I don’t think there should be any doubt that Trevor Hoffman should be in the Hall of Fame. Now that he’s made it, I’m ecstatic. I will not rehash his stellar numbers, or the “firsts” that he accomplished, or recount the stories of how he was a great teammate. There are several places you can go to read those things but if you’re reading this I suspect you’re already aware of his spectacular career both on and off the diamond. I’m not even going to take a deep dive into how some writers who didn’t think he was worthy are just attention-seeking hot-take artists who see an opportunity to sell poorly written books based on bad performance analysis by targeting a small market icon thus avoiding backlash from large fan-bases. If you’re looking for that I suggest an evening with Twitter.
I’ve read all the arguments against Trevor, and they all have a rebuttal, which in turn have counterclaims and counters to the counterclaims and so on. I like these Hall of Fame arguments, generally, but the conclusion I almost always come to is that the Hall of Fame is a museum where visitors look at plaques of entertainers. It’s a place where fans go to remember those figures that they once invested so much of their time, energy and passion. The people enshrined in Cooperstown are those believed to have accomplished something great in the realm of entertainment. Trevor Hoffman delighted and enraged millions of baseball fans for nearly two decades. Very few people will ever rise to his level of ability and his accomplishments deserve to be remembered forever. He’s the type of player for which the Hall of Fame was made. It’s peculiar that American sports fans hold up the baseball HoF to be something more than a tourist attraction in central New York State. It isn’t a church for wins above replacement, or a barometer of morality, it’s building full of sports memorabilia. Wanna see a plaque of Catfish Hunter? Here ya go! Wanna See George Brett’s bat from the “Pine Tar Game?” Here ya go! Wanna see Lefty Grove’s Jock Strap? That’s weird kid, where’s your parents?
But if HoF enshrinement is for people that entertained us what does that mean for those that used steroids? Didn’t they entertain us too? Didn’t they pack stadiums and sell beer and hot dogs and jerseys and fill countless hours of sports talk radio? Didn’t they delight and enrage us like Trevor? (Side note: Trevor never used PEDs, if he did he’d have like 4,000 saves and still be pitching)
Until recently I would have told you there was no way that someone who cheated belonged in the HoF. I was very Leitner about it to put it in local terms. But the more I think about why Trevor belongs the more I think the juicers belong too. For every argument against PED users there’s a rebuttal and counterclaim and a counter to that and so on. Just like with Hoffman, the steroid user debate ends up, I believe, in the same place; these are entertainers playing a game. The HoF is a celebration of entertainment. No one is saying let’s put Roger Clemens on the ten-dollar bill, no one is campaigning to give Mark McGuire a stamp, or naming a space station after Wally Joyner. But if we are naming space stations after PED users, I feel like The Sammy Sosa International Space Station has a nice ring to it.
There is no need to whitewash their drug use. Baseball has acknowledged the Black Sox scandal, segregation, the reserve clause, and other black marks against our national past time. The PED era will become part of the fabric of baseball. Their drug use will simply become another point to argue about like the validity of stats from pre-integrated years or how much stock we put in Ichiro’s Japanese league hits. Maybe the problem is that baseball media hasn’t figured out how to talk about or contextualize that era yet. I suppose it’s different from putting into context higher mounds, white only leagues, greenies, shorter seasons, train travel, or times when players could have their careers shortened by war, but we figured it out then and I’m hopeful we’ll figure out in the future.
If you’re against putting them in the Hall, I get it. Like I said I was very much on that side of the fence. I know I’m probably not going to change anyone’s mind on PED use and the hall. Much like how to pronounce .gif (hard G) or which wine pairing is best with a Tide Pod (Riesling), people have entrenched themselves in their positions on this matter. I thought about this for a long time, I’ve debated this with friends for a long time and, just like with Trevor Hoffman, I can’t think of a good reason we shouldn’t recognize steroid users for their contributions to the game however imperfect they might be.
You might hate the save stat and place zero value in the closer position in general, but it was valued when Trevor and Rivera were pitching. We should look at them through that lens. Through that lens Trevor is the best closer that ever pitched in the National League. Likewise, steroid-users were living in a sports culture valued python arms and 800-foot home runs. We need to look at them through that lens. Through that lens they were some of the greatest entertainers to ever delight and enrage us.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be in my fall-out shelter ignoring my Twitter mentions.
Follow Nicholas Burmeister on Twitter @PadresHaiku