Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Letter to the Editor that Almost Was.

Last Sunday, the Chicago Sun-Times ran a lengthy article about the success of the polio vaccine.  For reasons known only to their confessors, they decided to also run an op-ed by Jenny McCarthy, the face of ignorance on the subject of vaccines.  In what may be an encouraging sign of where the public discourse is going, Ms. McCarthy (falsely) claims that she is not anti-vaccine.  She even had the temerity to title her article "The Greay Area on Vaccines."  You can read her article here, but you won't learn much of anything if you do.

I dutifully wrote a letter to the editor.  Yesterday I was pleased to receive a call from the Sun-Times informing me that my letter had been chosen for publication in today's (April 16th) paper. This morning I bought a copy of the paper and saw that my letter had not been published.  I called the aforementioned employee, hoping to hear that my letter would appear the next day.  I was told that it would not.  Apparently this employee had been out for a couple days and didn't realize that they had already run letters responding to McCarthy. (These letters must have appeared in Monday's edition, which is the only edition since Sunday that I did not read.  But they are not preserved on the Sun-Times web site.)  

So my 15 seconds of print edition fame were not to be.  That is personally disappointing of course.  I was excited to have my letter printed because I think it makes some very salient points.  I reproduce it here, where it will reach a much smaller and more sympathetic audience than the readership of the Chicago Sun-Times.  Enjoy.

"Jenny McCarthy's attempt to recast her position on vaccines as moderate is dishonest. First she carefully avoids mentioning that she championed the false claim that vaccines cause autism. That claim has been thoroughly debunked by the scientific community. Her new position is that children should receive only one shot per visit to the doctor. But she offers no evidence as to why the vaccine schedules should be changed. She just has a gut suspicion that this would be better for children. That is not how medical science works. There is no "gray area" when it comes to vaccines. There is science and there is superstition. Ms. McCarthy continues to peddle ignorance on this subject and she should not be taken seriously."

 Well, I'm sure that letter would have resolved the issue forever.  But it was not to be.  But don't cry for me. There are plenty of people who had worse days than me.  This guy, for example, is about to ruin the next five or six years of his life.

Sunday, March 2, 2014


Be sure to watch the video from 3:55 on to see Oprah Winfrey learn about her Oscar Nomination for The Color Purple. 

As of last night, I have seen every movie nominated for this year's Best Picture Oscar.  My general impression is that there were a number of good and very good movies this year, but no clear front runner in terms of deserving this award.  My thoughts on each, in rough order of how much I liked them.

Best Picture Nominees
1.  Nebraska.  I have enjoyed all of Alexander Payne's films.  This is every bit as good as Citizen Ruth and Sideways.  Will Forte and Bruce Dern really carry a movie that manages to be both funny and poignant in the same proportion as most of Payne's films.

2.  Her.  Spike Jonze has a real knack for making movies with stupid premises that turn out really fun and oddly believable.  I think he's a special talent and this movie captivated me throughout.

3.  Gravity.  This movie was an amazing experience in the theater.  I literally ducked out of the way of space debris twice.  (It missed.)  The story is serviceable and Sandra Bullock is fine.  I think the director deserves some specific praise for how he showcased Bullock's body.  She is lithe and athletic.  Beautiful in a way, but not at all objectified.  And while many people have legitimate quibbles with the details of the science faux-pas, I for one am happy that a movie about the space program did so well at the box office.  I think it's inspiring and I won't be upset if it wins this category.

4. Dallas Buyers Club.  Great story with great acting.  (See below.)

5. Philomena.  Wonderful story with two great performances.  I think it avoided some of the obvious traps related to a story of this kind.  

6.  American Hustle.  Fine but predictable and not all of the acting performances keep up with the pace.  My favorite part of this movie was Louis CK, who I thought was way out of place in Blue Jasmine, but who showed some real potential as a comedic character actor here.

7. 12 Years a Slave.  It's impossible to talk about this movie without first talking about what it has to say about our history.  There is no more important topic in American history than slavery and I think Hollywood has done a dreadful job of portraying the real life of slaves. Last year two of the nominees were about slavery, but neither Lincoln nor Django Unchained really told us much about what the real life of slaves was like.  This film attempts to do that, and it's a very difficult job.  This film deserves credit for tackling the barbarity of slavery while trying to show how it lasted for so long in this country.  The movie has some dramatic flaws, but some of the directing choices I liked, like when he lets the camera linger on a characters face for a few seconds at the open of a scene.  

