A new way to think about Hall of Fame voting

January 23rd, 2018

Let's try a quick thought experiment regarding that most intractable of topics: What are we supposed to do with suspected (and known) PED users in regard to the Hall of Fame?
There are two overpowering lines of thinking on the subject. We know those by heart.
1. Performance-enhancing drug use makes a player ineligible for my Hall of Fame vote.
The view here is that these players knowingly cheated the game, cheated those players who were clean and cheated the fans. From this vantage point, there is absolutely nothing these players can do to earn Hall of Fame election. They are unworthy of the honor no matter how well they might have played the game.
There are many problems with this argument, ones that have been brought up countless times, so we are not going to bring these up now. Instead, we go to the second line of thinking.
Hall of Fame coverage
2. PED use -- particularly before testing began -- was an unfortunate part of the game, a game that has a long history of players who thrived via cheating (including those who took drugs to increase their energy and focus). The Hall of Fame is a place for the best players, regardless of their blemishes, and this includes those players who used PEDs.
There are many problems with this argument, too, but, again, there's no point in rehashing them now.
These two sides will never meet. There are those who might get worn down by the fight or simply give way to the realities of the time, but there seems to be no middle ground to find here.
Maybe there is, though. This is the thought experiment. What if you believe both that: a. PED use was cheating even before testing; and b. it is not an offense that should blot out everything the player did in the game nor make that player permanently unworthy of the Hall of Fame? Is there a way to balance both opinions?

Well, what about this: What if we simply knock 25 percent off the career numbers of those we strongly suspect of PED use?
I'm obviously just picking a number out of the air. You can make the number whatever you want. But think about the idea of using a penalty of some kind. If you think about this, we do this already with the Hall of Fame voting. Voters penalize Edgar Martinez for being a DH. They penalize Larry Walker for playing in Coors Field. 
Gaylord Perry was briefly penalized for using spitballs. Maybe you think that PED use is much worse than any of those things. Well, a 25 percent penalty is much higher, too.
The trouble with the 25 percent thought experiment, obviously, is that it doesn't quite get the two players who have become the poster players for the PED question -- Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.
If you cut 25 percent of the production from Bonds, he'd still have 571 home runs and 450 doubles and 1,500 RBIs and 385 stolen bases and five MVP Awards and six Gold Gloves and 122 WAR and so on. Seventy-five percent of Bonds is still a slam-dunk first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Same with Clemens. He'd have 266 wins, which might push some voters away, but his 3,500 strikeouts, five Cy Young Awards, five ERA crowns and 104 WAR would still carry the day.
But others who tested positive (like Manny Ramirez and Rafael Palmeiro) or are strongly suspected of using (such as Sammy Sosa and Gary Sheffield) would not make it. At 75 percent, just using Baseball Reference WAR, Ramirez would be at 51.9, Palmeiro 53.7, Sosa at 43.8 and Sheffield at 45.2. That, in general terms, puts them below the line.
Anyway, it's a slightly different way to think about all this. Think about what your penalty percentage would be. Maybe it's 100 percent. Maybe it's zero. In that case, you can forget I asked.