andre dawson cubsAndre Dawson was a very good player. An elite player. A player who, without the ill effects of playing on the artificial turn in Montreal, probably would have always been thought of as an all-time great (and obviously he’s a Hall of Famer).

The Hawk recently spoke at length with the Daily Herald’s Barry Rozner about his career, the Steroid Era, and the recent Hall of Fame controversy, which saw not a single player gain election to the Hall, despite a relatively loaded ballot.

Dawson says that, when he was in his latter years playing, everyone writing about the game said he was a sure-fire, first-ballot Hall of Famer. But, by the time he was eligible for election, the Steroid Era had happened, and his numbers had been dwarfed. Against that backdrop, it’s understandable that he might be pretty bitter about the whole PED thing.

“The thing is, I played a long time in the majors (21 years), and a couple more in the minors, and I didn’t play with that many Hall of Fame-caliber ballplayers,” Dawson told Rozner. “I didn’t play against more than a few Hall of Famers ….

“You knew something was wrong when numbers were getting obliterated in a short period. That many great players don’t just show up like that. It just doesn’t happen. You don’t see 40 Hall of Famers show up out of nowhere in five years.”

Of course, it’s possible that the 1990s and early 2000s simply did see a dramatic uptick in the elite talent of the league, but Dawson’s point is well-taken: the offensive numbers really did change dramatically in that era.

“The guys who took steroids disrespected the game, and disrespected the history,” Dawson continued. “Our history relies so much on the numbers, and the numbers have been destroyed.”

That point, right there, is easily resonates with me the most strongly. The singular reason that the Steroid Era upsets me so much is because it really jacked with the numbers. And, in baseball more than any other sport, the numbers are so important. Now, we don’t know what to make of them. It pisses me off.

That said, I still don’t know what we do with those feelings. Where we direct them, what choices we make in light of them. And that’s what the Hall of Fame decisions remain so difficult.

Whatever you think of Dawson’s career or his legitimacy as an inner circle Hall of Famer, I’m pretty impressed by his candor and his willingness to open up. All of his thoughts in Rozner’s piece are worth a read, including his impassioned thoughts about what juicing did to the players in the era who did not juice.

Increasingly, I’m not sure I agree with his take on the Hall of Fame – reluctantly, I’m coming more and more over to the “it’s just a museum, and it should tell the whole story” way of thinking – but I certainly can’t criticize it. When you read his thoughts, it’s not like he comes across as a bitter exclusionist who wants to keep the Hall as small as possible because it enlarges his own stature (the way I envision the veteran’s who kept Ron Santo out for so many years). Dawson has a sincerely held belief about the impact of the Steroid Era on the performances of those who came before, and those who tried to compete fairly in that era.

His stand has to be credited, even if you don’t agree with it.

  • Stinky Pete

    I think keeping these guys out is similar to Frick trying to erase Gaedels at bat or take MVPs or HRs away. They happened and you can’t change it. Pete Rose, in or out, is still famous as the all time hit leader. I agree with telling the story. Keeping them out to act like they didn’t happen seems silly.

  • Michael

    Brett what’s your take on all of this sanctity of the game talk regrading PEDs? I’m trying to understand where guys like Hawk and George Brett are coming from, when admitted cheaters like Phil Niekro and Gaylord Perry have been welcomed with open arms. What am I missing here?

    • MichiganGoat

      I think Hawks point about how it dimishes the numbers of his generation is a strong arguement. He should have been a no question 1st ballot HOF (although the fact he was an Expo hurt him dramatically) but because his name came up when the steroid era was happening made his career look weaker. It’s a complex discussion, I’m still with the “you can’t punish a player that was allowed and encouraged to take steroids” and just wish the era would be recognized and these players entered into the HOF. It’s hard to deny 600HR, 300W, 3000H club because of suspicion.

  • MightyBear

    The problem with steroids and the numbers is you can’t quantify the effects of steroids. Obviously they helped the players but how much. Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs. Does he hit 63 without steroids? Still impressive. 43? Still great. 33? good but HOF numbers probably not. Very difficult to tell how much juicing inflated numbers.

