Baseball Hall of Fame: Craig Biggio and a story of suspicion

Bob Levey

Reflecting on baseless accusations and how one year can change a 20-year career.

I heard a story the other day.

This being Hall of Fame season, many of my conversations over the past month have turned to the worthiness of former Astros. As it does from time to time, the specter of illegal drug use came into play. Both Biggio and Bagwell have been accused of using and proclaimed innocent as the driven snow so many times with me, I lose count.

But, the other day, I heard a story I hadn't before. In discussing Biggio, this individual told me a former player swears Bidge used steroids for one year, got scared because of what it did to his power numbers and quit altogether. In this story, Biggio never used again.

Now, let's assume I believe this story. Let's assume that I trust the third-hand account from a former player who may or may not have directly seen Biggio using. There are a myriad of holes in this argument, but it does fit with comments made by Jeff Pearlman and that time Chipper Jones or John Smoltz accused him of using (even as it seemed ludicrous at the time).

Let's assume this story is true and air-tight. We're left with two questions.

First, how much would that one year matter?

Is a cheat a cheat forever? Does one indiscretion mar him from ever being redeemable? Pete Rose is nodding sadly and Shoeless Joe Jackson is nodding in a field of corn somewhere.

Let's say BIggio did use for one year out of the 20 he spent in the majors. How do we rectify his legacy in that context? Are all his numbers null and void?

Some would say yes. There are absolutists out there on cheating that will say if he did it once, he's out forever. He can't be trusted. He cheated, end of story.

I wish I could take that stand. I applaud those of you who do. I just can't. I see too much gray. Sure, in this hypothetical situation, Biggio would have used a substance that was against U.S. law but not against the rules of baseball. Gambling has always been against baseball's rules, hence Shoeless Joe and Charlie Hustle not being in the Hall.

I also see, though, other players and people connected to baseball who are in the Hall despite breaking the law. Ty Cobb savagely beat multiple people while he played baseball and he's in. Cobb is an easy target. What about Tony LaRussa? He was arrested on DUI charges. Driving while intoxicated is arguably much more dangerous to the public health than taking steroids. Yet, LaRussa sailed into Cooperstown earlier this month.

With Bonds and Clemens, the case is easier for the anti PED crowd. They used for an extended period of time (allegedly) and are forever tainted. Their pre-PED numbers are (allegedly) good enough to get into the Hall, but that taint will never leave them wholly clean.

That's why I ask you: what if it were just one year? What if it were just one month of that year? Six weeks? Is there a cutoff of acceptable use?

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Brett Davis-US PRESSWIRE

The second part of this scenario also gets at its implausibility. If Biggio used steroids for one year and then swore off them for their effect on his power, show me that year.

Really.

Show me when it happened. Here are his career numbers, courtesy of Baseball Reference:

Do you see a clear indicator? Do you see a player who took a leap in power that quickly went away?

No.

I see a player who hit his peak, his prime at Age 27 and saw a corresponding growth in power. I see a player who for 12 years, from 1993 to 2005, saw that power remain steady. I see a player who's slugging percentage basically stayed the same, except for a down year in 1996 and an injured year in 2000.

I see a player who was one of the best doubles hitters in baseball history. The problem with doubles is they sometimes find their way out of the ballpark. Other times, they stay inside the walls. We don't have the data, but I'd be fascinated to see Biggio's spray chart for 1993 and 1994. He hit only six home runs in the strike-shortened '94 season, but had 44 doubles in 200 less plate appearances. How many of those doubles were homers in '93?

Craig Biggio didn't have one Brady Anderson season in him, where he jumped up to 50 home runs out of nowhere. He matured, got out from behind the plate and his power took off in a prolonged, consistent way. Between 1993 and 1998, Biggio posted five of six seasons with OPS+ over 130. In that span, he had a collected OPS+ of 135, meaning he was 35 percent better than the rest of the league for a six-year span.

Even if I believed the PED story I heard about Biggio, I see no tangible proof that if affected his numbers. I see no proof that it altered his career trajectory in a meaningful way. I see no smoking gun that leads me to credit this as more than just idle gossip by former player and sportswriters.

Of course, in the court of public opinion, that's enough to convict.

It's never going to be enough for me.

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