It seems that this movie has become the front runner.  I don't think it's quote on that level, but I do think this is a film that people should see.  And I am very interested in reading the book on which it is based, a memoir by the title character, Solomon Northup.

8. Captain Phillips.  Good, but a bit longer than it needed to be and I found Tom Hank's New England accent unnecessary.

9.  The Wolf of Wall Street.  One of the most boring, pedantic, obnoxious movies I have ever seen.  It is ambitious and attempts to maintain for three hours the kind of pace that makes the last 40 minutes of Goodfellas so great.  But this movie is without any redeeming quality.  It is best thought of as being stuck in a crappy diner seated next to a table of douche bags who have too much liquor and about 1/100th of the charm they think they have.

Best Director.
About 80% of the time the Best Picture winner also takes home this prize.  But last year Argo won the big prize even though Ben Aflleck wasn't even nominated for best director.  I think this might be another year with a split in the big prizes.  Above I listed Gravity as the 3rd best film, but Alfonso Cuaron should be the favorite in this category for all the technical mastery.  This is a film that will be remembered for advancing the art of cinema special effects.  

Best Actor.
1.  Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyer's Club).  This will be the first half of an Oscars-Emmy year that I never would have predicted even five years ago.
2.  Christian Bale (American Hustle) does a pretty good Bronx accent but he was a little dull.
3.  Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)  to call this a challenging role would be an under statement.
4.  Bruce Dern (Nebraska)  A fine performance, but I think he belonged in the supporting category.  Will Forte deserved the nomination in this category.
5.  Leonardo DiCaprio (Wolf of Wall Street).  He was fine but the part was one note for 3 hours of 
complete drivel.  It would be a shame if DiCaprio finally won an Oscar for a movie this good.

Best Actress.
1. Judi Dench (Philomena).  I adore her, and she nailed this performance.  
2. Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine).  She acts the hell out of this part but it is a bit broad.  And I don't think it helps when a woman very publicly calls you out by name for working with the man she says molested her as a child.  She also pretty much plays a fictional version of Mia Farrow, directed by the man who hates her.  She could win but I think the Academy will politely pass.
3. Sandra Bullock (Gravity).  She was good but here character's back story was pretty much a pastiche of cliches.  
4. Meryl Streep (Osange County).  I didn't see it, but I guarantee she was better than...
5. Amy Adams (American Hustle.)  She has one hell of an agent.  She's not yet 40 and this is her 5th nomination in less than 10 years.  I only thought she was good in one of those roles (The Master).  But this year her nomination may set a record of sorts. (Spoiler alerts ahead.)  In this film she plays an American who is pretending to be British. This is supposed to be a big reveal in the third act.  But her British accent was so terrible that I didn't buy for a minute that anyone would fall for this con. By the time we learn this about her character, I forgot that we were supposed to actually think she was British. Or had been to Britain.  Or had seen A Hard' Day's Night.  So the record I referred to is this-has anyone ever been nominated for a movie when their performance gave away a major plot point?  I know Jaye Davidson's nomination in the best supporting Actor category for the Crying Game gave away a major point but that wasn't because his acting sucked.

Best Supporting Actor:  Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club).  Absolutely disappeared into the role.  This is close to a cinch.  The other performances are all fine, but clearly not as good as Leto.

Best Supporting Actress:  This is the toughest category to handicap.  Jennifer Lawrence was good in American Hustle but I don't think she's going to win 2 years in a row.  Sally Hawkins was excellent in Blue Jasmine but she's got to be hurt by the Woody Allen controversy.  I didn't see Augst: Osage County but I doubt that Julia Roberts will win.  That leaves June Squibb for Nebraska and Lupita Nyong'o for 12 Years a Slave.  I loved Nebraska but I thought Squibb's part was a little too broadly written.  And Nyong'o played by far the most challenging part in a movie that's likely to win a lot of trophies.  But I don't think it was a truly great performance.  My guess is Hawkins, but none of these names would surprise me.

Best Writing-Original Screenplay.
Woody Allen's nomination for Blue Jasmine is the residue of voters' habits.  To be blunt, his age is showing.  The characters feel like they are from another time.  And it say something when the most believable character is played by Andrew Dice Clay.  Most of the other nominees are pretty good but it would be something of an injustice for anyone other than Spike Jonze (Her) to win.  This is a great story made even better by the plausible execution of an absurd premise.  

Best Writing-Adapted Screenplay.
I didn't see Before Midnight, so I'll resist the temptation to make an Ethan Hawke joke. Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope should win this for Philomena, but I think John Ridley is more likely to win, for 12 Years a Slave.

