clemens or anybody else because these players were never found guilty of steroid use and are legally just the victims of accusation.

Ever heard of Eddie Cicotte and Buck Weaver?

They were the only-slightly-lesser figures behind Shoeless Joe Jackson in the 1919 World Series scandal, numbers two and three in the skills chart among the infamous “Eight Men Out.”  And like Jackson, they were convicted of nothing. Not of taking bribes, not of deliberately losing the Series to the Reds – nothing. Acquittals all the way around.

Now they were likely helped in this by the disappearance of tearful confessions to the prosecutors and the Grand Jury (although technically we must call them “reputed confessions” since, conveniently or not, they did vanish before the trial). Nevertheless, all three of them (plus Happy Felsch, Chick Gandil, Swede Risberg, Lefty Williams, and the unfortunate eavesdropping utility man Fred McMullin) were banned from baseball for life without the possibility of appeal by brand-new Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis and his unilateral decision has been the rationale for keeping them out of Cooperstown.

I’ll add some numbers later to flesh this out but I think at least Jackson and Cicotte are Hall-of-Famers and I support forgiving them and electing them (and, yes, Pete Rose for that matter). Had Jackson been hit by a bus and not by a ban in 1920 he would’ve been part of the first Cooperstown class of 1936. Cicotte might have needed a couple more strong seasons to get in, but he had just crossed the 200-win plateau and the parallels to the career of R.A. Dickey are unmistakable (to say nothing of the easy comparison to Hall of Famer Burleigh Grimes – though Cicotte’s “Shine Ball” may have been illusory and he may have been nothing more than a hard-knuckleball pitcher who had finally ‘gotten it’ around 1917).

Weaver’s qualifications appear to have needed the testimony of witnesses to elevate it to Hall of Fame status. He could’ve used another five years which Landis denied him. Most relevantly he alone among the expelled players adamantly maintained his complete innocence.

From a Hall of Fame perspective, of course, it doesn’t matter. They were convicted of nothing and at the very worst it appears Weaver was guilty of not snitching. They’re not in the Hall and they’re never going to be. And for better or worse, that’s the precedent for Bonds, Clemens, Sosa – and Bagwell and Piazza, for that matter. To quote the movie nominally about Shoeless Joe, “There are rules here? There are no rules here!”

Parenthetically I don’t think any of them, Bagwell and Piazza included, get elected. There are a lot of voters and this is way too complicated for many of them to reach the same conclusions about which players get the benefit of the doubt and which don’t. The highest percentage any of these guys get will be around 51 (75 is needed). And somewhere Cicotte and Weaver and Shoeless Joe will shake their ghostly heads and say that letting mortals judge immortality is bad enough without letting them do the judging without any real rules to guide them.

Statistical Postscript

The Baseball Reference version of WAR gives Cicotte a whopping career number of 54.5, and that’s for only thirteen seasons. He is cradled neatly on the all-time list between Hall of Famers Joe McGinnity and Whitey Ford, and ahead of the likes of Three-Finger Brown, Eppa Rixey, the aforementioned Burleigh Grimes, and Mariano Rivera. His last four seasons produced WARs of 11.2, 3.0, 9.2 and 4.7, and it should be pointed out that this is a case where the old and new methodology concur. Cicotte (and if you’re wondering, it was pronounced ‘See-Cot’ with an even emphasis on both syllables) was 28-12, 1.53 in the 11.2 season and 29.7, 1.82 in the 9.2 season.

Weaver fares less well – a WAR of 18.2 (for only nine seasons) but his OPS was only .692 and his OPS+ 92. What is tantalizing is that his last season – ended when the scandal broke and the White Sox suspended them all on September 28, 1920 – was far and away his best. A man who had hit .300 exactly once (and exactly .300 at that) was now hitting .331 and slugging .420 a month after his 30th birthday. He had been getting better each year since 1917 and was wrapping up a break-out season.

Interestingly, Joe Jackson’s WAR was only 59.6 (Home Run Baker territory) but he too had really only played nine full seasons and 1920 might have been his best (12-121-.382 when his past career highs had been 7-96-.408). He hit .356 lifetime and was only 33 and his park/league adjusted OPS, 170, is tied for the seventh best all-time.


