- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 25, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

We are approaching the annual rite of debate like no other in sports — who will be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Ballots are in, and results will be announced Jan. 6.

The decision has become the baseball version of serving on the jury for the O.J. Simpson trial — controversial, heated opinions fueled, of course, by steroids. That’s sort of like the candidates themselves when they were making their fraudulent cases for the highest honor in baseball.

Candidates are elected to the Hall by qualified members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. I am fortunate enough to be a voter, and, like most of my colleagues, I take the decision-making process very seriously.

For some of my brethren, though, the stress is too much, apparently. For some reason, it is difficult for some voters to face the tough decisions of judging admitted or proven cheaters who used performance-enhancing substances to make their Hall of Fame case.

They are burdened by the notion that you can’t judge anyone if you don’t know about everyone — in other words, because of the lack of strict drug testing, how do we know who used or did not use performance-enhancing substances? You can’t judge the ones you do know about.

I’m so glad the founding fathers of this country weren’t baseball writers.
What kind of convoluted sense of justice says that you can’t judge the ones who you know broke the rules because you don’t know who else broke the rules and got away with it?

Barry 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. Roger 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 his review, over Clemens, whose denials will be under scrutiny soon in a New York courtroom when his accuser and former trainer, Brian McNamee’s defamation lawsuit finally is heard despite every effort by Clemens to stop it.

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

None of them get my vote.

Mike Piazza gets my vote, as does Jeff Bagwell. Both have come under suspicion of steroid use, but neither has shown up in a report, test results, court documents or admitted use — the standard I have chosen to apply.

There are six criteria for election to Cooperstown, under the rules of the Hall of Fame. Three of them are sportsmanship, integrity and character. I chose to take those seriously. You can say there are all kinds of cheaters, reprobates and weasels in Cooperstown — which had nothing to do with my vote. I didn’t vote for any of them, and I am not bound by every vote that has taken place before me.

It is up to the voter how much they want to weigh each of the criteria. I chose to take them seriously. If you are a voter and chose not to, then have the guts to say so — don’t whine about how tough it is for you to admit they mean nothing.

Don’t throw a tantrum because it is clear that those cheaters who you stand by are clearly not getting into Cooperstown and declare a boycott of the vote.

Several writers have done just that, upset that the Hall limits one to voting for 10 candidates. As a result, as new and qualified candidates get added every year (destroying the myth that the Hall will run out of worthy candidates), such as Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez this time around, the chances of cheaters like Bonds, Clemens and others of getting in drop with each new ballot.

The first year Clemens and Bonds were on the ballot was 2013 — Clemens getting 37.6 percent of the vote, and Bonds 36.2 percent. Their totals fell slightly last year — Clemens 35.4 percent, and Bonds 34.7 percent.

McGwire’s voting percentages have fallen from 23.7 percent in 2010, his first year on the ballot, to 11 percent on the last ballot. Sosa garnered just 12.5 percent of the vote his first year on the ballot, and 7.2 percent on the last ballot. He will likely disappear from the ballot this time around, just like Palmeiro did last ballot. You need to sustain at least 5 percent of the vote to stay on the ballot for 15 years.

You also need 75 percent of the vote to get into Cooperstown. None of these players are getting in.

The Hall, though, clearly doesn’t want to haul the carcasses of Clemens and Bonds for 15 years, so they made a change recently to limit the time you can stay on the ballot from 15 to 10 years.

The Baseball Writers Association of America responded by voting to recommend to increase the number of players they can vote for on from 10 to 12 — a weak effort to protect the viability of the cheaters as more candidates are added to the ballot, such as Ken Griffey Jr. next year.

The Hall, though, does not have to abide by that recommendation.

So here is the ballot I submitted — Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Fred McGriff, Mike Mussina, Mike Piazza, John Smoltz and Alan Trammell.

That’s nine candidates. I usually vote for 10.

I guess I’m making a statement. It’s all the rage.

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

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