Ben DuBose is a Texas-based journalist. We went back and forth on Twitter about Craig Biggio’s Hall of Fame worthiness, so I invited him here to make his case. Ben graciously agreed. You can follow him on Twitter here.
I have little doubt Jeff Pearlman is a good reporter. You don’t work at Sports Illustrated and ESPN without being thorough and professional in your work. I also don’t doubt that he interviewed hundreds of connected baseball people for his best-selling book on Roger Clemens, many of whom implicated the Astros’ clubhouse as a dirty place during the steroid era.
I don’t believe Jeff has a personal vendetta against Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, who he believes are worthy of the Hall of Fame statistically but rejects due to off-field suspicions. To the latter point, I’m sure he’s heard PED whispers about them from people around baseball in a position to know. I can’t prove otherwise and certainly don’t believe Jeff is a liar.
What I do know, however, is that hard evidence against either player would be a massive story, the likes of which Jeff would love to break. It would be a career story for him and put an even bigger cloud over the 1990s—that even two generally-respected “good guys” had tainted careers. That two prominent players unnamed in extensive investigations such as the Mitchell Report were still guilty. It would be an enormous scoop.
Understandable. There’s just one problem, though, and it goes back to one of the first lessons taught in journalism school.
Anonymous sources are notorious for lying or greatly exaggerating the truth. If substance is there, an accusation with specific evidence will eventually come out. It did for Clemens. It did for Barry Bonds. Same with Andy Pettitte. There’s almost always a weak link in the chain, and if Jeff had found it, I have no doubt that he would come forward.
The same goes for journalists in the Houston media. Myself, I work full-time in energy trade publications and only cover Houston sports on a freelance basis. (Ironically, my only season to report on baseball full-time was for MLB.com in Houston during 2007, which was Biggio’s final season). But I still stay connected with media here through freelance work and social media, including numerous Houston journalists who cover the Astros regularly, some extending back to the days of Biggio and Bagwell in the 1990s. They’ve sniffed around Minute Maid Park for years, digging to try and find that career story.
No one ever has.
Even though I grew up a fan of the Astros as a kid in the 1990s and want Bagwell and Biggio to be clean, I’m a journalist first, with a degree from Mizzou. I’d give my right arm for a scoop of that magnitude. If I had substantial evidence, I’d run with that story in a heartbeat, childhood fandom be damned.But like everyone else, I’ve got nothing of substance. The most specific claims I’ve heard are that Bagwell had big muscles, or that both he and Biggio shared a clubhouse and some relationship with Ken Caminiti—a known PED user. By that logic, should everyone in Cincinnati that played with or under Pete Rose be ineligible for the Hall, based on the blanket assumption that they must have conspired together, being in the same clubhouse? That seems a little silly.
Now, have some heard deeper rumors with the Astros? Yes. But nothing they’re comfortable attaching their name to. In fact, there’s actually a second level of anonymity at play here. Not only are no sources willing to accuse Bagwell or Biggio on the record, but they’re not even willing to have any of the specifics of their anonymous accusation—who, what, when, where, why and how—come out.
To me as a journalist, that’s a huge red flag, and it becomes an ethical issue in the context of Hall of Fame voting.
How can I hold an accusation against someone when they aren’t given the opportunity to respond to the charge?
It’s putting Biggio and Bagwell in an even worse position than Clemens and Bonds. At least with the latter two, they know exactly what they’re accused of and can respond accordingly. With the Astros’ duo, all they can answer to is vague innuendo and gossip.
And it’s not like they’ve hidden from it. Bagwell, in particular, has gone out of his way to strongly deny any steroid use. Problem is, many—including Pearlman—still don’t believe them, based on things they’ve heard elsewhere. That’s fine. Good journalists are inherently skeptical. It’s part of what makes the profession so valuable.
Good journalists should also, however, be fair.
The ability to vote in the Hall of Fame as a member of the BBWAA is one of the highest honors a baseball writer can receive. If I were in Jeff’s shoes, I’d need a very compelling reason before deciding my vote based on factors that we didn’t see on the diamond. [Jeff’s note: I don’t have a Hall vote.]
If it’s based on accusations that aren’t enough for a journalist to justify a story of their own, that’s not compelling enough. That’s gossip.
If it’s based on accusations so undocumented that the player in question can’t even specifically respond to them, that’s not compelling enough. That’s hearsay. If a journalist doesn’t have enough to run with the story, they shouldn’t have enough to make an award vote about something they didn’t see on the field. It’s not an ideal solution, and in the case of baseball’s Hall of Fame, it’s one that might lead to a PED user being inducted. But voters must remember that there’s no perfect solution available.
For me, keeping a deserving candidate out over unsubstantiated gossip is a bigger tragedy than letting an undeserving cheater in.