    • yield51

      If Barry’s high HR number for a single season would have been 33, and he kept his eye and speed, then absolutely he is first ballot HOF. If his career arc was similar to league average (prime 25-32 year old) he would have obviously declined in is older age rather than improve through supplements. People forget that Pittsburgh Barry was arguably the best player in MLB. He was the rare case where his career didn’t happen because of PED’s. The HR became sexy, and such the $ associated with HR’s became ridiculous. He wanted to cash in too, and it hurt his image (in multiple ways…see giant watermelon head). I would love to see Barry’s numbers if he never touched the stuff. He was Dawson 2.0 before the junk.

      • Mike

        Agreed. Barry Bonds is a Hall of Famer. There should be zero question on this. If someone wants to keep him out as a punishment for juicing, that’s their prerogative, but let’s be clear that’s what it is.

        • Grant

          If it’s acceptable to exclude the all-time leader in hits from the hall for his actions that had nothing to do with the game he played, I don’t see why players whose actions did have on-field consequences should still be honored. A line has been drawn, one that’s more-or-less been accepted by baseball fans and writers, and PED users did more to dishonor the game than Pete Rose ever did.

          That said, I see Brett’s point about it being a museum that should tell the whole story. Maybe they should just build a giant asterisk-shaped wing for players from the 90’s and 00’s.

  • Mike

    At this point, I’m pretty ambivalent about the whole HOF thing. The “controversy” has just been over-reported, as far as I’m concerned, and I’m burned out. But I will set that the only thing that really still bothers me is the smug, sanctimonious BWAA voters. These are the same guys that covered the game in the 90s and turned a blind eye to steroids because just like baseball, they were enjoying the increased prominence that the offensive production brought to the game. Now that the era is out in the open and it comes time to vote these guys into the Hall, they’re going to write columns bragging about turning in a blank ballot? Give me a *censored* break.

  • Norm

    “I’m mad about what they did to the game. I think of Hank (Aaron) and Willie and Mickey, it makes me really angry,” Dawson said. “We worked really, really hard to get to a certain level. They did it with drugs”

    Ahhhhh. Ignorance is bliss, isn’t it Hawk?
    Do you think of Hank using amphetamines? Willie? Mickey drinking “leaded coffee” to get over his hangover?
    Guess not.

    • frank

      I think though, that steroids have to be in a different class than amphetamines. That’s like comparing Morphine to aspirin.

  • itzscott

    I understand the whole uproar about steroid use in baseball and agree there should be no place in baseball for their use.

    However, amphetamines and pain killers were routinely used prior to the “Steroid Era” for the same purposes. Micky Mantle is one name that immediately comes to mind.

    Why should players from a previous generation be viewed any differently?

  • Don

    Well said Hawk! You are a true HOFer!

  • Spriggs

    The most surprising part of Dawson’s statement is that he says he only played against a handful of true Hall-of-Famers. Wow. That would seem to exclude many players who I thought were legit.

    Off the top of my head, I’m pretty sure he played against all these HOF guys. I’m sure there are many others:

    Jenkins, Bench, Seaver, Perez, Morgan, Gwynn, Larkin, Ozzie Smith, Rickey Henderson, Gary Carter, Sandberg, Stargell, McCovey, Alomar, Winfield, Ripken, Boggs, Blyleven, Niekro, Perry, Sutter, Gossage, Fingers, Brett, Yount, Puckett…

    • Spriggs

      … Nolan Ryan, Mike Schmidt…

      • Spriggs

        …Fisk, Murray, Brett, Molitar, Eckersley…

      • Spriggs

        …Fisk, Murray, Brett, Molitor, Eckersley…

    • Jim

      In the enormous amount of players that he played against, those you listed could be considered just a handful percent-wise.

      • Spriggs

        Well, his exact quote was “I didn’t play against more than a few”. I think he did. He is exaggerating greatly to make his point — or he knows a lot more than he is saying. Which is it?

        • George Costanza

          Technically, Dawson never faced many of those players because they were in the AL. Interleague play came in 1997 and Dawson retired in 1996. Totally for the two years in Boston but still man of those guys retired.

          • Spriggs

            Dawson played against all of them – in the regular season (nevermind AS games or spring training). You MIGHT be able to find an exception, but everyone you do, I can name a few others that I didn’t mention (Sutton, Carlton)….

