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You know what assuming does to the BBWAA

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  January 6, 2011 08:47 AM

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For years, fans pointed fingers. And the BBWAA responded by defending "their" game.

"You can't make unfair accusations."

"Nothing has been proven."

"Unless he tests positive, it is unjust to make any assumptions."

Yet years after the end of the "steroid era," the BBWAA has essentially pointed a collective finger at Jeff Bagwell, denying the slugger admission into the Baseball Hall of Fame purely on association.

Now, it's the fans' turn: "Nothing has been proven."

Is Bagwell a Hall of Fame lock? Maybe so, maybe not. But the excuses baseball writers have given for not voting for him are delusional. He might have done steroids. Great. We do realize steroids weren't invented in 1992, don't we? I mean, clearly that HAS to be the only stretch in baseball history when they were used so widely.

On one hand, I love watching the BBWAA members squirm, since this was the bed they made in the first place, all the way back to Steve Wilstein, who was treated like a pariah by his "colleagues" for reporting the presence of andro in Mark McGwire's locker in 1998. In the ensuing years, as fans grew more frustrated with the inflation and lucidness of drugs in the game, it was those same writers who argued that the players weren't entirely at fault because under the rules of Major League Baseball, steroids weren't illegal. Neither is murder, but hey, blame the establishment, not the perpetrator.

But now, baseball is "clean." (We do take this break to remind you that Jose Bautista hit 54 home runs last year, nearly half his career total.) The onus for the era is back on the players and the writers are laying the blame on individuals. But the reasoning is foolhardy. Bagwell only hit six homers in his minor league career, and then went on to blast 449 in 15 seasons with Houston. Red flag? Maybe. Then again, Roberto Alomar never hit more than 12 in any season in the minors, and then went on a mid-90's stretch where he hit 22, 14, 14, 24, 19, and 20, all with Baltimore and Cleveland teams that had a number of suspected users on them. He was voted into the Hall in his second year on the ballot.

It's not fair to make that connection, you say. And you're right.

So, why Bagwell?

The sanctimonious nature of the BBWAA is such that players who stained the game shouldn't be allowed admission into the Hall. Yet what is the writers' penalty for ignoring the issue in the first place despite the controversy swirling around them daily like a Kansas storm cloud? Perhaps reporters in that era shouldn't be eligible for lifetime achievement awards. Maybe they should be revoked of certain voting privileges. Just as it's impossible to decide when the steroid era began (Just because a guy played in the 80's, he's beyond suspect? Really?), it's impossible to judge those who never failed a drug test. Partially, that's because of Bud Selig's sloth-like approach to the issue. But if Selig was slow, the BBWAA's response was that of a dump truck in reverse.

Now the baseball writers want to judge players since the sport is so clearly back on the up-and-up. I mean, a guy that had a career-high of 16 home runs, then slugs 54 four years later shouldn't raise suspicion, right? For Bagwell, it's guilt by association. His union was the one that resisted drug testing, to the point where we were forced to have Congress get involved. Let's be clear, the BBWAA was part of the problem. Very few, like Wilstein, Lance Williams, and Mark Fainaru-Wada were part of the solution. While the majority were waxing poetic about the game's greatest offensive era, those guys smelled a rat. And they were blacklisted by their colleagues for wanting to get the truth. That's not journalism, it's a club.

But for better or worse, omitting the former, these are the folks making decisions on how a player will go down in history. It really shouldn't matter this much to us. I'd just assume see Cesar Crespo's name in the Hall as I would Barry Bonds'. But the voters are just so inept in their approach to the decisions being made, that it makes it an impossible argument to ignore each year.

A lot of the members of the BBWAA will admit that the system is flawed, and we have to understand there is always going to be the codgy old-timer who uses the Babe Ruth excuse for not voting for a player in his first year on the ballot. Pedro comes to mind as a guy that should be unanimous when he's eligible. Yet, he may have to wait because the writers who haven't covered the league since 1954 don't want to break long-standing tradition.

Besides, how do you know he didn't use? You don't. But most in the BBWAA will vote for him without a second thought.

Meanwhile, Bagwell waits, judged for a crime he may or may not have committed.

ESPN's Jim Caple had this to say after the voting results were revealed yesterday: "I have a message for BBWAA members who continue to withhold votes from players who used, or are suspected of using, performance enhancers: Get off your @#*& high horse."

Like that'll ever happen. That horse is the foundation of the self-righteous keepers of the game. 

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.


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