Well, it turns out that this one was pretty easy to write. There are three guys left, all of whom have some stink of PEDs on them, to varying degrees. Just as a reminder, my criteria with these guys is pretty simple: If they would have been Hall of Fame-caliber without the PEDs, or if they were really, really good before the PED explosion, they're in.
An aside - I couldn't stand a single one of these guys. Not sure if that says more about them or me...probably me.
Mike Piazza - Kind of a pretty boy, and an absolute butcher behind the plate, but man, could he hit. He was, famously, a 62nd round draft pick, made as a favor to Tommy Lasorda, which is weird because it really didn't take him long in the minors to show that he could hit; in a Low-A season at age 20 he hit .268 but slugged .444, was so-so in his first year in High-A, but had a good year at 22 in Bakersfield (.277, 29 HR, .884 OPS) and tore the living hell out of the Texas League and the PCL in 1992 (.350, .587 SLG, 1.000 OPS). Those are big-number leagues - the PCL particularly, and especially in the 80s and 90s (it was chock full of guys like Luis Medina and Dave Clark and Ryan Klesko, guys that would pile up big AAA offensive numbers that only marginally translated to the bigs) - but he could clearly hit. His major league numbers are a perfect progression of his minor league numbers - and given that Dodger Stadium at that time was one of the great pitcher's parks, that's really saying something. Unless he found the PEDs when he was in low A-Ball (which is entirely possible), there's no real "leap" evident like there are with some oft the other guys (cough...sammysosa...cough)
Putting that aside, and wading back into his (possibly inflated) career numbers, his first six most-comparable players are all HOF Catchers: Bench, Berra, Carter, Fisk, Hartnett, Dickey. The next two are Posada and Duke Snider. That's pretty good company, right?
Or, how about this - he never won an MVP, but he finished in the top 10 seven times and had a career MVP share of 3.16. That's 30th all-time, also pretty fast company...the only guy not named Pete Rose above him not in (or a guaranteed lock to get in) is Dave Parker. Manny Ramirez and Vlad Guerrerro are just behind him and might not make it, but his neighborhood is full of HOFers.
I don't know that he'd be in those neighborhoods without PEDs. I do know this - while he was active, there was talk of whether he was the greatest-hitting catcher ever. I don't think he was (I would actually go for Ernie Lombardi) - but the fact that we could even have that conversation puts him in for me. Verdict - In, and it's not all that close.
Roger Clemens - another legendary douchebag, pretty much from the time he showed up. I won't recount it all here, it's all out there.
What I will recount his what a freight train he was early in his career (and man, but do I love this shit).
I started to write this the way I always do - by pulling up a player's baseballreference.com page to see what jumps out at me...and in Clemens' case, the first thing I notice is that he won back-to-back CYAs in 1986 and 1987, then finished sixth in 1988. Then he didn't get a vote in 1989, despite going 17-11 with a 3.13 ERA, 3 shutouts, 230 Ks in 253 innings. Not his greatest year, but still - that's an ace season, right there, no question - so who won the Cy? Bret Saberhagen went 23-6 with a 2.16 ERA. Okay, fine. Dave Stewart won 20 again. Mike Moore went 19-11 and finished 3rd (classic misunderstanding of "value" there - nobody expected him to do it, so he was "valuable." Grrrr), Blyleven, Nolan Ryan, fine. But you know who got 3 votes? Jeff freaking Ballard, going 18-8 with a 3.43 ERA and a grand total of 62 strikeouts in 215 innings. I remember articles about how Ballard had "finally figured things out"; those same writers then wrote the "What's wrong with Jeff Ballard" articles in 1990, when he went 2-11. Ah, baseball writers and award voters. Your stupidity never ceases to amaze...three separate writers looked at the landscape of 1989 American League pitchers and made a CONSCIOUS CHOICE to say that yes, Jeff Ballard is a better pitcher than Roger Clemens. Duh.
Whoa, got off on a tangent, there.
I don't know when Clemens started doing PEDs...but I don't think it was early in his career. It wasn't when he was 20, when he went 7-2, with 1.33 ERA and 95 Ks in 81 innings in AA and AAA, or when he was 21, when he went 2-3 with 1.93 ERA and 50 Ks in 46 IP in AAA, or in any of his early 24-4 or 21-6 / CYA seasons - it's hard to look at his body at that point and think he was juicing, unlike in his later seasons. My guess is he started around 1997, coming off four so-so seasons...and when he started another dominating stretch.
So look at his career through 1996: 192-111, 3.06 ERA, 38 shutouts, three Cy Young Awards, an MVP, 2590 strikeouts. That's a fringe candidate if he never pitches another game, and he would at already be in the conversation as having the highest peak of any right-handed pitcher in history. Then add four more Cy Youngs, another 162 wins, another 2000 strikeouts, and he's one of those guys that's actually overqualified, that would ordinarily get a flurry of "how can Roger Clemens not be a unanimous selections" articles written later this week. He killed any chance of those articles being written via his rampant assholery, but still: Verdict - in. Obviously.
Barry Bonds - Another legendary douchebag, and not to get all anticlimactic here, but honestly? The less said about Barry, the better.
The simple fact is that he was probably a HOFer long before he, famously, saw McGwire and Sosa getting all the publicity with the Maris chase and decided he wanted some of that action.
He was on track for the HOF at 28, coming off three MVPs and a 2nd place in four seasons, 222 HR, 280 SB, 801 runs, .391 career OBP, .536 career SLG...he was still at his peak, and was probably a 90% chance to make it with a normal career progression from that point. Take it out four more years, and he's probably in if he never plays another game - at that point he had 374 HR, 417 SB - and was still pounding out .300 seasons with 1.000 OPS. In Barry's case, the PEDs just killed his normal decline and launched him from "ordinary" Hall of Famer to all-timer (his comps are, in order: Mays, Aaron, Ruth, Robinson, Griffiey, ARod, Ott, Palmeiro, Ted Williams, Manny. Wow.) Verdict - In. Now let us never speak of him again.
My final ballot:
- Barry Bonds
- Roger Clemens
- Mike Piazza
- Craig Biggio
- Jeff Bagwell
- Fred McGriff
- Rafael Palmeiro
Note that I don't necessarily think that this is what will happen, just my own personal ballot. At a guess, I don't think that McGriff or Palmeiro will make it (not yet, anyway), Bagwell is probably iffy, and it wouldn't surprise me to see Jack Morris get in.
This has been fun - as I said above, I really do love this stuff. I've written about my love of the Macmillan Baseball Encyclopedia before, and it was and is a wonderful book. But baseballreference.com? Man, that's a scary, dangerous place. I could spend hours and hours and hours there; when I'm writing this stuff I invariably have twenty separate tabs open in my browser. Thank god for break time at Apple and late nights at home with my iPad.
And I got it done, in time for the announcements! Yay me!