ATLANTA: Chipper Jones #10 of the Atlanta Braves celebrates after hitting a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning to give the Braves a 3-2 lead over the Chicago Cubs at Turner Field in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Chipper Jones is very likely to go into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, despite playing the bulk of his career in the '90s and 2000s. Why?
By the time Chipper Jones will have retired, he'll have played 19 seasons with the same team. He'll have just under 500 home runs and a career on-base percentage close to or over .400.
When Jeff Bagwell retired, he had played 15 seasons with the same team. He had 449 home runs and a career on-base percentage of .408.
The two aren't perfectly comparable -- Chipper played a more difficult defensive position, but Bagwell played more than half of his career in a cavernous pitchers' park -- but it's close enough. According to Baseball Reference, Bagwell has 79.9 wins above replacement; Chipper has 82.7.
But one of them will go into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. As he should. The other one will have to wait several years. As he shouldn't. The difference between Chipper Jones and Jeff Bagwell is that the latter player became muscular. It's 2012. This has been your State of the Hall of Fame report. The Baseball Writers Association has all sorts of guidelines when it comes to voting. Noticeably absent is some sort of clause like "Players who done got all muscly between 1989 and 2006 are expressly forbidden."
And if you think Chipper wasn't muscular, well, look at this picture:
Pretty damning. Though there's a small chance the figurine might not be accurate. In which case we'll just search for "chipper jones arms" in Google Image Search and ...
oh god no what did i do i'm so sorry oh no
There we go. Chipper the teenager on the left. Chipper the filled-out veteran on the right. That's the key term: "filled-out." Baseball players who played and starred in the '90s were allowed to fill out. They were not allowed to get muscular. Retroactively, of course. At the time, baseball players who got muscular were something of a new fad, but they were accepted and the norm at one point. They were like Nehru jackets: accepted while the fad was going on, clearly strange in retrospect.
Now there's a select and vocal minority of writers in the BBWAA who have no problem pretending that they are professional arbiters of muscly. The difference between muscular and filled-out is in the eye of the beholder, and a few of those beholders have HOF votes.
This isn't just a Chipper thing, either. Ken Griffey, Jr. filled out, but he is never mentioned as a likely user of performance-enhancing drugs. Frank Thomas is an incredibly large human being, but he's never mentioned because the frame just looked like it could support a large human being.
This isn't to suggest that Chipper, Griffey, and Thomas should all come under greater scrutiny. Rather, it's to point out how absurd the double-standard is, and how absurd it is that for a few minutes, a few normally right-thinking writers go into some sort of fugue in which they pretend that they're physiologists while they fill out their Hall of Fame ballots. And it's something that's preventing Jeff Bagwell from becoming a Hall of Famer.
This is a picture of a player who likely used steroids:
That's Manny Alexander. He hit 15 home runs in 1271 career at-bats. He was listed at 5'10", 150 lbs., but those stats are usually inflated. Performance-enhancing drugs were found in his car during a traffic stop in 2000. He is the living evidence supporting the notion that it's silly to pretend you can tell a steroid user by sight.
It's silly to pretend you can tell a steroid user by sight. That'd make for a better tattoo than Chipper's face. There is no evidence that Chipper Jones messed around with PEDs. Chipper Jones is not under suspicion for using PEDs. Chipper Jones most certainly should not be under suspicion for using PEDs. And he'll get in the Hall of Fame on the first ballot because of it.
Jeff Bagwell got a little bigger than Chipper Jones. That'll keep him out of the Hall of Fame, at least for a few years. Read those two sentences again. It's like something you'd read if Lewis Carroll wrote about baseball. When Chipper Jones announced his retirement, that meant it was time to stop and think about his legacy. If he were just a little bigger, it would be a much different legacy. Here's to the paranoia of the Steroid Era. Here's hoping it goes the hell away soon.