One storyline dominates Astros news: Jeff Bagwell and PEDs. In the last 48 hours, the baseball media elite have tripped over themselves trying to rationalize their aversion to voting for Bagwell because he hit homeruns in the 1990s or rush to his defense. Objectively speaking, the latter camp has the cogent and compelling case. The "character clause compels us" camp, however, is likely succeeding at playing on people's lingering doubts about 1990s sluggers.
As someone who grew up idolizing Bagwell, I find myself stewing in vitriol when reading factually and logically weak indictments of Bagwell's accomplishments. But then I find myself pausing, and reflecting on the doubts I have wrestled with in the last five years. It reminds me that there is validity to doubt, but also reminds me that there are many ways of accessing the validity of doubt.
Remarkably, Jeff Bagwell has never found his name on a list, report, or a congressional committee hearing transcript. But as we have learned in the last five years, that fact alone does not absolve a player from any doubt—and that's a shame. In fact, sometime in 2008, I resolved myself to just believing that every player (including Biggio) injected something not on the up-and-up into their bodies for at least half a season. That way, I wouldn't continue to find myself disappointed when another name leaked. It was extreme response to a very protracted and strange series of events, though.
The few months that I tried to operate under that assumption, I allowed myself to believe that Bagwell juiced. But even then, my boyhood sense of hero worship wouldn't let the belief sit well. My belief in the validity of the belief began to waiver (as it should have). During this time, my dad and began to discuss whether or not Bagwell should be free from suspicion. My dad's nearly unshakable belief that Bagwell juiced rests in his extreme drop in muscle mass towards the end of his career.
There is certainly validity to that kind of eye ball test. Bagwell did hulk up and then stopped lifting and dropped a ton of muscle mass fairly rapidly. But if that's the only evidence that sticks, what kind of case is there to believe him to be a "juicer?"
There are three burdens of persuasion in the American judicial system: preponderance of the evidence, clear and convincing evidence, and beyond a reasonable doubt. Preponderance of the evidence can pretty much be thought of as you feel the probability of guilt is 51%. It is the lowest threshold. HOF voting is not a trial, but there is certainly fact finding, an instruction the fact finder is to follow, and then a judgment is rendered. So it does mimic the essential procedure of a trial.
Typically, HOF voting has not been about guilt or innocence on character issues. Instead, it has been about what HR/RBI/Career Hits/Career Wins threshold is appropriate for enshrinement into the HOF. For better or worse, though, the next decade, or so, of HOF ballots will include a massive amount of character judgment. While the members of the BWAA who get to cast their votes are not obligated by a burden of persuasion, I think I would find it very hard to do my job honestly with out at least paying it credence.
Why? Because Jeff Bagwell is likely going to be denied the honor of being elected to the HOF on his first ballot because of the following evidence:
- He played during the 1990s.
- He hit homeruns during the 1990s.
- Although well framed and "cut" as a younger player, he added a lot of muscle as he got older and worked out really, really hard—during the 1990s
- When his arthritic shoulder prevented him from lifting weights, he lost his muscle mass.