Noted LA Times writer Bill Shaikin recently wrote that a number of Baseball Writers Association of America members were “torn over their Hall of Fame votes” this year because Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are eligible for enshrinement for the first time, along with several other known juicers.
I’m going to probably take an unpopular stance here, but I don’t know how you keep many of these lying cheaters out of the Hall of Fame. For a few of them, their numbers were overwhelmingly worthy of the Hall long before they are purported to have started juicing. The one guy that should be a first ballot Hall of Famer is the guy we all loved to hate, Barry Bonds.
I’ll preface this all by saying I couldn’t stand Bonds. He was arguably the biggest jerk I ever witnessed wearing a baseball uniform. On top of that he was a Giant. The man was arrogant. He treated fans and teammates badly. His disdain for the press was incessant. He thought he was smarter than everybody else and better than everyone else. The guy was an out and out jerk – a womanizer, a bully, a person that used people. He even let his steroid-supplying friend rot in jail on his behalf in exchange for not testifying against him. What kind of man would do that to a friend?
But Bonds numbers were Hall worthy long before he started juicing.
In the Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance William book, Game of Shadows, a fairly accurate accounting of Bonds steroid use was chronicled. The authors were able to pin point that Bonds’ jealousy over the McGwire/Sosa 1998 Home run chase was what convinced him to start taking steroids. His ego couldn’t stomach the fact that those two inferior players were stealing all the headlines when he felt he was the greatest offensive force in the league.
In 1999, Bonds arrived at Spring Training having sculpted his body from a finesse type thoroughbred player into a massive muscle bound power hitter. It was a dramatic change and entering his age 34 season, when guys normally start to deteriorate offensively, he was just hitting his stride. Prior to Bonds’ 1999 season, look where his numbers stood after 13 years in the game:
.290 BA, .410 OBP, 411 Home Runs, 1,216 RBI, 1, 357 BBs
He averaged 32 homers per year. He was a Gold Glover 8 times. League MVP- 3 times, a 9 time All Star, silver slugger-7 times, ranked first or second in the majors in WAR – 7 different seasons, Slugging % leader three times, OPS leader five times, walks leader – 6 times, and on and on. I haven’t addressed other stats in which he dominated the league such as runs created, adjusted batting average, extra base hits, total bases and even stolen bases.
Bonds did it all and this was before he juiced. Had he not used steroids and gradually had numbers that tapered off as he aged, he still would have hit 600 homers, 1,500 RBI, 500 stolen bases, 2,000 hits, and a .400 OBP. Had his career ended after the 1998 season, I’d say he was a shoe in for the Hall.
If there was a Hall of Fame for scumbags, Bonds would be its unanimous first member.
So that got me thinking – how about The Scumbag Hall of Fame? Who would make the starting lineup? I’m going to list mine. I have two prerequisites for Scumbag enshrinement: First, the player had to be skilled at the game and a top-tier player. By top-tier I mean that he must be at least a border line Hall of Famer. There are a lot of “jerk” candidates like A. J. Pierzynski and John Rocker, but they are hardly HOF material. Second, he had to be a first class scumbag.
Left Field: Barry Bonds – for reasons stated above; additionally for being such an egomaniac that he started juicing because jealousy of McGwire and Sosa getting all the headlines when he knew that they were cheating.
Center Field: Ty Cobb – a troubled soul that few understood. The man had demons, so he took out his frustrations on the baseball diamond. He beat a handicapped heckler to a pulp. He’d sharpen his spikes in plain view of the opposition and then slid legs high to use them as weapons; a trash talker and player that would back up his words; a certified racist, something that probably had something to do with his post civil war Georgian upbringing. Ty was possibly the greatest player/scumbag that ever crossed the lines. He was really in a dark place most of his life. Who knows what really went on in that mind of his?
Right Field: Reggie Jackson – hated by his teammates; a player that would air his problems with others to the media; at times he’d bash his teammates in the press. Reggie loved to stir things up. He knew he was good, and he didn’t hesitate to express that. On the big stage, he let his bat do the talking. In one case he cheated and let his hip do the talking to defeat the Dodgers in ’78. Personally I can’t stand the guy because he hit on my wife who bought a VW Jetta from his VW dealership in the late 90’s, (long story – might be worthy of a future post one day).