      • Norm

        Dawson didn’t talk in percentages.
        “I didn’t play against more than a few Hall of Famers …”

    • MichiganGoat

      Great points Spriggs

    • Miggy80

      Remember that Dawson played in the National League all but two years of his career

      • Spriggs

        But he played against all the guys I listed – and probably more. Do you see any player I mentioned who he did not play against in the regular season? I have listed over 30. That is way more than a few. You could add Steve Carlton too (and probably Jim Rice).

        • John

          I usually don’t comment on this site, but reading some of these comments is very frustrating. Those players that used steroids should not be allowed into the HOF. You can make all the excuses that you want, but these guys were cheating. They put up numbers that dwarf the all time greats, and act like they have done nothing wrong. Palmerio sat in a congressional hearing and said he never used steroids, and then failed a steroid test. I seriously hope that Bonds and Clemmens NEVER are allowed to be called Hall of Famers.

          Also, I believe that the point that Dawson was making was that all the players he played against, very few were no doubt HOF worthy. I didn’t read his comments as a slam on the people he played with or against. I read it that the numbers being put up in the steroid era made way too many people look like they belonged in the HOF. And I agree with him. There were players who did it the right way, like Maddux. It is a shame that so many people are willing to overlook these guys that cheated and cheapened the records.

          If guys like Bonds get in, then it becomes even more of a joke that Rose isn’t in.

  • Jim

    I have to agree with the Hawk. There used to be a line, say 500 homeruns, you were a sure fire hall of famer. You can’t say that any more because so many players sped past that number. Is it 300 wins for a pitcher when a pitcher is juiced? Same problem. For the Hawk and maybe 99% of the Hall of Famers, they made it there with pure will and skill. The steroid era offered something extra that artificially bastardized the numbers. The Hall of Fame is a Museum, but to be a Hall of Fame is an honor. Put a wing in the HOF discussing the steroid era and suspected players, but that should be the extent of it.

  • Sam Rash

    We just need to bracket that period and do comparative WAR analysis based upon who was the best in a given era. The steroids guys are going to go in if just because there’s no possibility of denying an entire generation, especially with no hard proof for doing so for a majority of them. Another option is to just get rid of the hall of fame, which is what most baseball writers implicitly are doing with their witch trials.

  • Norm

    Hardball Talk pointed this out…but where would Andre be without the juiced year of 1987?

    1984 – 17 homers
    1985 – 23
    1986 – 20
    1987 – 49
    1988 – 24
    1989 – 21
    1990 – 27

    Wouldn’t have been MVP and would have about 20 less homers.

    • Jeremy J

      If Hawk juiced in 1987 and won the MVP what would have stopped him from continuing to do it?

      • Norm

        Didn’t say Hawk juiced….the entire year was juiced…everyone benefited. But if that aberration didn’t happen, he probably wouldn’t be in the HoF because he wouldn’t have had that MVP or 49 homer season.

        • yield51

          This is the whole point of what Dawson was talking about. People are putting way too much stock in HR numbers. His era was stuck between the Aaron/Mays/Killebrew types, and the Sosa/Mcgwire/Bonds types. Jump up a few comments and read Spriggs list of players he played against. Many of those guys didn’t share many years with Dawson. The ones that did were mostly not HR hitters. With the exception of Schmidt, Murphy, Kingman, a few I’m missing. Those guys weren’t 5 tool players like Dawson. He hit and ran better than those guys while playing GG defense, and he hit above league average HR’s to boot. There was respect given to ball players not just sluggers. This respect has been lost in translation to a new era of fans/writers.

          • Norm

            “This is the whole point of what Dawson was talking about. People are putting way too much stock in HR numbers.”

            That’s the whole point Dawson is trying to make?
            Than why does he say:
            “For many years, 400 home runs was the barrier for the Hall of Fame,” Dawson said. “You crossed that line and you had a very good chance to get in.”

            • yield51

              I guess I should have said single season HR’s mean nothing. You couldn’t survive long enough to hit 400 if you weren’t a good ballplayer. Are Greg Vaughan, Brady Anderson, or Ken Caminiti HOF’ers? Just because Dawson hit 49 that year didn’t suddenly make him HOF material. If he hit 29 he still would have broke the 400 plateau.

