The verdicts are in. All that remains now are the votes. Baseball's poster boys for the Steroid Era — Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds — have endured their government trials. They have gotten off scot-free and with a wrist slap, respectively, making a mockery of federal prosecutors. But the best pitcher and best hitter of their generation have yet to be judged by the baseball writers who elect players to the Hall of Fame.
Despite Clemens' victory in court Monday, several more years must pass before we finally close the book on steroids in MLB. We won't move on completely until every potential candidate associated with that era, including the New York Yankees' current third baseman, has appeared on the ballot and been voted in or left out.
The cases of Clemens, Bonds and Alex Rodriguez represent three of the four categories players can fall into. There are suspects who deny using performance-enhancing drugs; suspects who claim they unknowingly used PEDs; and players who admit to usage, whether or not they were suspects.
The fourth designation is impossible to calibrate, no matter how hard Hall of Fame voters try: players who aren't linked to PEDs and have never said a word, neither denying nor confirming usage.
I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that Clemens ingested illegal substances administered by his former trainer Brian McNamee. I'm also convinced that Clemens belongs in the Hall of Fame, as well as Bonds and Rodriguez. It's my fervent belief that every Steroids Era-player who would've won election otherwise, still should win election.
The entire generation is marked anyway, even players with nary a hint of taint. Ken Griffey Jr., Greg Maddux, Derek Jeter and Randy Johnson are never mentioned as suspected users. Likewise, Albert Pujols, Tom Glavine, Jim Thome and Pedro Martinez are presumed innocent, too. But we'll never know for certain which players indulged.
Perhaps some dabbled for a season or two. Perhaps others engaged in recurring usage with little visible change. However, there's a clear argument for admitting all Hall-worthy players, regardless:
Baseball didn't ban steroids until 2002, meaning that it was permissible under the rules until then.
If you counter that steroid use without a prescription was against federal law, superseding baseball's rules, you better be willing to remove dozens of Hall of Famers from Cooperstown. Because amphetamines, so-called "greenies," were rampant in baseball until they were banned in 2006, though their use without a prescription was against federal law.
So if there's evidence that, say, "Ironman" Cal Ripken Jr. used amphetamines to play in 2,632 consecutive games, should he be expelled and his record be expunged? If so, the same applies to every single player who gobbled greenies.
Don't tell me it's different. Both substances were "legal" in baseball, illegal in the U.S., and enhanced performance. It's patently unjust to hammer suspected or admitted steroid users while giving amphetamine users a free pass.
Never the smoothest suit on the rack, Commissioner Bud Selig came apart in handling PEDs when he unnecessarily ordered the Mitchell Report, a 21-month investigation which only highlighted the stigma. The 409-page report delivered a shocking newsflash — "For more than a decade, there has been widespread illegal use of anabolic steroids and other performance enhancing substances" — and sullied the names of 78 players. Yet we still don't know exactly who did what.
The only certainty is that no party was blameless. "Everyone involved in baseball over the past two decades — commissioners, club officials, the players association, and players — shares to some extent in the responsibility for the Steroids Era," read the report, released in December 2007.
That era gets a mental asterisk, just like the "Dead Ball Era" and "Segregation Era" before it. There's no reason to exclude players from the Hall of Fame or put actual asterisks on their plagues. As long as baseball historians always include the prevalent conditions at each stage of the game, fans can figure it out from there.
The chapter on steroids already is written. The sooner Clemens, Bonds and A-Rod take their rightful places in Cooperstown, the sooner we can turn the page.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.