- The Washington Times - Monday, December 23, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

They say this is the most wonderful time of the year, and for me, as a sportswriter, it truly is, because I get to do the most wonderful thing I do as a sportswriter — vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

It is the one thing I do that people get the most excited about. “You vote for the Hall of Fame?” some will ask, as if I am selecting a Supreme Court Justice.

The ballot doesn’t arrive via special messenger, with dramatic music playing in the background. It’s a paper ballot that comes via the U.S. mail, with the names of the candidates up for vote and a box next to their name to check if you believe they are worthy of Cooperstown induction.

However, in the past few years, being a voter for the Hall of Fame has resulted in being a target of criticism because of the steroid issue, as the Cheated Generation react angrily to everything they watched being invalidated.

Fine. Ants at a picnic.

Unlike some of the writers who struggle with whether or not to keep some candidates out for use of performance-enhancing substances, I’m at peace with my decision to not vote for those candidates, and here is why — election to the Hall of Fame is a privilege, not a right. It is an honor. It is not a case of innocent until proven guilty. It’s not a court of law. No one is going to jail.

There are six criteria for election to Cooperstown, under the rules of the Hall of Fame. Three of them are sportsmanship, integrity and character. It is up to the voter how much they want to weigh each of the criteria. I chose to take them seriously.

You can say there are all kinds of cheaters, reprobates and weasels in baseball’s hallowed halls. Well, I didn’t vote for any of them, and I am not bound by every vote that has taken place before me.

As a result, the boxes next to the names of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmiero will remain unchecked on my ballot.

Bonds is an admitted cheater, telling a grand jury that he took “the cream and the clear” but claiming he didn’t know what he was using. Clemens was tried and acquitted of lying to Congress when he denied the allegations in the Mitchell report. But, call me irresponsible, I tend to believe the report by George Mitchell, the former U.S. senator who brokered a peace agreement in Northern Ireland and who used some of the top former federal prosecutors to compile the Mitchell Report, over Roger Clemens.

Sosa was reportedly on the 2003 list of players who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. McGwire, after refusing to answer questions in Congress about steroid use, has since come out and admitted using performance-enhancing substances. Palmeiro failed a drug test for steroids.

None of them get my vote.

Critics will argue that everyone used steroids during that era, and how can you tell if the players you are voting for didn’t use as well? I can’t. But I do know that based on reasonable circumstantial evidence — grand jury testimony, a credible report, and failed drug tests — that these players did use.

What kind of judgment system is it when you can’t judge anyone because you don’t know about everyone?

You are allowed to vote to up to 10 candidates on the ballot. I voted for the following 10: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Fred McGriff, Jack Morris, Mike Mussina, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling and Frank Thomas.

There have been questions about Bagwell and Piazza. But none of their names have surfaced in any court documents or failed drug test reports, so they don’t fall under the line in the sand I’ve drawn on Hall of Fame voting, and certainly their accomplishments are Hall of Fame-worthy.

McGriff and his 493 career home runs are my nod to non-steroid induced power; Morris, well, you had to be there, and Mussina was simply the best pitcher I’ve ever seen, day-in and day-out. His record of 270-153 carries a .638 winning percentage — the sixth-best in baseball history among pitchers with at least 250 wins. He did this in the American League, facing the designated hitter.

I struggled as always with Tim Raines, and Larry Walker as well, and revisit both every year, based on the ballot.

So there you go — Merry Christmas. Have at it.

Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com.

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