Written by Jonathan Leshanski
Published: 09 July 2007
Watching Craig Biggio become the 27th Major Leaguer to join the '3,000 Hit Club' was one of those special moments of the game. It’s a remarkable accomplishment in a year where there will be a lot of records broken and milestones passed. Some we will applaud and remember for years to come, others we are going to look at with skepticism and probably dismiss as totally artificial.
A little over a decade ago we would have looked at Sammy Sosa and his 600th home run and called him a lock for the Hall of Fame. We would have thought the same of any man who could break Hank Aaron’s all time home run record. Yet today we question the validity of anything that Barry Bonds or Sammy Sosa have managed to accomplish.
But is that fair? When other milestones are passed, such as Biggio’s 3000th hit, we’ll look at him and his scrappy style of play, take into consideration the rarity of a player staying with a team his whole career as well as that magic number of 3,000, and decide that he’s a Hall of Fame worthy.
Later this season we will find ourselves applauding Tom Glavine when he notches win number 300 and we'll expect that to be an undisputed credential for entry to the Hall of Fame and we’ll accept the career numbers of both of them without batting an eyelash.
Some people would say that part of that reason is racial, that the color of the skin plays a large factor in our perception of the deeds of these men. And maybe for some people it does, but I hope the majority of baseball fans look a lot further than that and try to judge these players by their accomplishments, rather than their color.
But there is more to it than that. The fact that neither Glavine nor Biggio hit home runs for a living, and the fact that Glavine isn’t a power pitcher help us dismiss the fear that their numbers were inflated by performance enhancing drugs. That’s not a provable assumption, but one we feel comfortable with and it’s a reflection of the type of players that we’ve perceived them to be. Glavine and Biggio have always been team leaders on and off the field. They’ve played their hearts out and shown a love of the game that defies the mercenary stereotype of the modern ballplayer. They’ve given back to the fans and always been hometown favorites, not just with the fan, but with the media and not just in that hometown market. They’ve gotten through their careers on heart, brains and willpower so much so that they have earned respect everywhere in the baseball world. In short they’ve been the kind of player you’d hope your own kids would emulate.
You would be hard pressed to say that about either Sosa or Bonds because of their history. But they have credentials, tainted though they might be which have polarized both fans and writers which have to be considered in making their cases for the Hall.
In analyzing Bonds and Sosa you realize that you just can’t paint them with the same brush. There is a reason that Sosa has been nicknamed “Smiling Sammy” and there is the fact that Sosa, despite allegations, has never been proven to use steroids. Sure his denial of steroid use during the Congressional baseball hearing on the issue was weak, and came off making him look as guilty as heck, but looking guilty isn’t proof - yet that was enough for most of us to condemn Mark McGwire.
Sammy’s second strike came via a corked bat. Admittedly he was mired in the biggest slump of his career at the time but that didn’t justify what can only be deemed as cheating. It wasn’t exactly Sammy’s finest hour – and it only got worse when he admitted to owning the bat, but offered the incredible explanation that the bat had only been intended for use in batting practice. Needless to say that strained his credibility a bit further.
That might actually have been the more damaging moment to his chances of making the Hall. Even if his poor explanation for that bat was true it came off as a lie, and that is something that everyone remembers. And if he lied, how far a leap is it to believe that he knowingly cheated, especially with that weak denial of steroid use floating about in our heads?
Then there is the case of Barry Bonds. Between his denials, being caught out using steroids, his bulked out body and his temper tantrums, Bonds and credibility aren’t really words that are often used in the same sentence. Even the most devout of Giants fans don’t really want to talk about it, and between BALCO, Federal investigations, tax evasion accusations, an alleged mistress, and leaked Grand Jury testimony the number of the faithful who believed that Bonds was honest have dwindled to less than a handful.
Point blank, Bonds is tainted, as are his records, but can we say that Bonds doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame? That’s the controversial issue that haunts all sportswriters, especially those who will one day vote on whether Barry belongs in the Hall of Fame. Certainly many things will count against him, especially his relationship with the media and all the bad publicity that has gone along with it. Is that racially motivated?
I can’t judge that since I can’t see into the heads of other writers but I’d say that Barry has always been his own worst enemy. His tantrums, denials and fury at the media and writers searching for the truth, as well as the perjury which he committed regarding steroids are an albatross around his neck. Even if we can put that behind him and judge Barry by the numbers, which numbers do we judge him by? The home run total which surpasses that of Henry Aaron? Just those numbers we think are steroid influenced? And if so, how do we judge that?
Judging Glavine is easy, 300 wins is still an automatic ticket to the Hall, and he’s earned it. Biggio will probably get there for 3,000 hits and his scrappy style, though I don’t see him getting in on the first ballot. But Bonds and Sosa are question marks. While it’s hard to dismiss what they’ve done it’s hard to believe in everything they accomplished. Sammy has better credibility than Barry when it comes to steroids, and he’s always had a much better relationship with the media, but his numbers won’t be anywhere near as good on the day they both hang up their cleats. In the end they will both have to be considered borderline players and the Baseball Writers of America when they vote will have to make their decisions based their belief in those statistics, but the credibility of the player, and moral issues as well.