        • Wilbur

          And if a butterfly flaps its wings in China …

  • MichiganGoat

    Here’s my question if the HOF excluded Biggio and his 3000 hits because of the era he played, then how can Maddux and Glavine be can’t miss 1st ballot HOF they played in the same era. Now before everyone jumps me – I want and believe Maddux and Glavine are 1st ballot HOF but Biggo should have been as well.

    • Spriggs

      We’ll have to wait and see I guess. Especially in Glavine’s case. He was a very outspoken and very visible player rep and spokesman for the players. I’m sure there will be some guilt by association there. The players union in some eyes is just as responsible as the owners and writers “who turned a blind eye” on all this.

    • yield51

      I agree Biggio should have been first ballot. Glavine on the other hand I don’t think so. I would bet my life that Maddux goes in with at least 90% of votes. He not only has some of the best numbers in MLB history, he was doing it in an offensive era. Since he has never been linked (to my knowledge) to the users other than era, I think the writers make a point and he goes in with overwhelming votes.

  • Spencer

    I don’t think there is a single person in baseball that gave two shits about steroids in the summer of 1998. Was Bud Selig thinking to himself, “wow suddenly the number of players hitting home runs is sky rocketing, I bet they’re doing drugs!!” No, he was kissing the asses of Sosa and McGwire for making the sport popular and getting young kids (like myself) completely hooked on the game. And that’s the way it stayed for years.

    People were in awe of what was going on on the baseball field. It was exciting. It was fun to watch. Maybe towards the tail end of era with things like that Congressional hearing and the Mitchell Report and the mysterious 2009 NYT article that apparently suck Sosa’s chances of the HoF did people in baseball FINALLY decide that it was time to do something. But, for years, everyone in baseball – fans, media, players, managers, the commissioner – sat tacitly by in awe. They didn’t care. And if they didn’t care then, why should anyone care now? Let them in.

    • DarthHater

      Though major league players were not tested for anabolic steroids until 2003, the use of steroids for performance enhancement has been implicitly banned by baseball since 1971 and expressly banned since ’91.

      Baseball’s first written drug policy was issued by commissioner Bowie Kuhn in 1971. The policy did not explicitly address anabolic steroids, but it did say that baseball personnel must “comply with federal and state drug laws.” Federal law at the time mandated that an appropriate prescription be obtained for the use of anabolic steroids.

      In 1991, commissioner Fay Vincent set out a broader drug policy that expressly prohibited the use of steroids without a valid prescription. In 1997, commissioner Bud Selig reissued Vincent’s drug policy and reiterated Vincent’s assertion that any players violating the policy “risk permanent expulsion from the game,” in addition to any penalty imposed by the player’s club.

      • Spencer

        Cool. How much of that was enforced?

      • Cubbie Blues

        Some PEDs do comply with federal and state drug laws though. On top of that not all PEDs are steroids.

  • Carne Harris

    Glad to hear him and Fergie talk out against the steroid players. That whole it’s a museum argument does absolutely nothing for me. I’ve heard some people say it’s revisionist history to keep steroid users out, but in reality it’s revisionist history to suddenly view the Hall of Fame as needing to ignore the character clause and be inclusive to known cheaters because that’s the only way to tell the whole story. What a load of crap. The Hall of Fame has displays up of people who aren’t in the hall, like Pete Rose, what’s to keep them from having steroid era displays up even while known cheaters continue to be denied membership? It seems like some peeps get so wrapped up in this little museum in Cooperstown, NY telling the whole story by letting cheaters in that they forget that the story is still ongoing and whether or not the cheaters get in is the last chapter. Is the operation of that little museum so important to you that you’d rather “spend your vote” on what you’d like the museum to be rather than on what you’d like baseball to be?

  • MichCubFan

    I don’t know about Dawson being a first ballot hall or famer (as he claims he was supposed to be). He played a long time, which helped his counting stats. But as a right fielder with a slash line of .279/.323/.482 and a 117wRC+, he doesn’t look like a first ballot guy to me.

    Fred McGriff should be the one to be pissed off. He was a 1st baseman, but his .284/.377/.509 line looks a lot more hall of famey to me. You can’t compare his defense to Dawsons, but the defense doesn’t make up for the difference in the numbers.