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  2. Dina (@dinadinadinas)

    I have often wondered where you stood on Pete Rose. Your views on Bonds, Sosa, Clemens, et al were always clear. I’m not much of a baseball fan specifically but I am a sports fan in general. I could never understand why any athlete would consider using steroids, especially after the Raider’s Lyle Alzado died from brain cancer. Then, a couple of years ago, I was on prednisone for 10 days. Only 10 days and I felt like new. That experience adjusted my views about steroids. Perhaps if they were available to all professional athletes, under a team doctor’s close supervision, then these people whose livelihood depends on the health & resilience of their bodies could use what is good and valuable in this substance. Don’t ask me how you’d keep folks from abusing them, because I don’t know. And even if this became a valid option in the future it wouldn’t excuse those who used them before it was. But it was mighty nice for my knees to feel brand new.

  3. Mary Caruso

    One can never judge but be judged. Don’t know scripture but it’s close enough. What I have to understand is that in these situations, the 1919 players were not found guilty but the accusation set such a stigma, Shoeless Joe and the others could not wipe the slate clean. And because of the outcome of the game whether they fixed it or not, left many people angry and hurt. It also left a stench on baseball.
    Now for Bonds, and company it is not at all a different story. They were found to be using PEDs and that is fact. They can not circumvent that with platitudes or excuses that PEDs are not effective or are inconsequential. Bonds even stating that he thought the drugs were for muscle aches, claiming that he did not know they contained steroids is no excuse. If something is going to come in direct contact or ingested into your system, you better find out what’s in it.
    But now the dilemma of people trying to nominate and fill the Hall of Fame with viable candidates have to decide whether this is valid or can be overlooked because the outcome is not looking pleasant. The reality is that these players were using and performing possibly beyond their natural talent. Which part of the player was real and which part was the drug? Where did the body leave off and the chemical take over? Do they really have a true talent or was it all chemical? The stigma is there and should be treated the same as the “Eight Man Out” team. In effect the rules are being defined as they go along.
    They have been accused, but more so, they have left us wanting.

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  5. Jackson

    Personally I do not think Rose belongs in the Hall, but I think that Joe Jackson certainly deserves it. As for Bonds, Clemens and Sosa, I am on the fence. They did break the rules, however, I have read many articles and posts about how steroids have only a slim impact on your performance, contrary to popular belief. I think that obviously more research and results need to come out before we can rule whether or not to keep accused steroid users out of the Hall. Only then will we have some rules to guide the Hall of Fame voters.

  6. Clarke C

    Interesting thoughts. In my opinion some of those men put up Hall of Fame numbers and should be in the Hall. None of those aforementioned players were caught with steroids while they were testing (read: While it was against the rules). Hank and Willie took amphetamines and The Babe never faced a black pitcher. It’s all in perspective.

  7. Clarke C

    My point was that they weren’t technically cheating since there was no testing. If it was explicitly against the rules and they tested positive, that’s a different story.

  8. redpalaceskyeaglebullbluesox

    Spot on as usual, KO. There’s a lot of hypocrisy going on in HoFville. My ten this year are Piazza, Bonds, Biggio, Schilling, Morris, Murphy, Clemens (the Constitution says he’s innocent and I was in the Army for more than ten years defending that document) and four more that I have to think about.

  9. patriciaellynpowell

    Mary, I know Scripture. It’s “Judge lest ye be judged.” One of my faves! Tell it all at city hall, KO! Some of these guys are dirtier than PaPaw’s outhouse, and the only salvation is that everybody knows! Here is my poem about Barry Bonds from my collection, Vivisection:

    Babe Ruth’s Defunct (For e. e. cummings)

    Babe Ruth’s
    who used to
    swing a hard wooden
    and run onetwothree bases just like that

    he was an honest man

    and what I want to know is

    how do you like your brown eyed boy

    Mister Cheat

  10. Michael Green

    All of this troubles me far more than it should, since we have better and bigger issues to worry about even within baseball! But here goes.

    First, if Rose bet against his team as a player, he sure did a fine job of faking effort. A hall of fame without the all-time leader in hits is not a hall of fame. He should be in, and not because he’s a lovable human being.

    As to the steroid users and rumored ones, no one has banned them. Perhaps Bud Lite should follow in the footsteps of Kennesaw Mountain Landis, but that would be, to invoke John Quincy Adams, referring to a cockboat in the wake of a man o’ war.