Official Predictions:  So here is my office pool (of one) predictions. 
Picture: 12 Years a Slave
Director: Steve McQueen (12 years a Slave)
Actor: McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
Actress: Dench (Philomena)
Supporting Actor: Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers' Club)
Supporting Actress: Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine)
Original Screenplay: Spike Jonze (Her)
Adapted Screenplay: John Ridley (12 Years a Slave)

Saturday, March 1, 2014

New Rule, Bill Maher has to be for science, or against it.

I enjoy Bill Maher's show.  On specific issues, I agree with him more often than not.  But one of the hallmarks of his shtick is making fun of conservatives for being anti-science.  If the subject is climate change or evolution, he can be absolutely cutting when it comes to making fun of Republicans.  In his movie Religilous, he visited the Creation Musem in Petersburg, Kentucky and made fun of them for showing a Stegosaurus with a saddle on it.  An easy target for sure, but well executed.

More interestingly, he interviews the director of that museum and they talk about the scientific consensus behind Evolution.  Maher points out that if evolution wasn't true, than there must be a vast conspiracy among all of the scientists around the world to promulgate it.

That's a pretty convincing point.  But Mr. Maher simply does not apply this logic to those areas of science that he disagrees with.  The above YouTube Clip is from 2009.  In it, former Senator Bill Frist (R-TN), a physician, takes him to the wood shed about vaccines.  Maher simply ignores the scientific arguments put before him by a prominent Republican and clings to his vague superstitions about the "dangers" or vaccines, using a 50 year old quote from Jonas Salk.  It's every bit as pathetic as grown men saddling stegosauruses.

Two years ago Bill Maher repeatedly and passionately argued for passage of a law that would have required food makers to put labels on food containing Genetically Modified Organisms.  He did this despite the fact that there is NO scientific evidence that GMOs pose any increased health risk to humans.  None.

Last night Mr. Maher had on Christopher Leonard, a journalist who just wrote a book about the industrial farming practices of American meat manufacturers.  During the interview, Mr. Maher brought up a recent story about Azodicarbonamide, a chemical that is used to preserve bread, and is also used in non-food items such as yoga mats.  Maher said "I'm sure they have 'statistics' that say this stuff is safe in small doses but what about those of us who don't want any poison in our food?"

Cute line, Bill.  But you can not speak so derisively of "statistics" and misuse a term like "poison" and still claim to be a champion of science.  Azodicarbonamide may be difficult to pronounce, but it is not dangerous.  The fears about it being in food originate from a blog written by someone with no background in science.  She found a scary factoid- this chemical in my bread is also used in yoga mats, and got a major company to change the way they make their bread.  That sounds like a major accomplishment, but it's not one that will improve the public safety one scintilla.

Please read Dr. Steven Novella's blog entry on this subject to better understand the science behind the use of azodicarbonamide in food..  And the next time you hear Bill Maher makes fun of some back bench congressman from Georgia for saying something dumb about the origins of life on earth, feel free to laugh.  But remember that the joke is being told by someone who spreads fear of vaccinations out of pure superstition.  Mr. Maher needs to understand that some kinds of stupid are worse than others.  Creationism may be dumb, but it's not contagious.  Whooping Cough on the other hand, is.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Walking Diaspora (B Squad)

Note: Spoilers for the February 16th episode of The Walking Dead abound.

Last week I wrote a hurried post about the premiere episode for the second half of season four of the Walking Dead.  I put forth my general theory about the season-that the group was divided in four smaller groups and that each of these little groups had one person that had heard the mysterious radio signal while on the supply and medicines run at the veterinary college.  I further speculated that Rick and Karl would meet up with Michonne, perhaps when they head to the town where Morgan was holed up last season.

The only characters seen last week were Michonne, Rick and Karl.  And they did indeed meet up at the end, although much closer to the prison than Morgan's hideout.  The previews for this week suggest that we will be brought up to speed on the rest of the survivors.  Or as I call them, The B Squad.  (And yes Darryl, much like Willem Dafoe's character in the Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, you're on the B Squad, but you're the B Squad Leader.)

A little bit of internet sleuthing has revealed some spoilers.  I do believe there is conclusive evidence that Tyrese saved Judith during the war with the Governor's parade of imbeciles.  The embedded video makes that case pretty strongly.  There are also rumors that the preview for the Latin American audience showed Tyrese cradling a baby.  So it's safe to say, Judith lives.

