There is a block of Hall of Fame voters absolutely obsessed with keeping out the steroid users. Some won't vote for any player from the "steroid era" period. But what if a player who did steroids, a player we all know and love, is already in the hall of fame. I am not talking about 19th century health tonic drinkers, I am talking about a player who exhibits every trait of the modern PED users we all have memorized and that the all knowing arbiters of integrity have deemed contemptible and universally rejectable forever in perpetuity. I am talking about Rickey Henderson.
Now, everything I am about to lay out is pure conjecture, but the baseball writers have no problem using that to make their decisions, so please bear with me. Rickey came up as a 20 year old rookie and was immediately someone to watch. In his first five years in Oakland, he lead the league in stolen bases, three times swiping 100 or more. He was dynamic, dangerous, deadly. By 1985, the Athletics were rebuilding and Rickey was going to command a lot of money as a free agent, so he got traded to the Yankees. He then had two of his most brilliant years at age 26 and 27 (as one would expect). Then something odd happened in 1987, Rickey got hurt. He came up with this muscular fire plug of a body and suddenly, it betrayed him. He hurt his hamstrings and missed 70 games and didn't lead the league in steals for the first time in almost a decade. George Steinbrenner, not known for his compassion or patience, thought Rickey was dogging it. The media decided to agree with him. The New York press turned on Rickey and even though he came back to have another wonderful typically Rickey campaign in 1988, the damage was done. He was a hot dog but worse, just a dog. He started out slow and injured again in 1989 and the howling became deafening. He eventually got traded back to the A's in mid-season where suddenly, he was rejuvenated. He helped them win the World Series that year. Then in 1990, he had an amazing MVP season where he outdid all his previous hitting and power numbers (by a good margin) and then settled into a comfortable second phase of his career where he basically did not age. His age 32 season is hardly discernible from his age 39 season, where back with the A's (again) he once again lead the league in stolen bases. At age 39.
Funny, who was on that 1989 and 1990 Oakland team? Why, it's the
godfather of steroids, one Jose Canseco. Who else? Why, it is one of
the all time scapegoats for PEDs, Mark McGwire. How did a man who made
is living with his legs and was starting to get injured and breakdown in
his late 20's suddenly able to win an MVP at age 31, then continue
having amazing seasons well into his 30's and play until he was 44? Was 1990 a steroid fueled Fuck You season a la Roger Clemens in 1997 and 1998? Did his body change? Well, his thighs certainly look a lot thicker in 1997 (Padres) than they did in 1982 with the A's. How many players lead the league in steals in his 19th season? One, Rickey Henderson. By the end of his career, Rickey Henderson broke major single season and career records by Hall of Famers Lou Brock, Ty Cobb, and none other than Babe Ruth. Why weren't the writers protecting the legacies of these men? How did all these red flags get by the writers? Why is Rickey Henderson in the Hall of Fame?
Now, I cannot prove any of these things about Rickey Henderson but all these things when presented this way surely make you think. And I could write a similar breakdown of Hall of Famers like Nolan Ryan (pitched 'til he was 46? throwing 98? really?), Kirby Puckett (sudden illness that lead to retirement, could it have been steroids?), Paul Molitor (overcame a lot of injuries, didn't he?), and heck, why not Roberto Alomar (suddenly stopped playing well when they talked about testing for PEDs) or even Dave Winfield (he played football, right?). It wouldn't make it true, but the damage would be done. Funny how that works...