  • Jason

    It is hard for me to say this, but I have to disagree with Andre. He is my all time favorite player, but he is not remembering the 80’s very well. Ryne Sandberg, Ozzie Smith, Ricky Henderson, Nolan Ryan, Mike Schmidtt, Dennis Eckersley, Greg Maddux, Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken, Jr., Wade Boggs, Gary Carter, Goose Goossage, Kirby Puckett, George Brett, Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Roberto Alomar are all in or will be in Maddux’s case, and many others like Glavine, Smoltz, Biggio, Bagwell, Thomas and Griffey, Jr. will be. They all spent time in MLB during his playing days. Cases for Dale Murphy, Tommy John, Lee Smith and Don Mattingly will probably see the V.C. There are several others one could name, without even getting into the guys suspected of steriods. The 80’s had a great many hall of famers and possible hall of famers play during that time.
    Steriods happened in baseball then, just look at McGwire, Canseco, Dykstra and a few others. Steriods have been an issue in sports since the 1960’s. This isn’t limited to Sosa, Bonds, Palmerio and Clemans.

    • Pat

      That’s a point that often gets missed. Steroids didn’t just appear in baseball in the mid nineties. I knew people taking them at the high school level in the mid eighties. It may have been a smaller percentage than in the nineties, but I guarantee you had baseball players taking steroids as far back as the early seventies.

      • DocPeterWimsey

        During the 1988 ALCS, Sox fans were razzing Jose Canseco with “steroids…. steroids…” in the way that they had razzed Strawberry with “Darryl…. Darryl….” two years before. It certainly was an issue with some college football players in the mid’1980’s, and people were joking that the East German government put it in the water with flouride.

        Ball players began to hit the gyms big-time in the 1970’s, after salaries reached the point where they didn’t have to work other jobs during the winter. Body builders were using steroids already: Ahnold spoke about that a few years ago how all of the body builders used those and other PEDs back in the 1970’s. This all makes it seem really implausible that ballplayers were not exposed to people using these things during Dawson’s time. (Now, whether players *knew* what they were doing is a completely different issue.)

        • Beer Baron

          I think in many ways Canseco opened the door to PED use in baseball. It absolutely existed prior to him, but he was SO obviously a steroid user during his career and had such tremendous success that it ended the all stereotype that weight lifting was bad for baseball players and more players began using.

  • Curt

    The hawk is right up to a point,ask uncle bud why it was allowed to happen .

  • Voice of Reason

    If Hawk wants to be mad at someone then he should be mad at Bud Selig and all of major league baseball! They are the ones who turned their backs on the steroid issue. Everyone knows why they turned their backs… because attendance was up which meant the cash registers were ringing.

    That still doesn’t stop this from being the owners and Bud Selig’s fault. For years, baseball players — and mostly all other sports participants — have been trying to find a way to get that advantage. It’s the responsibilities of each leagues officials to put a stop to it whenevery they know that players are gaining an unfair advantage!

    That said, Barry Bonds SHOULD HAVE BEEN a first ballot Hall of Famer. There is no question that all of those home runs he hit went over the fence. You can debate how it was done, but you can’t debate that they went over the fence AND there was no action from the commissioner’s office to install steroid testing when they knew it was going on. The home runs went over the fence and there was no law in place in baseball regarding steroid use. It was an unfair advantage that the players were using, yet Selig and the good old boys did nothing about it. And, don’t raise the point that steroids are illegal because then we would have to take all those in hall from the past who were on some illegal stimulant to gain that same unfair advantage.

    Now, there is also to the point where the credibility of all of those sportswriters who vote for the Hall of Fame come into question!

    It’s funny how you hear various sportswriters on television and radio these days thumping their chests and saying that they will not allow steroid users into the hall!

    It’s funny because all of them watched McGwire and Sosa and Bonds hitting the home runs, yet only a handful of writers wrote stories that they were juiced!

    If you are a sportswriter and you voted “no” for Barry Bonds to go into the hall and you did not write a story that they were all on steroids at the time then you are a hypocrite and your Hall of Fame voting privileges should be TAKEN AWAY! Your credibility as a reporter is out the window and you should not be allowed to vote for the Hall of Fame.

    These players in question should all be put into the hall of fame because at the time they were on the juice, baseball had no rules against it. Then, let the public debate whether or not those players should be there!