This creates perhaps the most interesting story line in the history of the Walking Dead.  There might be a genuine moment of happiness.  Wouldn't that be something?

I don't expect that will happen tonight.  I expect tonight to be a series of catch-ups with the various unaccounted for people, specifically.

  • Tyrese is alone with Judith, it seems.  The first question I have is, why did he take her out of the baby carrier? It would have been much easier and faster to just grab that thing and run with it. It is, after all, a baby carrier.  He's going to need formula, stat.  There are also online rumors that a picture leaked showing Tyrese with Carol.  This would backup my earlier prediction that they would rendezvous before the rest of the group.  And of course Judith would help them make a natural family unit. Tyrese may or may not also be with the little girls that Carol had been taking care of.  A lot of pipe was laid between those girls and Carol earlier this season, so I expect them to meet up sooner than later.
  • Beth and Darryl.  There's only one question about these two being alone in the woods.
  • Glenn and the Bus Passengers.  Rumors abound that the bus runs into walkers.  I expect a lot of dead Red Shirts but I think Glenn will make it out okay.  And now that the virus is behind him, I think he'll become one of the main focal points of the rest of this season.
  • Maggie, Sasha and Bob.  Obviously Maggie's focus is going to be reconnecting with Glenn and with finding Beth.  I think she's one of the smartest characters left on the show. So she's probably doomed.  Sasha and Bob seem likely to have their own sub story, although there's really nothing in their characters so far to explain what they have in common.  Any port in a zombie apocylpse, I guess.
  • The final Internet reveal was that Tara (the lesbian sister of the governor's girlfriend Lilly) is still alive.  I'm not sure if Lilly is also alive, but the last time we saw her she was putting a bullet into the governor.  It would seem strange to waste the most important kill of this season on a glorified Red Shirt.  So I expect Lilly and Tara to both be alive, although I have no idea where they will fit in the grand scheme of things.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Walking Diaspora

For the past 8 weeks I've been meaning to write a long post about what to expect in the 2nd half of season 4 of the Walking Dead.  I have 8 minutes left before the premier. So here goes nothing.

I think the most interesting thing about how the midseason finale is how certain characters were split up.  In particular I note that all 4 characters who heard the radio signal in the car are separated from one another:

1.  Michoone is by herself or possibly with the Governor's girlfriend. She also could be with Judith, but that will feel like a big cheat.

2. Darryl is with Beth.  Now that Hershel is dead and Carol is off the reservation, maybe he will make a borderline inappropriate play for her love. (Note: Emily Kinney the actress who plays Beth is 29 years old, but her character is only about 18 or 19.

3. Tyres is with the two little girls.  I have a prediction on this one: they will run into Carol.  Carol and Tyrese will spark a relationship of some kind, and eventually she will become tortured by whether or not to tell him about Karen.

4. Bob Stookey is with Maggie and Sasha.  They certainly dropped a heavy hint that Sasha and Bob might be pairing up but of course Maggie's main quest will be to get to Glenn.  Maybe they can rendezvous at the Waterfall that they were speaking about at the start of the midseason finale.  (How romantic.)

I suspect that each of these groups will eventually remember the radio signal, and head towards it.  This leaves Glenn and the Red Shirts on the bus, and Rick and Karl on their own.    It would make sense for Rick and Karl to head back to their hometown and hope to hideout with Morgan. This is doubly convenient since Michonne knows that location as well.

I want the show to take sometime with this story line.  I think it could be fun to watch all these groups make their back together.  And then of course everything will go to shit.  Because this is The Walking Dead and nothing good ever happens.


Saturday, February 8, 2014

A-Rod Saved a Lot of Money.

On Friday afternoon, Alex Rodriguez announced that he is dropping his lawsuits against Major League Baseball and the players union.  This means that he is accepting a one year suspension.  He can return to play for the Yankees in 2015.  He will be 3 months shy of his 40th birthday, having played just 44 games in a two year span.

So what did A-Rod get for his efforts?  He now has three years left on his contract.  He is set to earn $64 million dollars in guaranteed money during those years.  By having the suspension reduced by 49 games, he will recoup $6.6 million dollars in 2015 salary.  From that we should deduct his legal bills, which are surely substantial, but only a small fraction of what he saved already.

