September 09, 2013

Byrnes: Who's the #roider in the #HOF in #Cooperstown?

Former Major Leaguer Eric Byrnes has now joined longtime sportswriter Thomas Boswell in claiming that the Baseball Hall of Fame contains, in Byrnes' words, not just a member, but a "prominent" member who was a serious user of performance-enhancing drugs.

Here's the money quote:
Disturbingly, not long ago I was having dinner with a former long time Major League player that spoke about the steroid use of a prominent Hall of Famer that played the majority of his career in the 70′s and 80′s… Ha! Not like I was shocked but damn… So many members of the Hall of Fame, including this character, have recently spoken out and condemned guys who have had ties to performance enhancing drugs, saying there is no place for “cheaters” in the HOF.
OK, "prominent." From Byrnes' angle, I take that not necessarily as a first-ballot HOFer, though it certainly could be, as someone who is well-known, keeps in the public eye, etc.

Related to that, note that Byrnes says this person is a strong anti-roider. Vocal.

That said, I have a tentative Suspect No. 1 for  "Mr. X," but I'm not telling you  until the bottom, as we work through this. That said, the poll at right gives you a list of leading options.

When Boswell's statement came out in 2010, some sites, like Wezen-Ball, speculated on who it might be. (That said, per a poll I have up now, in a follow-up piece, Wezen-Ball has a 1988 quote from Boswell that indicates Tony La Russa had some idea what was up and therefore, from where I stand, should be kept out of the Hall just as much as Barry Bonds.

So, who is it?

Since Byrnes says this "prominent" member played most of his career in the 1970s and 1980s, and Boswell first made the "Canseco milkshake" comment in 1988, though not referencing the HOF at that time, I'm going to assume they mean the same player. First, there seems to be enough commonality between their comments. Second, I can't believe that, if we had TWO alleged roiders recently enshrined in the HOF, that we wouldn't have even more "leakage" about one of them.

First, before you get ready to bawl — Cal Ripken did not play in the 1980s, so rule him out.

Wezen-ball, like me, originally fingered Rickey Henderson as the top candidate. Connections to Canseco and Mark McGwire, and started his career in 1979. However, Wezen-ball notes he was with the Mets since 1985 and Canseco came up that year, and Mac in 1986. So, let's rule Rickey back out.

Then who? Part of this is based on whether or not you think there has to be an Oakland/Canseco connection of some sort. Another part of it is just how you think that connection might run, if you believe this is based on such a connection.

I went to B-R's HOF page, and looked at 1990-2010 honorees. And plucked a few suggestions off the top of my head.

A friend of mine mentioned Reggie Jackson. It fits his persona, and there's also the Oakland connection. He came back there for his final season in 1987, which makes the timing stone cold. Other names include Dave Winfield and Eddie Murray. My friend also suggested Mike Schmidt, who's said in the past if they had been around then, he might have used them. Well, Mike, as the 1976 East German women's swim team showed, they were around then.

But, although not involving quite as much crying as Cal, I'm going to lay two other names on you: Carlton Fisk and Nolan Ryan.

Think about it. Pudge was still catching games at 45. He caught more than 100 at 43. I'm not saying he IS "Mr. X," but it sure would explain a lot. So would the Ryan Express still pitching when he was 46.

Contra Wezen-ball, I figure that, just because Boswell called it a "Canseco milkshake" doesn't mean the person learned it from Canseco. That was just a term, because he had already fingered Jose. But, an Oakland connection would solidify it.

So, Reggie fits the bill pretty well. He's "prominent." Including that's where Byrnes started, the A's connection fits in more ways than one. He certainly could have been the teacher.

But, if we're going by longevity and healing rather than musculature or A's connection, then Pudge and Nolan are the next two.

On the other hand, per the pull quote, a recent HOFer, Goose Gossage, has been vocal. Wezen-Ball mentioned Ryan Sandberg but, like Ripken, he never played in the ’70s. Dennis Eckersley had mentioned roiding, but not as much as Gossage. But, he had the mid-late ’80s Oakland connection, of course.

However, same friend reminds me that the Yankees officially slapped Reggie's hands for recent anti-roiding comments about A-Rod.

On the flip side, people will say that he never quite duplicated his massive 1969. I respond that his OPS+ was 120 or better every year through age 36, and all but two years were above 135, first, and that his era didn't get into weight training, unlike Big Mac and Canseco, so the effects would not have been quite so obvious.Third, 1969 was the first year MLB lowered the pitcher's mound.

And, no, I'm not saying that any of these people is "Mr. X," but just that some are more likely to be than others, assuming Byrnes has all his facts straight and is telling them all straight.

And, if he is, Mr. October is the most likely Mr. X.

Anyway, I wound up Tweeting Byrnes, with a link to this post, asking him if he chose to make more comment. So far, he has not. Hit him up yourself if you want!

Update, Sept. 10: Well, voters on my poll so far seem to think it's Reggie. Byrnes hasn't answered my Tweet, nor, to the general public, has he updated his blog post or done a follow. He's not as irresponsible as Boswell, but getting there. The rest of his narrative, about his general feeling today about steroids in baseball, didn't really need that whispering campaign to make its point.

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