"So why don't you tell the truth about this era?" Barry Bonds once asked me. But, to be honest, I didn't know definitively. When Ken Griffey Jr. hit his 500th home run, I said that one of the aspects that made the achievement so reassuring was that we knew Junior was clean -- a statement for which I was called out. "How do you know?" I was asked by a boss.
I get why people feel so many different ways about Cooperstown and what will forever be referred to as "The Steroids Era." What I find is that there is no guidebook to what entails a Hall of Famer or a manual defining the criteria. Most of us vote based on our own vision of what the Hall of Fame is or should be, which, in reality, means we really don't know what the Hall is supposed to be, which is a fascinating part of what goes into each ballot due on New Year's Eve.
I did not vote this year for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, Hall of Fame performers who someday will likely be inducted. Is Bonds one of the five to 10 greatest players ever? Yes. Is Clemens one of the three to five best starting pitchers ever? Yes. Someday, they may have to put players from 1990-2005 in a separate wing of the Hall and let everyone in based on talent and achievements, provided they did not test positive after Commissioner Bud Selig won his battle to get testing into the Basic Agreement.
I get the amphetamines argument. Because players in the 1950s, '60s and '70s used them to enhance performance, one wonders if some of the numbers that were posted would be what they are without beaning up. I get the argument that because owners and the Major League Baseball Players Association did not monitor the enhancements, it comes down to all of the scientific and historical data that Bill James, Jay Jaffe and so many others have provided for us.
But I get the arguments of the players who felt they were cheated out of a level playing field. I get how some voters feel that players do not automatically have the right of enshrinement -- although there are places in the Hall for adamant segregationists (like Cap Anson) and owners who allowed employees to restrict African-Americans (Tom Yawkey, for instance). I understand how some voters feel that to vote for certain players sends the wrong values message to their children, and while I disagree on the concept of the "eye test," I do so respectfully. My highly respected friend and colleague Pedro Gomez and I argued over Jeff Bagwell last month. Despite my citing his high school and college power and the fact that he couldn't lift a weight anyway during his last five years because of a congenital arthritic condition and that his closest teammate and friend absolutely insisted he was clean, Gomez felt he could not vote for Bagwell.
Fine. We have never fully wrapped our arms around how we deal with steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. We have a very good idea that players hit balls farther, that their eyesight after 35 was sharper and that pitchers threw harder and could recover more easily. But we also cannot quantify any results. We have never defined "cheating." We who vote are not judges, jurors or keepers of the gate, but we vote because baseball's Hall of Fame is so important to the sport. We vote because of all Jane Clark, Jeff Idelson and the folks in Cooperstown do to honor and glorify the game and because of how we see those players with "HOF" after their names interact as members of what may be the most exclusive club in sports.
So let's take a year to think Bonds and Clemens out. Rafael Palmeiro and Manny Ramirez have Hall of Fame numbers but tested positive after such tests were absolute breaks from the rules -- as opposed to the experimental testing, some of whose results have been leaked. They knew the rules, as Pete Rose knew the rules and what he was signing when he asked out.
Bagwell never tested positive for anything, but he was the subject of gossip and speculation (one ex-teammate who admitted steroid abuse fingered him just as Jose Canseco fingered others, but that player also accused another teammate of juicing -- a teammate that most of us would bet a year's salary was clean). Bagwell is one of the six to eight best offensive first basemen of all time, as well as a great defender and baserunner. My friend Keith Carroll was playing second base when Bagwell hit what Carroll says is the longest home run he ever saw, and they were Connecticut teenagers at the time.
Mike Piazza once asked me about something written about him because of acne on his back. Hey, Piazza is one of the greatest offensive catchers who ever lived. No positives, no proof. This is like a wedding: Unless someone steps forward, then forever hold your peace. We'll be going through this again with Pudge Rodriguez next year.
Tim Raines is the second-greatest leadoff hitter of modern times, with a higher slugging percentage than Rickey Henderson. In.