His savings could be much greater.  Having an extra 1/3 of a season has improved his chances of receiving additional millions in bonuses.  Rodriguez' contract contains a a series of $6,000,000 bonuses each time he moves up the career home run list.  He currently has 654 career home runs.  So the bonuses come due if he hits the remaining number of home runs:
  • Six more, to tie Willie Mays
  • 60 more, to tie Babe Ruth
  • 101 more, to tie Hank Aaron
  • 109 more, to pass Barry Bonds
It's almost certain that he will hit at least six more home runs, and that he would have even if the suspension was not reduced.  In three seasons, even at his age, he has a reasonable chance of hitting 60.  But it's possible that the extra 49 games, which will be played in the first of those 3 seasons, could make the difference of getting there.

The math for 3 full season is now pretty straight forward.  He will pocket an additional $6M for averaging 20, 33.7 or 36.3 home runs.  And additional 49 game suspension would have left him with 10 percent fewer games to earn these bonuses.  The pro-rated averages to get the bonues in 437 games would be 22.2, 37.4 and 40.4.

Projecting the Bonuses.
There are several ways to project how many home runs A-Rod might hit in the remaining seasons of this contract.  A-Rod will be 39,40 and 41 at the start of his remaining seasons.  Let's look at how the men he is trying to pass performed in those seasons, and how much bonus money A-Rod will get for hitting the same number:

Barry Bonds (2004 to 2006): 45, 5, 26 for a total of 76.  ($12 million)
Hank Aarron (1973 to 1975): 40, 20, 12 for a total of 72.  ($12 million)
Babe Ruth (1934 to 1936: 22, 6, and 0 for a total of 28*.  ($6 million.)
Willie Mays (1970 to 1972): 28,18, 8 for a total of 54.  ($6 million)

Another useful number available to us is that A-Rod played in 44 of the Yankees last 53 games last year.  He hit seven home runs.  If he hits seven during his next 49, and those seven are enough to put him over a bonus threshold, then his appeal of the suspension just saved him an additional $6 million dollars.  A-Rod's attorneys might have saved him close to $13 million dollars.

The Next A-Rod Controversy Could be Playing Time.

A-Rod is a talented and hard working man.  He also has enormous financial incentives to hit as many home runs as possible when he gets back to the field.  If he avoids major injuries in 2015 and 2016, it seems likely that he will hit at least 40 home runs.  If he hits exactly that, he would enter the 2017 season needing 20 homes runs to collect an additional $6 million dollars for tying Babe Ruth.

Now if the Yankees are contending, and he is their best option at third base (or DH), he will get enough at bats to have a legitimate shot at it.  But the really interesting moment could come late in that season if either the Yankees falter or they have a more promising player to put in his place in the line up.  Keeping him out of the lineup could save the Yankees a ton of money.  And unless something drastic changes in the next three years, management would not exactly be thrilled with the possibility of A-Rod passing the Bambino's place on the Home Run list.  (Or breaking Babe's American league record of 708 home runs, if that's still in play.)

 Fighting the Suspension Paid Off.

Alex Rodriguez already recovered nearly seven million dollars in salary by fighting the original 211 game suspension.  It's quite possible that he will save an extra six million in home run bonus money.  He could also recover smaller amounts of money by achieving other bonuses in 2015.  (These range from ten grand for making the all-star game, 50 grand for finishing in the top ten of MVP voting, up to $1.5M for winning the MVP.)   We'll never know exactly how much he spent on those legal bills, but it's safe to say that he got a good return on his investment.**

Perhaps most importantly, he was able to achieve this savings without having to testify under oath. He will be able to go on denying any wrong doing for the rest of his days.  But knowing A-Rod, this is not the last of the controversy. That last controversy just might involve the Yankees trying to get him out of the door shy of his next home run bonus.

The biggest controversy might not involve money.  If he comes back and has 3 relatively healthy seasons, he could hit another 90 home runs.  He'll be 42 years old and less than 20 home runs shy of breaking the record.  It seems likely that some team, will see his pursuit of the record, and his remaining production, a worthy investment.  It is still possible that four years from now, we will have to refer to A-Rod as the Home Run King.

Foot notes.
*Ruth retired less than halfway through the 1935 season, having hit 6 home runs in just 72 at bats.  He had no records or large bonuses to chase.  If you include his last 3 full season, when he was one year younger than A-Rod will be, his total was 62, enough for an extra $6 million.)

**The web site for the law firm retained by A-Rod to fight his suspension is:

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

2014 Hall of Fame Ballot

So this is the first (and probably last) year that I was able to actually vote for the baseball Hall of Fame. has worked out a deal with an unnamed HOF voter who has agreed to vote for whoever the Deadspin readers want him to vote for.  So I filled out a ballot on their site and learned a thing or two about the process.  Here is who I voted for, and why.

