The Ballpark Penalty

Fun idea from Brian Kenny – though I’m pretty sure he was joking. Of course, Brian knows me well enough now to know that I take even jokey ideas and do way too much with them.

He suggested if you want to penalize the players you suspect of using steroids but don’t want to disqualify them -- a reasonable position, I think -- what you should do is go to Baseball Reference and plug their careers into the worst possible ballpark context. That would significantly penalize the player's career numbers but if they were TRULY great then that should (or at least might) shine through.

So, yeah, I did that.

For hitters, I used 1968 Dodger Stadium. I could have gone back and used an old Deadball Park, but that didn’t seem right – that was a different game. How would the players who have in any way been connected with steroids do in that awful hitting environment?

Let me add just one more caveat: I used players whose names have been CONNECTED with steroids. I am not saying that any of these players did or did not use; I don't know except for those who admitted using. We don’t know for sure. But the connection has been made, and those connections, unquestionably, have played into the Hall of Fame voters minds.

Here we go:

-- Barry Bonds: .258/.394/.525 with 634 homers, 441 stolen bases, 1,486 RBIs, 1,658 runs.

Well, the batting average took a HUGE hit, but Bonds walked so much and hit with so much power that his Hall of Fame case is still exquisite, especially when you consider how many bases he stole and how good a defensive outfielder he was.

-- Sammy Sosa: .233/.297/.454 with 499 home runs, 203 stolen bases, 1,182 RBIs, 1,051 runs.

I’ve taken a surprising bit of heat for voting Bonds and not voting Sosa – the line is that it is an inconsistent vote because I'm voting for one likely steroid user but not voting for another. That's not my thinking. Sammy Sosa hit home runs. That’s basically his entire case -- home runs and the joy he infused into the game. I think that’s clear when you show his numbers this way. The batting average, the on-base percentage, even the slugging percentage are not Hall of Fame worthy for a slugger. don’t think hitting home runs in the steroid era is enough to make someone a Hall of Famer.

Many disagree. My favorite descent came from someone who said, “What about Babe Ruth? What else did he do besides hit home runs? Steal bases?” He actually brought up BABE RUTH, who was a superstar pitcher in addition to his .342 average, his .474 on-base percentage and his all-time record .690 slugging percentage.

-- Manny Ramirez: .260/.350/.487 with 436 home runs, 432 doubles, 1,234 RBIs, 1,041 runs.

His case does become shaky now – but he still had a near .500 slugging percentage in a place where players had slugged .290.

-- Jeff Bagwell: .256/.356/.464 with 372 home runs, 406 doubles, 1,148 RBIs, 1,097 runs.

I don’t think it’s right to charge players with anything without proof. Jeff Bagwell has denied using steroids, and it’s right to take him at his word. That said, it is a point worth making: If Bagwell had been caught using steroids, the way Palmeiro or Manny was, or if he’d had some intriguing arrows pointing at him like Bonds and Clemens and Sosa and others, he would not be in the Hall of Fame.

-- Pudge Rodriguez: .251/.285/.393 with 251 homers, 463 doubles, 923 RBIs, 932 runs.

It was uncomfortable watching Rodriguez talk his way around the steroid issue when asked directly about it during the press conference. It’s clear – and it has been consistent – that he doesn’t want to flat out DENY that he used them, but he doesn’t want to flat out ADMIT that he used them. He spoke in a roundabout way about how hard he worked as a player, and how baseball has changed, and how he’s happy that baseball has changed. Eventually, he was asked in a yes/no way, and he said he did not use steroids, but it wasn’t exactly with conviction. Pudge’s offensive numbers are not what got him into the Hall of Fame – he’s in for his extraordinary defense, absurd longevity and general leadership. I suspect the MVP Award, the 311 homers and 572 doubles did help.

-- Rafael Palmeiro: .246/.321/.436 with 458 homers, 2,484 hits, 1,284 RBIs, 1,176 runs.

Palmeiro still strongly denies that he used steroids … his Hall of Fame case really built around his career numbers. He was a good player for a very, very long time. He got to 500 homers and 3,000 hits. With the PED Penalty, he falls well short of both.

-- Gary Sheffield: .250/.344/.442 with 419 homers, 2,218 hits, 1,210 RBIs, 1,179 runs.

A bit better offensively than Palmeiro but by the numbers his defense crushes his case.

-- Mark McGwire: .227/.348/.504 with 481 homers, 1,042 RBIs, 859 runs.

After the penalty, McGwire is left with 1,360 hits. He still hit with a lot of power – that .500 slugging percentage in Dodger Stadium really is impressive when you compare him to the rest of the candidates.

And for fun, we’ll do one pitcher, Roger Clemens, only we put his career in Coors Field in 2000.

-- Roger Clemens: 347-208, 4.09 ERA, 4,759 Ks, 1,908 walks, 1.388 WHIP.

You could argue that the ERA would disqualify Clemens – but all those strikeouts. By the way, in 1997, even with the penalty, even at Coors Field, he is estimated to go 22-7 with a 2.62 ERA and 292 strikeouts.

There you go. Have some fun with it.