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Pettitte and Giambi Could Break the PED Barrier at Baseball’s Hall

Thus far, the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame has been staunchly anti-PED use. With Andy Pettitte and Jason Giambi coming down the pipeline, could that finally change?

Back in January, when Major League Baseball was announcing its Hall of Fame Class of 2015, we got our yearly reminder than the Hall is strictly anti-steroid era. No admitted steroid user has made the Hall of Fame to date, and even the suspicion of PED use is looming over the as-of-yet unsuccessful bids of Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell. Could things be slowly changing, however? With the recent news that former-Yankee great Andy Pettitte will have his number retired by the team, and another former Yankee in Jason Giambi is hanging ‘em up, could we be getting closer to PED users in the Hall than we think?

MLB: AUG 22 Blue Jays v Yankees

Before we can look ahead, let’s look back. Three high-profile admitted or suspected PED users were on last year’s ballot: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Mark McGwire. Bonds and Clemens were on their third ballot, McGwire his ninth. How have they fared with their fates in the BBWAA’s hands? Not so great. Here’s a breakdown of percentage of votes received by year, keeping in mind 75 percent is needed for induction:

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

Mark McGwire

23.5

23.6

21.9

23.7

19.8

19.5

16.9

11.0

10.0

Barry Bonds

36.2

34.7

36.8

Roger Clemens

37.6

35.4

37.5

None of the three have come remotely close to the 75 percent of the vote required for entry into Cooperstown. Clemens came the closest in 2013 with 37.6 percent, but that year he would have needed to double his votes for enshrinement, so “close” is a relative term. Other notable PED users and suspected users have fared even worse.

Sammy Sosa received only 12.5 percent of the vote on his first ballot in 2013; that number has dropped each year, bottoming out at 6.6 percent in 2015. Another drop like that, and Sosa will be off the ballot soon. That fate already befell Rafael Palmeiro, who dropped off the ballot after receiving 4.4 percent (5 percent is required to remain on the ballot) in 2014. Other notable PED users or suspected users to fall off the ballot since 2007 include: Jose Canseco (2007), Ken Caminiti (2007), and Juan Gonzalez (2012). Dozens of other PED-era players dropped off the ballots on their first attempts, but logic dictates those players weren’t making it clean, either.

Sammy Sosa

Sosa and his 609 home runs are about to fall off the ballot completely

All of these players have one thing in common, aside from their suspected or admitted PED use; people hate them for it. McGwire lost support right around the time he wasn’t here to talk about the past in front of congress. Clemens lost support around the same time, even after a jury cleared him of perjury. Bonds still has enormous support in the Bay area, but is utterly despised everywhere else. That’s what makes the cases for Pettitte and Giambi so interesting; people actually seem to like them.

Pettitte, whose Hall of Fame case was made by Gary Phillips over at TodaysKnuckleball, last appeared in 2013, making him HOF-eligible in 2018. Giambi will be eligible the following year.  Both have admitted to PED use; Pettitte has said he used HGH in 2002 to recover from an elbow injury, but that he never used again. Giambi has admitted to PED use from 2001 to 2003, admittedly his best seasons, but has claimed to be clean since. So this is not a Mike Piazza or Jeff Bagwell situation, or even a Barry Bonds situation; there isn’t strong belief or suspicion, there is 100% verified use. Keep that in mind.

MLB: MAY 11 Yankees at Royals

So we know Giambi and Pettitte used PEDs. What about their on-the-field resumes, though? While Gary covered Pettitte in depth in the above link, I’ll highlight his accomplishments. Pettitte finished his 18-year career with a 256-153 record and 3.85 ERA. He struck out 2448 batters and posted a career 60.9 WAR. So, how does that compare to some Hall of Fame arms?

Pettitte’s 256 wins places him 42nd all-time, ahead of Hall of Famers Red Faber, Carl Hubbell, Al Spalding, Bob Gibson, Juan Marichel, Whitey Ford, and many others. His 60.9 WAR puts him 55th all-time for pitchers, better than several Hall members, including Jim Bunning and Sandy Koufax. Strikeouts? Pettitte is 36th all-time, better than Dennis Eckersley, Robin Roberts, Lefty Grove, Catfish Hunter, and many others who are enshrined in Cooperstown. Seeing as we haven’t even gotten into Pettitte’s five World Series wins and overall playoff prowess, and I’d say the resume stacks up pretty nicely.

MLB: OCT 13 ALCS - Game 1 - Tigers at Yankees

Giambi is going to have a tougher road. The numbers are good, of course. Giambi posted a career .277/.399/.516 line in his 20-year career, to go along with 440 home runs and 1441 RBI. He was a five-time All-Star and the 2000 American League MVP, though most of that was during his admitted PED period of 2001-2003, which won’t help his case. If you’re more a SABR guy, he also posted a 50.8 WAR, including a 58.3 oWAR, as he was an admittedly-poor fielder.

The home runs place Giambi 41st all-time, ahead of Andre Dawson and Jim Rice, both in the Hall. The WAR doesn’t look as good, as his 50.8 is only 283rd all-time. Still, that’s better than Hall of Famers Joe Kelley, Orlando Cepeda, Tony Lazzeri, and Ralph Kiner. Giambi’s .516 slugging ranks 67th all-time, and his .916 OPS has him 50th, ahead of Al Simmons and Mike Schmidt. While his numbers don’t pop quite as much as Pettitte’s, an argument can at least be made.

MLB: AUG 28 Red Sox v Yankees

So what sets Pettitte and Giambi apart from their PED-using (or suspected) counterparts? Admission and responsibility. Part of what detracts voters from Bonds, Clemens, and the like is the use of PEDs, but of equal weight seems to be their complete lack of responsibility and remorse for their actions. Guys like Bonds or Alex Rodriguez allowed their steroid allegations to hang over them, their teams, and their careers. Pettitte and Giambi owned it, and moved on to continued success for years afterward.

Andy Pettitte and Jason Giambi may not make the Hall of Fame. They may not deserve to, either. But considering guys like Bonds and Clemens saw an increase in votes from 2014 to 2015 (even if that increase was minute) the voters at least seem to be thinking about letting PED guys in. In Pettitte and Giambi, they finally have guys whose numbers stand up to inspection AND who showed remorse and responsibility for their PED use. Will it be enough? Who knows? What matters is that it might be, which is as much a change as we’ve seen in years.



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