I. Three First Time Candidates:
1.  Gregg Maddux. I had real hope that Maddux would become the first unanimous HOFer, but just heard that one blow hard is voting only for Jack Morris in protest of "the steroid era".  Nevertheless, I'm pretty sure Maddux and Glavine will both get very high percentages and go in with their heads held high.

2.  Tom Glavine.  See above.

3.   Frank Thomas  Being primarily a DH hurts him, but he has the numbers that matter most to traditionalists, a batting average in the 3s (.301) and over 500 home runs (521).

II.  The Previously Snubbed.

4.  Tim Raines.  One of the best lead off hitters and base stealers of all time.  He has been overlooked for too long.

5.  Mike Piazza.  The only reason he wasn't elected as a first-time candidate last year is some very murky suspicion of steroid use.  This makes no sense to me.  I remember Piazza as a prototypical line-drive hitter and I didn't notice any obvious changes in his body during the worst of the steroid years. Much more importantly, he never tested positive and has never been formally charged with anything related to use of steroids.  I really don't think it's the place of sports writers to keep someone out of the Hall based on such vague innuendo.

III.  The Steroid Users.
6.  Barry Bonds &
7.  Roger Clemens

These are the toughest calls for me.  Their statistics make them obviously qualified candidates.  But they did use steroids.  I would not have voted for them the first time up, because there should be some consequences for such blatant violation of the rules of the game.  But here is my personal standard for known Steroid Users: they don't get in on the first ballot, and they don't get in if their qualifications are on the margin.  But if they put up HOF worthy numbers before using steroids, they deserve consideration.  And in the case of these two men, I would vote for them.  Yes, they tarnished the game, but so did every owner and GM who signed any of these guys to a contract.  You can't just erase two decades of the game from the history books.  They both deserve to be in the HOF.

IV.  A Guilty Pleasure.
8.  Don Mattingly.  I have long said that although Donnie Baseball is my favorite athlete of all time, I know he is not deserving of being in the Hall of Fame.  He had a six year period that had him on pace for the hall, but most HOFers put up those kind of numbers for 10 or 12 years, not six.  But a funny thing happened when I was filling out my semi-sort of official ballot.  I voted for him.  Because I could.  I guess it's the only way I could thank him for the many joyful hours of my childhood.  It seemed only fair, even though I know he's not strictly deserving of the honor.  This has taught me much about this process.  Consider that most of the voters  have been up close and personal with these men for the length of their playing careers.  It must be an emotional process for them sometimes too.

Notable non-votes.
1.  Jack Morris.  I have said for several years that I would vote for him but the best defense of such a vote I can come up with is that he was better than Bert Blyleven.  (And he was.)  But one substandard player getting in should not be an invitation for others to get in.  So I'll pass.  But I think Blyleven should have to wash Jack Morris' car once a month or so until one of them dies.

2.  Craig Biggio.  A close call.   And there is a statistical argument in favor of him, but I think he just comes up short of the standard.

3.  Lee Smith.  Also a close call.  Maybe next year if my top four all get in, I'll give him more serious consideration.  This is a big year, with three deserving first-timers and a small backlog of oversights.

The Dreck of the Steroids Era.
1. Sammy Sosa.  I thrilled at watching him at Wrigley my first few years in Chicago.  He was a terrific player, but never really the full package.  And it's pretty obvious that his strength came from synthetic sources, and he might have been a very marginal player without steroids.

2.  Mark McGwire.  If he never did steroids, his career would have petered out in the mid to late 90s and he probably would have retired with 300-odd home runs, a share of the rookie Home Run record, one World Series ring, and ample good will as a human being.  One of my favorite things to look at on is the Similarity Scores.  For most of Mark's career, he was most similar to a variety of other power hitters who wound up well short of the HOF: Roger Maris, Cecil Fielder, and Ryan Howard.  Then his last four seasons, he was most similar to a pair of HOFers: Harmon Killebrew and Willie McCovey.  The difference in his career after the age of 34 is that he was using steroids.  Steroids gave him inflated numbers, and he doesn't deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.

3.  Raphael Palmiero.  Another very good player whose numbers and reputation were greatly enhanced by chemicals.  Looking again at baseball-reference similiarity scores, we see a player most similar to such very good, but not great players as Will Clark, Al Oliver and John Olerud in his twenties.  Suddenly in his 30s, he was most similar to Billy Williams, Orlando Cepeda and Eddie Murray, in that order.  Three Hall of Famers, each of increasing quality and stature.  No dice, Raphael.