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Should Mark McGuire be kept out of the Hall of Fame because of suspected steroid abuse?

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Should Mark McGuire be kept out of the Hall of Fame because of suspected steroid abuse?

Arguments about who belongs in the Hall of Fame are common, I don’t have a vote in the matter – but I think that if he was good enough to be in the Hall of Fame before the steroid controversy, then he should be in.

Steroids do not make you a better baseball player.
Steroids help you build bigger muscles (and bigger muscles are stronger, and therefore give you an advantage) but they don’t help you hit home runs. If Mr. McGuire did use steroids, they may have actually hurt his career (some of those injuries may have been related to the “juice”).

Shot putters, bodybuilders, NFL linemen all benefit from sheer mass – baseball players do not. Shot putters and NFL linemen are naturally “big men” who work very hard, moving around big weights, in the off-season – they are big and strong and fast, but most of them would make terrible baseball players.

Professional bodybuilding is a subculture that has unashamedly embraced steroids.

There are some huge guys in great shape, but I don’t think the Yankees are going to be signing any of them to minor league contracts anytime soon.

Why so many home runs in the last 10 years?
A common argument is that is that steroid use is responsible for the increase in home runs. This simply isn’t supported by the numbers.

The real culprit for the rise in home run hitting is expansion. No matter how you look at it, adding more teams to Major League Baseball dilutes the talent level. If you add 2 teams then you have created at least 48 more “Major League” level players (the minimum roster level is 24 players).

This theory holds up if we dig into the statistics.

The numbers:
Since 1901 MLB has “expanded” 6 times (1961, 1962, 1969, 1977, 1993, and 1998).

The average home runs per team for each year before expansion and then for the expansion year(s).

Year Average Home Runs
1960 133
1961 151.67 (LA Angels, Washington Senators join AL) % change = 14
1962 150.05 (Houston Colt .45s and NY Mets join NL) % change = 1

1968 99.75
1969 129.96 (KC Royals and Seattle Pilots join AL, Montreal Expos and San Diego Padres join NL)
% change = 30

1976 93.125
1977 140.15 (Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays join AL)
%change = 50

1992 116.85
1993 143.93 (Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins join NL)
% change = 23

1997 165.71
1998 168.8 (Arizona Diamondbacks join NL, Tampa Bay Devil Rays join AL)
% change = 2

This list may illustrate that it is hard to find MLB pitchers, but clearly shows that big changes (greater than 10%) in home run production have not come from anything other than adding teams (except for the occasional “live ball” year – e.g. 1987).

For further evidence we can look at the % change over the last 19 years (throwing out the “outlier” year of 1987 to make things easy).

The average % change in home run production for the years 1988-1997 was .93% (0.009339).
The average % change in home run production for the years 1998-2006 was .72% (0.007171).

If we arbitrarily say that the “steroid era” started in 1998 – it would appear that % change in home run hitting is actually slowing down in the “steroid era”!

Real impact of steroids on MLB

Baseball has changed. Money has changed pro baseball, free agency has changed pro baseball, steroid use has not changed pro baseball. A marginal player without steroids will still be a marginal player after steroids.

The big difference in all pro sports (year 2008) is that the “average” player today is better than the “average” player 20 years ago. This is due to better coaching and better “off season” conditioning programs.

If we set the “way back machine” for 1970 you would find that most pro football teams didn’t have good off season conditioning programs, and pro baseball players thought that lifting weights would make them “muscle bound.” The outstanding players from the 1970’s would be outstanding players today, but the average MLB player from 1970 would be a “minor leaguer.”

Baseball players are superstitious

It isn’t surprising that baseball players have used steroids. Most athletes would try anything they thought might make them better. The fact is that most supplements and superstitions have no real benefit. However, if the player thinks it is helping him he will keep doing it (the placebo effect).

Only in the last 20 years have MLB teams embraced weight training (to the point that teams have integrated strength and conditioning coaches into their systems). The use of steroids naturally followed the increased effort put into off season conditioning, but will have no real impact on the sport.

BTW – If you want to argue about players that deserve to be in the Hall of Fame and aren’t – Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame, Andre Dawson should be in the Hall of Fame