Bagwell: V

I’m done blogging about Bagwell—and not merely because of the 8,000 of you who overloaded this blog with you-suck-the-anal-hair-of-an-emu messages. I’m done because I’m done. Time to move on to more important things, like boogers and Dick Clark.

But, as a final word, I invited J.J. Stankevitz, a University of Missouri journalism student who disagrees with me, to have his say. J.J. and I met up on Twitter, and he seems like a good guy. I know many people here don’t agree with me on this one, but—nonetheless—I love the debate. For the most part it’s healthy and entertaining and educational. So thanks.

And merry 2011 …

I’m not here to speak for backers of Jeff Bagwell across the baseball landscape. I’m here to respond to Jeff’s argument against Bagwell for the Hall of Fame.

Jeff graciously extended an offer to write a rebuttal after I made an off-the-cuff comment on Twitter panning his argument against Bagwell. I don’t think Jeff ever has done cocaine, for the record. But my point was this: I had no evidence, but I could still speculate. And that speculation isn’t fair.

Jeff did not directly accuse Jeff Bagwell of using PED. But, given the era and some observations on Bagwell’s body type, that’s enough to keep Bagwell out of the Hall of Fame.

I couldn’t disagree more.

When it comes to players from the steroid era, voters have three options in my mind:

1) Believe a player used steroids

2) Deny a player used steroids

3) Doubt a player used steroids

Denying isn’t an option, because full drug-testing records for the last 20 years don’t exist or aren’t available. Believing is only a rational option for guys who were caught or admitted something—Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens come to mind.

If you want to hold those guys out of the Hall of Fame for using PED, that’s fine. I’m not here to argue whether or not those players should or shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame.

But if you want to hold Bagwell out of the Hall of Fame because he looks like those guys and played in the same era, that’s not rational.

It’s only fair to Bagwell and all the other Hall of Fame-caliber players of his era to doubt they used PED. The burden of proof is on you, the voter, to come up with evidence that the player in question used PED. There’s no evidence Bagwell can produce to clear his name at this point. Unless you can come up with some evidence of Bagwell’s use of steroids, you can’t rationally hold him out of the Hall of Fame.

Calling into question his muscular body isn’t good enough. It’s not like baseball players haven’t been muscular in the past. And while the steroid era calls into question anyone with muscle mass, it doesn’t mean everybody ripped player did steroids.

And that Bagwell stood by and didn’t speak out against PED is hardly unique. Greg Maddux didn’t speak out against PED. Neither did Tony Gwynn. Or Ken Griffey Jr. Or Derek Jeter. The only Hall of Fame-caliber player I can think of who spoke out against steroids is Frank Thomas.

But what if Bagwell did speak out against steroids? What if he said he never took them? That still wouldn’t be enough for Bagwell detractors. Remember how things worked out when Rafael Palmeiro said he never took PED?

It’s deplorable that Hall of Fame voting for players of the steroid era has turned into a witch hunt where the burden of proof is on the players, not the accusers. Everyone’s scared to vote for a player who may one day admit to using PED, so everyone is guilty until proven innocent. (Aside: if that does happen, that PED-using player wouldn’t be the first “cheater” in the Hall of Fame)

That’s not fair. It’s not rational, either. If you’re a Hall of Fame voter who chooses to not vote for Bagwell based on performance, so be it. I’ll disagree with you like I disagree with Jon Heyman’s stance on Jack Morris and Bert Blyleven, but I won’t disagree based on an irrational premise.

In the case of Bagwell, not voting for him based on conjecture is irrational.