In my continuing effort to bring myriad voices to jeffpearlman.com, I invited Andrew Deshaies, Astros fan/Astros Tweeter/Astros blogger to come here and state his case from Jeff Bagwell in the Hall of Fame. As many know, I have no doubt Bagwell was a typical steroid era PEDer, and don’t have much interest in his candidacy. Andrew disagrees—and eloquently states his side here …
Jeff Pearlman would have had an extremely difficult time finding a worse person to defend Jeff Bagwell. First off, I’m not a writer and I have a very difficult time putting my thoughts into words without employing a barrage of obscenities or insults. I lack a degree of eloquence and the ability to have a disagreement without shattering a vase or slamming a door shut. Secondly, I’m a diehard Astros fan. And, as a result, I’m a diehard Jeff Bagwell fan. Jeff Bagwell’s rookie season coincided with my “baseball awakening.” Bagwell played a huge role in my becoming a baseball fan—and, more important, an Astros fan. In Little League, much to my father’s chagrin, I (regrettably) imitated Bagwell’s awkward batting stance and tucked my pant legs into my high top Nike cleats.
Jeff Pearlman is aware that I am an Astros fan. He’s aware that I’m a Jeff Bagwell fan. He’s aware that I think Bagwell was clean. So, yeah, full disclosure: I have a dog in the fight.
But Jeff Pearlman still invited me to contribute without condition.
So, here I am (On a side note, I would like to express my gratitude to Jeff Pearlman for this forum to express my thoughts. Although I vehemently disagree with Pearlman on Bagwell, I appreciate the opportunity that he afforded me to allow me post my opinions here).
On statistics alone, we should all agree that there is absolutely no reasonable argument that can be made denying Bagwell’s entry into the Hall of Fame. That’s a given. Love him or hate him, his statistics prove that he was one of the premier first basemen during his era and one of the best first basemen of all time—but we’re not debating his eligibility based on his statistics. What has kept Jeff Bagwell out of the Hall of Fame is a growing suspicion that his herculean numbers are a direct result of steroid use.
Steroids? I’m not buying it.
To date, I cannot recall any evidence being presented suggesting Jeff Bagwell took steroids. I cannot recall a single person coming forward to out Jeff Bagwell. I haven’t heard of any dirty needles that were located. I haven’t seen any copies of checks or receipts of purchase. I didn’t even see Jeff Bagwell’s name on the Mitchell Report.
Despite two decades of opportunity, there has been no legitimate or credible substantiation of allegations of PED use by Jeff Bagwell.
Bagwell retired in 2006 and thus became eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2011. The townspeople who are trying to burn Goody Bagwell at the stake have had ample time to present a case against Bagwell, and they’ve come up with nothing. No evidence.
How many more rocks need to be turned? How many more “look at how big he got over the years” conversations must we have? How many conversations have to start with, “I have no proof, but …”
I could understand the argument against Bagwell had someone—anyone—come forward and said they knew of Bagwell juicing. I could understand the argument if Bagwell was named in the Mitchell Report—but there’s nothing there. There isn’t any evidence.
“But, there was a huge intricate cover-up involving every single person who ever came in contact with Jeff Bagwell while he was juicing.” Let’s be realistic—we’re giving baseball players entirely too much credit. These guys aren’t exactly the Gambino crime family. I have a Twitter account, and I can come up with hundreds of examples, almost daily, of athletes blabbing information that is against their own best interests. I have a hard time believing that Jeff Bagwell took steroids and no one said a single word. …not a single word.
Players talk. We’ve had a host of do-gooder whistleblowers and a parade of unenlightened bonehead scumbags point fingers at every Tom, Dick and Harry under the sun … except no one has pointed at Jeff Bagwell.
Pearlman called the Astros clubhouse “crawling with PED”—yet, for some inexplicable reason, no one could find any evidence to nail the franchise’s most popular player. They couldn’t find an ounce of evidence to make an example out of Bagwell as none of the supposed legitimate concrete evidence ever “crawled” its way out the door. There isn’t even enough credible evidence to warrant speculation.
Actually, a former athlete has spoken up in regards to Jeff Bagwell’s supposed steroid use. In Bagwell’s defense, former teammate Morgan Ensberg Tweeted, “I think he’s clean. No one has accused him, either.” Here’s another example of Ensberg defending Bagwell.
Jeff Bagwell played his last full season of baseball in 2004. Through severe shoulder pain, Bagwell mustered up 123 plate appearances in 2005, including taking a few agonizing cuts in his only World Series appearance. He was 36 in 2005—which, by today’s standards, means he would have likely had a few more years of sticking around and earning a Big League paycheck. Instead, he officially retired in 2006. It seems to me that a ‘roiding Bagwell would have gone the Andy Pettitte route and loaded himself full of juice in hopes of healing his shoulder, prolonging his career and not having to go Ol’ Yeller on his aspirations of hitting his 500th jack.
At 36, his declined productivity and eventual retirement, is on par with many pre-steroid era Hall of Famers. It isn’t as if Bagwell was in the prime of his career as he was pushing 40.
