ST. PETERSBURG — There are a number of ways of looking at the steroid era when filling out a Hall of Fame ballot.
For instance, you can choose to believe steroid users were cheaters, and their ill-gotten statistics do not belong in Cooperstown. Or you can accept that steroids were a fact of life in baseball, and inflated numbers should be judged in their context.
It's a complex issue, and I don't think either point of view is absolutely right or absolutely wrong.
The problem is a player such as Fred McGriff who is getting caught in the middle.
Let me explain:
The Hall of Fame class of 2011 was announced Wednesday with Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven, the top holdovers from 2010, receiving the necessary 75 percent vote from 581 ballots cast by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. That was no surprise.
The more interesting vote totals were further down the list. Mark McGwire dropped below 20 percent and Rafael Palmeiro, in his first year on the ballot, received only 11 percent of the vote. Those percentages are clearly impacted by steroid issues for both players.
Essentially, voters are saying either that McGwire and Palmeiro should be punished for their association with steroids, or that neither player would have been Hall of Fame worthy if not for advantages gained from performance-enhancing drugs.
Whether you agree or disagree, at least you understand the rationale.
But what's the explanation for McGriff?
The Tampa native and former Ray dropped from 21.5 percent of the vote last year to 17.9 percent. No one has ever suggested McGriff was associated in any way with steroids, so we know that's not the reason. Which means his low vote total must be based on his statistics.
And that's where I think McGriff is getting shortchanged by steroids.
The unprecedented power numbers of the performance-enhancing drug era have made McGriff's career look puny by contrast. And that's simply not fair. If you're going to punish steroid users, how do you also punish the clean players who didn't have cartoon bodies or statistics?
McGriff finished with 2,490 hits, 493 home runs, 1,550 RBIs and 1,305 walks. Once upon a time, those were automatic Hall of Fame numbers. Up until the year 2000, there were only 16 players with at least 2,000 hits, 450 homers, 1,500 RBIs and 1,000 walks. All 16 are in the Hall, and most were first-ballot inductees.
If that doesn't satisfy you, if you think his numbers were based more on longevity than impact, here is another way of looking at it. McGriff had a career OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) of .886. Up until 2000, there were only nine players in history with at least 10,000 plate appearances and an OPS that high. Again, all nine are Hall of Famers.
So, whether you measured his career by volume or impact, McGriff was clearly on the road to the Hall of Fame.
Except for one problem. The steroid era changed the way we looked at those numbers.
Players implicated one way or another in scandals (Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez and Palmeiro for instance) began compiling insane offensive totals. So McGriff's once-automatic numbers suffered in comparison.
Now, based on the ballots received by Palmeiro and McGwire, most voters are choosing to punish players with steroid associations. Again, you can either agree or disagree with that line of thinking. But if those voters choose to punish players for putting up big numbers with steroids, how can they also punish McGriff for not matching those artificial numbers while clean?
It's almost as if the lines between the two arguments have blurred, and McGriff's career has gotten obscured.
Now this isn't a critical issue just yet because McGriff, 47, theoretically has another 13 years on the ballot, and that's plenty of time for opinions to evolve as the steroid era is put into a historical context.
It's just bothersome that he is starting off with such a low total. It's not unheard of for a player's stature to gradually grow — Blyleven got only 14.1 percent of the vote in his second year on the ballot — but that's clearly not the norm.
Granted, reasonable people can argue whether McGriff is a slam dunk Hall of Famer. I'm in his corner, and even I believe he is a borderline candidate.
So, no, I don't think it's a sin that McGriff has not yet gotten 75 percent of the vote. My concern is that he has not gotten 50 percent of the vote. Or 40. Or even 30. Because I believe he deserves better than that.
And I fear it's because he is being judged by artificial standards.
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.