‘ROIDS IN THE HALL –
By John B Holway
Age Year Team ab hr hr/550 ab
32 1980 Bos 478 18 21
37 1985 Chi 543 37 37
40 1988 Chi 253 19 41
By age 40 Carlton was swatting homers at twice the rate he had hit them in Fenway at the age of 32.
Are we about to repeat the mistake this July 25?
Like Fisk, Biggio had three of his best home run years per at bat at the ages of 38-40 (2004-06), including his best one in 2005…..
Now for the really hard ones. We’ll begin with Baggio’s ranching partner:
years ages ba
1988-92 22-32 .331
1993-01 33-41 .349
At age 30 Tony began tailing off, which is normal for an athlete:
1990 30 .309
1991 31 .317
1992 32 .317
For a guy with little power, facing the downside of his career, Gwynn was marginally Hall of Fame.
Then, shazam! It happened.
1993 33 .358
1994 34 .394*
1995 35 .368*
1996 36 .353*
1997 37 .372*
Tony came closer than anyone in 75 years to matching Ted Williams’ .406. Indeed, he said it was a batting tip from Ted that sent him off on his rocket ride to Immortality. Must have been some tip!
Is it a coincidence that Biggio was a ranching partner of Gwynn?
In 1995 Ken Caminiti arrived in San Diego after hitting 18 homers in Houston. In his second year there, 1996, his bat suddenly came alive. He slugged 40 homers with 130 RBI to win the MVP. The whole team also got hot and won the NL West by one game for manager Bruce Bochy. Something fishy definitely seemed to be in the drinking water in San Diego that season.
Caminiti later admitted to using steroids. He would die of cancer, possibly related to steroids and other drugs.
Note that Biggio and Gwynn were partners in a ranch.
Before Gwynn’s election to Cooperstown in 2007, I tried to raise a warning alarm. If we’re going to find out anything embarrassing, better to find it out before a man is immortalized, not after. I was answered by indignant denials from Tony’s fans. Baseball shut its eyes. Now it’s got a problem, and there is no good way to fix it.
The biggest thunderbolt of all: Could Williams have been taking something in that wonderful, miraculous season of 1957, when he was 38 years old?
I first met Ted that April in his hotel room to ask about what the missing war-time season cost him – no one else had ever asked that yet. For two hours we ranged over many topics – spitting, “gutless politicians,” Boston writers, what was wrong with Mickey Mantle’s swing, even some fundamental flying lessons.
At one point I asked what he expected to hit that year – he had hit .345 the year before. “About .375,” he replied without blinking, “with about 35 homers.”
I’m thinking to myself: “An old geezer of 39 isn’t going to hit .375.” I was right, of course: He hit .388 with 38 homers.
Now the frightening, nightmarish thot strikes me: Was he “shooting” anything?
I have never heard of Ted even smoking or drinking alcohol. When I met him a decade later in Florida, he had a decanter of whiskey on the sideboard, though he never poured himself a drink or offered me one. When we went to dinner, he didn’t order a cocktail.
But there that damning .388 is. Leaping off the page.
The following year he settled back to a more normal .328 as a 39-year old.
At 38 Ty Cobb had batted .378, but in that year, 1925, the average A.L. batting average was .292. In 1957 it was .255. If it had been .292, Ted would have batted about .443. Seriously. I saw him do it, but I still don’t know how he did it.
If anyone has any clue to explain 1957, please share it with me. Until then, I will assume that some miraculous reserves of energy, luck, chutzpah, whatever, all came together to do what no other baseball mortal had done and probably ever will do again.
Finally, the biggest name of all is
Over his long career, Hank averaged 33 home runs every 550 at bats. Five times between 1957 and 1966 he swatted over 40 a year, each time with 590 at bats or more. By comparison, Babe
Ruth slugged 60 in only 575.
In 1971 and 1973, Aaron was 37 and 39 years old, ages when other sluggers were tailing off. Instead, Hank was closing in on Ruth’s record. Babe had retired at the age of 35. Aaron found a fountain of youth instead.
Hank’s raw totals in those two seasons were impressive enough, but they were even more so than they appear. That’s because they were slugged in less at bats, which made his averages per at bat the highest of his life.
year age ab hr hr/550 ab
1971 37 495 47 58
1973 39 465 40 47
The surges carried him to just one short of the Babe. He quickly picked that up the next spring, and went on to play through the age of 42, or seven years more than Ruth did.
Steroids were unknown in the States then but were rumored in athletes behind the Iron Curtain. However, amphetamines were available here. They were reportedly issued to GIs in combat to give them extra strength.
I agree that chemical help was not an issue in baseball in the 1970s. It was no worse than a movie actress bleaching her hair or getting an uplift bra. And it was no more wrong than wearing glasses, Tommy John surgery, huge fielders’ gloves, or spitballs. It would take a theologian wiser than me – an archbishop, or higher – to sort out the degree of sinfulness involved.
Hank was trapped by a change in culture that no one then even foresaw.
What’s the Solution?
You can impeach a president, defrock a priest, and even remove St George from the calendar of saints. But baseball saints?
Cliff Kachline, a former curator at Cooperstown, noted that there are too many bewildering plaques on the wall – and that was 30 years ago. His solution:
Create Super Gold Plaques for Super Players. Ten per decade. One per year. We could quietly award the gold to men untainted by evidence of ‘roids. The others would still be on the wall, but on their current bronze plaques.