    So then we come to the next question: what about their competition? I don’t want steroid users in the hall of fame, but the ones mentioned above are not the only ones who used or are rumored to have used. Before Jackie Robinson, it was the competition of white vs. white. For the next 29 years, it was non-free agents vs. non-free agents. Since 1969, we’ve had divisional play and more recently interleague play. Since 1973, the American League has refused to play baseball, instead using a designated hitter. Does that affect pitching? You bet your life it does. It seems to me that if we say THESE stars of the steroid era can’t get in, then what do we say about the people who didn’t use? Do we recalibrate their statistics? Do we wonder whether those with lesser numbers used steroids but didn’t have enough talent for them to be of any help?

    In the end, without Rose and, yes, Shoeless Joe, and these folks, we have a hall of fame that brings to mind a line from Jon Miller–yes, the second greatest baseball broadcaster now working. He said it’s like the photos of the Chinese communist leaders where Chairman Mao is in there and then he’s not. I think we should be better than that.

  11. Darian

    Dale Murphy? Meh. I certainly wouldn’t boycott The Hall if he made it in. But if he never makes it in, I’m certainly not boycotting either. Otherwise, I mostly agree. But some of the Roid Rage Krew will make it on soon enough. Within 10 years, one of them goes in, then most of the others eventually.

  12. Scott White

    Does this place even have moderators? Someone leaves an obnoxious annoying and false video like 10 times and he is not banned? Ridiculous.I would have banned after the first one. Get this jerk gone.

  13. Jack

    I have three Letters to the radio announcer that called the Merkle game- as will as the “longest count down” fight. Dempsey/ Tunney.
    Interested? Email me/

  14. miketherevelator

    Props for mentioning Buck. Another intangible is he’s the third baseman on Ty Cobb’s all-time team. John McGraw also called him the best third baseman of the era and had hoped to get him via trade if Comiskey decided to get rid of the 8 and Landis had allowed them to play. At 30 he had at least five more seasons ahead of him and he had enjoyed break out hitting year in 1920.
    The more that comes out, the more it seems he was no more guilty than Comiskey, Gleason, Schalk and most of the other guys on the team. He knew something was amiss from the beginning but he wasn’t sure exactly who had agreed to the fix and who hadn’t. Except for Gandil, Risberg, Cicotte and Williams it wasn’t easy to tell by the results. Even Abe Attel said more than once that Buck Weaver should be reinstated, that he was not a part of the fix. A claim he never made about any of the others.

  15. Kiko Jones

    My contempt for the Baseball Writers Association of America is no secret among my fellow baseball geeks. But contempt requires at least a modicum of respect. No more.
    Here’s the fun part: with no living, breathing inductees–a former player, owner, and ump, all deceased, are the only ones to be inducted–who’s gonna turn up in Cooperstown or even watch on TV? (Man, the HoF museum folks must be pissed as all get out.) So, they’re going to re-honor Lou Gehrig and Rogers Hornsby and a host of others under some pretext. No, thank you.
    Put aside the PED suspicions of Bonds, Clemens and the bullshit guilt by association that’s keeping Bagwell out; jerk Morris, Trammell, etc. another year; fine, OK. But there is NO valid excuse for Biggio and Piazza not being inducted this year. Disgraceful.
    Sending in any empty ballot has consequences, namely to the players lacking in percentages to get in to the Hall. This is what I’d like to see come from this debacle:

    a) voting privileges revoked for anyone who sends in an empty ballot; and

    b) HoF inclusion to be decided not only by the BBWAA but a committee including HoF players, respected baseball journalists and even fans.

    Bottom line: in light of current developments, to continue to leave this great responsibility in the hands of the petty, disgraceful, sanctimonious BBWAA is no longer feasible.

    Like it or not, Baseball was resurrected by the so-called steroid era. (To Selig’s credit he hasn’t been too hypocritical about it, as far as I can tell.) I was married at the time of the McGwire-Sosa HR race and my-then wife–a native of Argentina, where they know diddly squat about baseball–was so into it she bought me a Sosa Cubs jersey (which I still own and occasionally wear).
    As for the writers, despite all their access, not one said a word while it was going down. Which means a) they looked the other way; or b) they are inept. Neither one looks too good on the resume. Yet, now they are trying to be all high and mighty. Which is why I say to them, fuck you and the hypocritical, sanctimonious horse you rode in on!

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