Curt Schilling didn't mature until he was 25, but he became a great pitcher -- and not just in the postseason, during which he went 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA in 19 career starts. Hey, three World Series rings in seven years is remarkable, and remember 1993, when, if he didn't follow the Phillies' horrific 15-14 Game 4 loss with a shutout (one of five times Schilling got the ball in an elimination game -- all five of which his team won), Joe Carter never would've hit the Series-winning home run. Schilling has the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in history. Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, Sandy Koufax and Schilling are the only pitchers with three 300-strikeout seasons. In.
Using Wins Above Replacement (WAR), Schilling is the 26th-best starting pitcher in history. Clemens is third, Greg Maddux eighth, Johnson ninth, Pedro Martinez 16th, Mike Mussina 18th and Tom Glavine 28th. All will eventually be in Cooperstown. If the Orioles had won either of Mussina's starts against the Indians in the 1997 American League Championship Series, in which he posted 15 innings, four hits, one run, four walks and 25 strikeouts -- including eight innings of one-hit, shutout ball in Game 6 -- there probably wouldn't be an eye raised at his mention.
Alan Trammell -- I vote for Tram every year. He was 20 years a master of his position. His throwing was close to perfect. As Darrell Evans once said, no matter where Trammell threw from, no matter how urgent the play, his throws always came to the same perfect, catchable spot. Of shortstops with 7,500 plate appearances, his OPS+ is bettered by only nine players. Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez will get to Cooperstown someday. The others in front of Trammell are already in.
It's not just 3,000 hits that gets Craig Biggio in. He made All-Star teams at catcher, second base and outfield. He was a terrific baserunner, excelled at second base and played his heart out. In.
Edgar Martinez? In. His .418 on-base percentage is the third best since World War II. Yes, he was a designated hitter, but the last time we looked, the DH has been an integral part of the AL since Ron Blomberg in 1973. And Edgar is the best DH of all time.
Larry Walker was an incredible player. He hit for power, his .313 lifetime batting average was higher than those of George Brett or Paul Molitor, his .565 slugging percentage is 13th all time, he won seven Gold Glove Awards, had a booming arm and was a great baserunner ... but he played in Colorado. Sure, some of those stats are therefore skewed, but only 155 of his 383 home runs came in Denver. But what if he had played in the old Tiger Stadium or either Yankee Stadium? In.
My biggest regret is passing on Fred McGriff. No one has linked him to the Steroids Era, but part of that era was the devaluation of the home run, so falling seven short of 500 doesn't mean what it might have. He played in two 1990s pitchers parks in San Diego and Atlanta, and his OPS+ was higher than that of Eddie Murray. His stock will be re-evaluated, as will that of David Wells, who won 237 games and started postseason games for six franchises.
And finally, there is Jack Morris. I read some of the analytic evaluations of Morris, and you'd think he was Mike Morgan. Granted, the winningest pitcher for a decade is not an automatic key to the Hall of Fame, but Morris' reliability -- his ability to toss the most eight-inning starts in a DH league since the rule was implemented -- is meaningful. Ask managers. Ask pitching coaches. Ask teammates.
A year ago, someone wrote that no player talked about facing Jack Morris the next day. That is simply wrong. I traveled the '70s and '80s with a team, worked out on the road almost every day, and Red Sox players hated facing Morris. His ferocity annoyed them. He pitched with a chip on his shoulder, knocked opposing hitters off the plate and, like Bruce Sutter in the National League, he had a pitch no one else was close to being able to throw with comparable velocity or break -- his splitter. The decline in his statistics toward the end of his career was due to the combination of throwing 18 percent more innings than any other pitcher over a 15-year period. But he kept eating those innings into his late 30s.
Those Tigers teams of the '80s were very good. Trammell was a Hall of Fame shortstop and teammate. There is a case for Lou Whitaker. Evans was ahead of his time. Sparky Anderson is a Hall of Fame manager. And a big part of what made them what they were was their edge, which stemmed from Jack Morris and Kirk Gibson.
I get why there are strong opinions against Morris getting in, and, fortunately, it's entirely based on performance -- not personal morality or the eye test, insinuation or acne. That's fine. As for the rest, to be honest, we simply do not know.
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and an analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.