First Base: Eddie Murray. This may surprise some because there are Dodger fans that liked Eddie and appreciated his contributions. Plus he was a native son. Eddie was no doubt a Hall of Famer putting up monster seasons in Baltimore, winning a World Series and MVP. It was in 1990 when the Times reported in a brief post game note that Vin Scully was a bit perturbed because Murray blew him off when asked if he’d participate in a pre-game show interview. Murray was known for blowing off the media and fans, but Vinny? Blasphemy. Maybe it was privacy that he simply wanted, but he certainly could have handled things better. This year he has had legal problems relating to an insider trading scandal, something that he settled out of court by paying over $350,000 in fines. Murray’s a reach for the Scumbag Hall, but he kind of hit a raw nerve with me over the Scully thing.
Second Base: Rogers Hornsby. What an amazing hitter. Rogers was the all time home run leader for second basemen until Jeff Kent passed him a few years back. He also won the Triple Crown twice and hit over .400 three times. He had a .358 lifetime batting average. Hornsby was also unable to get along with teammates and as a manager, his players hated him. So much so that when the Cubs let him go as their manager early in the 1932 season and eventually got to the World Series, they refused to vote him a partial World Series share. The St. Louis Browns players sent a trophy to owner Bill Veeck for firing Hornsby in 1952. Hornsby was a southern boy that had some real racist tendencies ingrained in him at an early age. He was a member of the Ku Klux Klan, but it should also be noted that during the 1920’s a high percentage of the population (over 4 million) were affiliated with that group too.
Shortstop: Alex Rodriguez. After the past 6-7 years, it seems like it was a long time ago that Rodriquez was the premier shortstop in the majors, but that was the case. Hands down he was the best shortstop and probably best overall player in the game. At the time we didn’t know he was juicing. It’s too bad because with his natural talent, he didn’t really need the extra help with chemicals to excel. Rodriguez has had on and off field incidents that have indicated that he isn’t the greatest teammate or citizen. His off field affairs and recent antics in which he attempted to pick up a couple of women while sitting on the bench during the 9th inning of a losing playoff game speak volumes about him and accurately classify A-Rod as a first class scumbag.
Third Base: Pete Rose. The all time hits leader was a versatile player that excelled at many different defensive positions, but I’ll put him at third on the all-scumbag team. Heck, he could have been a scumbag at 4 different positions – quite the feat. Rose hustled as a player and would do almost anything to win, including a controversial collision in the then meaningless 1970 All Star game that ruined Ray Fosse’s professional baseball career. Rose was a gamer and a guy that you wanted on your team because he’d give his life on the field. Off the field, as we know, was a completely different story – a womanizer and a gambler who even gambled on baseball and then lied about it for decades; his banishment from the game, and only coming clean after writing a book to cash in on his improprieties and indiscretions. Even today, Rose sells his autograph and makes a living as a sideshow act while talking with fans in Las Vegas casinos – all for a price, of course. Heck, you can even have dinner with Rose for two grand. What a swell guy.
Catcher: I’m seriously having difficulty with this position. All catchers seem to be great guys and stand-up team players. Carlton Fisk had his difficulties with some, but a scumbag? No way, that guy was a gamer and great teammate. Who would you name?
Left Handed Starting Pitcher: Steve Carlton. “Lefty” was the best in his era. In 1972 he won 27 games for the hapless Phillies, about 50% of their wins. When you faced Carlton, you knew you had a long day ahead of you. He was a given each year for being a top Cy Young candidate and 20 wins. Outside the lines we hardly knew the guy. He refused to talk to the press. He wouldn’t even submit to a post game interview for his own fans. Autographs? No way, no how. That was until he started signing them for cash after his career was over.
Right Handed Starting Pitcher: Roger Clemens. Perhaps the saddest part about Clemens is that he didn’t need to use steroids; his career was Hall of Fame caliber already. But he got greedy. The money was too much of a temptation to continue at the highest level. It’s a shame because he would have been considered one of the best ever. Now he’s remembered for testifying before Congress and making a fool of himself. Oh, yeah. Throwing a broken splintered bat at Mike Piazza was a real class act, but he thought it was a ball, right? Sounds like “roid rage” to me.