    In closing, Barry Bonds will eventually be put in his rightful place, in Cooperstown. It will take a while, but he is the all time home run hitter in baseball and hit the most home runs in a single season. Nobody can take that away now because baseball didn’t take it away from them at that time.

  • scorecardpaul

    I just looked at my Sports Illustrated from June 30, 1969 (just happens to be an autographed Ron Santo cover), and there is an article in it about drugs in sports. It is a very interesting, and fitting article for this topic. Drug use was already HUGE in sports. All levels high school, college, minors, and professional sports of all types. The drugs that were openly used, and handed out by team doctors were of many types. Steroid use was comonplace. This is why I am having a hard time with this topic. We are not doctors, and we were not in the locker rooms. What right do I have to say that one person used, and one player didn’t. Let them all in, or let none of them in. How do we know that our beloved Cubs werer the only team not using steroids??

  • mjhurdle

    I find it interesting that players are starting to speak out against the Steroid Era.
    I tend to lump players in the same group as the management and media that turned a blind eye to steroids when it happened, but now want to act like the victim. You never heard players speaking out when ‘PED’ users were having great years and driving up contract values for everyone, but now when it comes back and bites them, they want to talk.
    I like and respect Hawk, but i find it hard to believe that he never saw a teammate or other players using it the use was as prevalent as we are told.

    However, I still do not see what the hypocrisy of MLB, the media, and players has to do with letting known cheaters into the HoF.
    The issue is not the moral compass of the writers, or Selig, or baseball in general. The issue is whether or not you choose to ignore the character requirements that are laid out in the HoF voting guidelines.
    Rationalize something simply because it was done before is not sound logically. Neither is invalidating something because you disagree with the character of the people voting.

    Are there cheaters in the HoF? Yes.
    Are some/many of the voters hypocrites that are attempting to save face? Yes.
    Are there known players on the ballot that violated the ‘integrity and sportsmanship’ requirements of the HoF vote? Yes.

    The hypocrisy of the voters and the fact that cheaters have been voted for before has no relevance to the issue of whether, right now, cheaters should be elected into the HoF.

    If the HoF changed the voting requirements to simply be ability, then elect them all. But as long as ‘character’ is supposed to be a requirement, then i do not see how you elect them in.

    And jsut because they are not HoF members, does not mean their accomplishments and history will not be documented in the Hall, just that they will not be honored with membership into that select group.

    • mudge

      Well said. The only reason the BBWA are “sitting in judgment” is because they are required to. They should vote for the players with the greatest achievement on the field, period.

  • J. Edwards

    I think baseball is a bigger story than the HOF. And I think in this era, the story of a player can get told whether they get into the HOF or not. If someone doesn’t get in the HOF it doesn’t eliminate their story, it becomes part of it (Pete Rose, Ron Santo for many years, etc).

    So I don’t see Cooperstown as an historical collection of baseball’s only legitimate past. Because the information era has proliferated the stories of minor leaguers, prospects, and participants at all levels of the game, it’s just another part of the tale.

    How a player gets in, and whether they should or not, has long been the dialogue.

  • Opinionatedfan

    How about if we just end all this BS.
    Let them all in, at least all the ones like “Watermelon Head”, then just put an asterisk by their name on the plaque and record book and the word “CHEATER”.
    Then history is satisfied, guys like Sandberg and Aaron and Mays etc. who played the game the right way and didn’t cheat are satisfied
    Or we could have a special “cheaters” wing of the HOF.
    Guys like Selig who knew and let it happen? sure, give them the asterisk too.
    Bravo Hawk, Hank, Fergy for the guts to speak out,
    You are right.

  • Curt

    I know I’ve said this before but It wasn’t illegal to use them and uncle bud condoned its use until they. started getting caught, so how do u treat these players, I personally would let them on the hof but I do see the other side of the issue as well, one last point most everyone who had a decent. Yr in that time period is being brushed with a broad brush if guilty until proven innocent and who gets to be the conscience of MLB and decide no you didn’t use steroids so I deem you eligible or I’m pretty sure you did them I may not have enough evidence to prove it but you don’t get in. when is the emperor going to step up and be a commissioner. I really don’t think there’s an answer that will satisfy everyone.