And I’m not sure why Jeff Bagwell is under suspicion while the public allows others to slide. What exactly dictates who is and who isn’t under investigation? We let guys like Andre Dawson, Roberto Alomar and Barry Larkin in, and we’re not 100 percent sure what drugs they did or didn’t take while they played. I’ll be really interested to see how this affects Derek Jeter’s candidacy once he retires and becomes Hall of Fame eligible. Derek Jeter has played with admitted users like Jason Giambi, Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, Jim Leyritz, Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield. Jeter has played with several guys on the Mitchell Report. Jeter is 38 and coming off one of the best seasons of his career—how is he above suspicion if we’re using the same cockamamie line of reasoning to crucify Jeff Bagwell?
For the record, I don’t believe Derek Jeter, Andre Dawson, Roberto Alomar or Barry Larkin used steroids—but, if we’re convicting Bagwell without evidence, we should at least entertain the possibility that Jeter used too, right?
And what about Albert Pujols? Or John Smoltz? Or Randy Johnson? Are they guilty, too?
Without any evidence, we have to either convict them all or not convict any of them.
We cannot go around convicting folks of something without a single morsel of evidence—there isn’t even any reasonable speculation. I would rather be proven wrong by voting for Jeff Bagwell and finding out he used than not to vote for Bagwell and find out that he didn’t. Essentially, we’re left looking for evidence that we’re not sure even exists to convict someone of something we’re not even sure they did.
… and nothing is uncovered.
… and time marches on.
From the sidelines, it is one cheap potshot after another. Everyone has an opinion but no one can or is willing to provide anything to back it up. It should make any reasonable person’s brain hurt.
Pearlman accused me of wearing “the blinders of fools” because I insist on Bagwell’s innocence. But if I go along with his line of reasoning, wouldn’t I be blindly following Pearlman because he hasn’t provided any legitimate evidence proving Bagwell’s guilt?
“The blinders of fools”? I’m not sure what that even means.
I will proudly wear “the blinders of fools” if that means that I don’t have to run someone’s name through the mud without having any evidence—but we have to assume that unless Pearlman is withholding “the dirty needle,” then, he too, is wearing “the blinders of fools.”
Houston is easy to pick on—I get it. We’re overlooked when it comes time for the Super Bowl, our basketball titles came in Jordan-less years and we even got passed over when the government doled out the space shuttles … even though we’re Space City. We’re used to it. As an Astros fan, my team has had two consecutive 100-loss seasons and is going through a very unpopular demotion into the junior circuit. Rival newspaper rags cleverly declare “Houston, You Have A Problem” as the losses mount. And things are looking worse for 2013. We’re used to it.
That being said, there is not a doubt in my mind that most of the suspicion surrounding Jeff Bagwell is a result of him being a member of the Houston Astros—a city and an organization that the rest of the country really doesn’t give a damn about. If Bagwell played for the Yankees, he would have already been enshrined. But Bagwell played for the Astros. Picking on Houston and picking on Jeff Bagwell is the easiest route and a lot of credible people with plenty of sway are using Bagwell and these unfounded/disrespectful steroid allegations as a platform to make themselves larger than the game they cover. They’re trying to make an example, and Jeff Bagwell is in the wrong place at the wrong time—and that is a damn shame. And, all the while, the National Baseball Hall of Fame is wrestling with its legitimacy—not because of steroids, but because of a collection of witch-hunting sportswriters who would rather see their own names in their own newspapers than perform a job they were entrusted to do.
This isn’t about selling books or keeping the newspaper industry alive—this is about writers irresponsibly wiping their holier-than-thou butts with another man’s legacy for the simple fact that they can, and no one is stopping them from doing it. They have the right and they have the platform—and our only defense is to choose not to read it.
If we find out that Bagwell is guilty and Pearlman is right, then let’s grill Bagwell’s ass. Let’s run him through town and tar and feather his ‘roiding ass. I will be the first person in line because I’ve come to his defense more times than I care to mention, and, God, I hate looking foolish.
I defend Bagwell because I believe him. And if it turns out that Bagwell is screwing me, then to hell with him.
I believe Jeff Bagwell.
I realize my arguments are stale. You can Google “Jeff Bagwell Steroids” and find 20 different articles written by twenty different authors who are making the same tired old argument that I’m making right now. This isn’t breaking news. I’m not saying anything new or enlightening—but neither is the counterargument. We’re playing tug-o-war with the truth and no one seems to want to budge. We’re at an impasse.
So it is time for those who are accusing Bagwell to step forward and reveal what they know. This has become an exercise in futility, and, as cliché as it sounds, it is time to put up or shut up. If you’re going to say that Bagwell used, you must provide evidence. M-U-S-T. Writers are making these types of accusations without stating any facts whatsoever or providing any evidence whatsoever and then rolling their eyes at the rest of us because some people choose not to take their word as gospel. These are serious allegations and no one cares to elaborate any further on “trust me, he did it.” … and I am the one wearing “the blinders of fools” because I require a little more than that? If writers are going to say something that trashes someone’s legacy, they should say what they know and stick their name to it—there isn’t any other acceptable way to do it. Period. They should attach their legacy to it. There has been plenty of time, more than enough, to develop any sort of case against Jeff Bagwell, and no one has come forward with any reasonable evidence.
And, until someone does, we have to assume that Jeff Bagwell was clean.