There was something of a minor furor over Roberto Alomar’s narrow failure to be elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame by 8 votes last month. Alomar, the celebrated second baseman whose prime in the 1990s was celebrated even at the time, famously spat in the face of an umpire while playing for Baltimore. In short, the word is that he may have ruffled more than a few feathers.
And so the cycle begins anew each year, as decorated players from the media age end their careers with impressive but not certain cases for election. Sometimes, we get the added bonus of a personal cloud hanging over a player, as in this case.
The age-old questions arise: Do we compare him to his contemporaries? Is dominance the measure of worthiness? To what extent do we consider his position, and the expected offensive (or defensive) production commensurate with it? For the era itself, we ask if league expansion has diluted the quality of competition. And surely we ask if the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PED) has distorted statistics in any one case; it certainly has in general. We’ll return to PED in a moment, but it is noteworthy that Alomar has never been even suspected, much less found guilty, of using them.
The pro case is fairly easy to make: the only peer at that position with Hall-worthy stats is Houston’s Craig Biggio. Alomar sports a career .300 batting average. That mark is generally considered one of the benchmarks of excellence for hitters. To accomplish it on average over 17 years is impressive indeed. He notched 210 home runs, a more than respectable total from that position, which to this point has not been considered one where offense is the player’s primary responsibility. He had 1134 runs batted in (RBI) and crossed the century mark for RBI in a season (another traditional benchmark of excellence) twice while narrowly missing 3 other times. He collected 474 stolen bases (SB), eclipsing 20 SB in a season 10 times, surpassing 30 8 times, eclipsing 40 four times, and 50 twice.
However, only once did he transcend his position in terms of driving in runs, with Cleveland in 1999. Most of the time, he was an above-average hitting second baseman, and not terribly consistent. Keep in mind that RBI can be team-dependent. To check for this, we would expect a very anomalous season of high RBI on a team that were the champions that year, or very close, and this is what we find in 1992, 1993, (the Blue Jays were world champs back-to-back) and 1999, with a still talented Indians team only 2 years removed from an appearance in the World Series. On the other hand, ’91-’93 were years in which he finished in the top ten for MVP voting, finishing sixth each time. He won 4 Rawlings Gold Gloves for defense at second base, an achievement we should not begrudge him, even if the Gold Gloves have been known to fall into a player’s hands for his offense.
On the whole, I’d say Alomar is a better-than-borderline Hall of Famer. It won’t be an outrage if he’s elected, but neither is it an outrage if he fails to be one.
In recent days, we have had the admission by Mark McGwire that he used steroids throughout his career, and especially during his record-breaking year of 1998, when he hit a then-record 70 to set aside Maris’ 61 in ’61. If these numbers had not been tainted, both the 70 HR and the 583 career HR would have made him a mortal lock, as they say, for Cooperstown.
Now, I should preface this by saying that I’m a native of St. Louis who lives and dies by the Cardinals. And no one gave any of us more joy or pride during that time than Mark McGwire. But…he wouldn’t get a vote on my ballot. Not today, not ever. We simply cannot evaluate him alongside the other greats of the game due to the substances’ impact. It’s not moralism, it’s just reality.
I suggest a standard 100 HR penalty for purposes of Hall election for any known user of PED. Keep the records, but adjust. If the player still falls above that previously hallowed 500 HR level and/or has other things to recommend him, by all means, open the doors. I would note that a 100 win (or save) penalty would end PED use among pitchers immediately. But I digress. The obvious conclusion in light of my suggestion is that McGwire simply wasn’t good enough, given what we know, for the Hall of Fame.
Jason Kettinger is a contributing editor to Open for Business.