- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 11, 2009

According to the rules for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame, “voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”

They may have to delete half those criteria - like the integrity, sportsmanship and character parts - or else an entire generation of baseball stars will be left out of Cooperstown.

Stupid. Naive. These are not among the qualities listed to be Hall of Fame worthy.

“I was stupid. I was naive,” Alex Rodriguez told ESPN in an interview Monday, responding to the SI.com report that he tested positive for steroids in 2003.

Insincerity. That’s not part of the criteria for the Hall of Fame, either, but A-Rod tests positive for it nearly every time he opens his mouth.

“I think New Yorkers like honesty,” A-Rod said when asked whether he thought he might be forgiven by New York Yankees fans for his cheating. “I think they like people that say the truth.”

The truth, according to A-Rod, is that he doesn’t remember exactly what sort of banned performance-enhancing substances he took in the past.

Windex? STP? Spanish Fly?

Please. It takes a warped mind to admit cheating, proclaim honesty and then lie - all within a few sentences of each other.

He will be caught in those lies. Other damning information about A-Rod will surface. It always does in the steroids controversy.

What will it mean for him, though?

There are really two minefields that steroid abusers have to face when they are revealed. One is the legal minefield that Mark McGwire faced (the reason he refused to answer questions about steroid use before Congress) and that Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds face now.

The other, at least for the elite in the game (those not named Paul Lo Duca, for example), is the legacy minefield - the Baseball Hall of Fame.

For the past three years, baseball writers have refused to elect McGwire to the Hall. He hasn’t even come close, garnering about 24 percent of the votes in his first two years of eligibility and then falling to 22 percent in the latest balloting.

I’ve been one of those voters leaving McGwire off my ballot. I plan on doing the same thing with Rafael Palmeiro, Barry Bonds, Rogers Clemens, Sammy Sosa - and, for now, Alex Rodriguez. There is enough concrete or circumstantial evidence about all of them to conclude they cheated.

The Hall of Fame is not a court of law, and voting for it is not sitting on a jury. There is no reasonable doubt standard in play.

It is an honor, and despite the ignorance of many, there are specific criteria for election to the Hall. Three of them have nothing to do with statistics. Forgive me if I take those seriously.

Defenders of the dishonored will ask: How can you not vote for McGwire or Bonds when there are less-than-shining beacons of humanity in Cooperstown like Ty Cobb, a racist, and Leo Durocher, who had been banned from baseball for an entire season for consorting with gamblers?

That’s a lame argument. I am not bound by votes that have taken place in the past.

All that said, it ain’t getting any easier to follow the voting criteria.

It is possible that we could have Clemens, one of the greatest pitchers of his generation, excluded from Cooperstown. We could have Bonds, the all-time leading home run hitter and holder of the most cherished record in the game, on the outside looking in. And now we could have Rodriguez, who may surpass Bonds and become the new all-time home run leader, without a plaque as well.

Throw in Pete Rose, the all-time hits leader who was never placed on the ballot after being banned from baseball for gambling, and you’ve got a pretty good Hall of Shame.

Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson said there are no plans for changing the voting criteria.

“Election rules are straightforward and include instructing voters to look beyond the statistics and examine a player’s overall contribution to the game,” he said. “To what percentage each quality is weighed is up to the voter. … We’re very comfortable with our rules for election as they currently stand, though we consistently review them to be sure they are relevant. We feel the rules today are fair and relevant. The standards for election have remained consistent over time and will continue to do so.”

This debate will rage for years to come as these players appear on the Hall of Fame ballot, and it certainly detracts from what should be a celebration of the game. But that’s nothing compared with the day - if it comes - when a Bonds or a Clemens does somehow wind up with enough votes to enter the Hall.

That likely would set the scene for an ugly Hall of Fame induction weekend as the veteran members whose numbers and accomplishments have been diminished by the cheaters may speak out against sharing the stage with them - at least those who would show up.

It would be a sad day in Cooperstown. It would be the day that integrity, sportsmanship and character could just be crossed out. They would serve no more purpose.

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