- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 29, 2012


Baseball’s latest Hall of Fame ballot, a referendum dreaded for several years, was released this week. Now all of the hypothetical debates on enshrining steroid users will play out for real, argued by roughly 600 members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. And those fine folks receive a lone instruction for making their determination: 

“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.”

That doesn’t help much.

Is each category weighted the same? Are they listed in order of importance? Do overwhelming “yeas” in a few areas override “nays” in some others? Voters are on their own, answering those questions as they see fit.

I don’t have a vote, but I wouldn’t have the slightest hesitancy in selecting Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens at the very least. Their record, ability and contributions are exceedingly and abundantly above the threshold for inclusion, notwithstanding nebulous concerns about integrity, sportsmanship and character.

Besides, those last three characteristics were overlooked routinely before the Steroid Era, just like baseball officials ignored the onset of performance-enhancing drugs.

Published reports linking Jose Canseco to steroids first appeared in 1988, a decade before the “Great Home Run Race” featuring Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. In 1995, the Los Angeles Times reported on steroids’ growing presence within the sport. “If baseball has a problem, I must say candidly that we are not aware of it,” commissioner Bud Selig said, before sticking his head back in the sand.

The andro in McGwire’s locker (1998) didn’t lead to a probe. Neither did the steroids found in Manny Alexander’s car (2000), the confession by Ken Caminiti (2002), the investigation into BALCO (2003) nor the hearing on Capitol Hill (2005). Baseball looked the other way until 2006 — as Bonds neared Hank Aaron’s record for career homers. That’s when Selig announced an inquiry headed by George Mitchell to “determine facts, not engage in supposition, speculation, rumor or innuendo.”

The facts are that Selig, former players’ union chief Don Fehr, owners and general managers kept counting their money while conveniently ignoring the mounting anecdotal and circumstantial evidence — including cartoonish bodies and bulging statistics. But voters are supposed to wag a finger, tsk-tsking the players while denying entrance to the Hall of Fame? Please.

That would be the height of hypocrisy.

Supposition, speculation, rumor and innuendo are the only grounds to go on in most cases. McGwire admitted his steroid usage, and Bonds claimed he used unknowingly. But Clemens continues to deny involvement as if his life is at stake, and there’s no suggestion that, say, Craig Biggio ever used PEDs.

If Clemens and Biggio have solid statistical arguments for inclusion, voters shouldn’t base the decision on suspicions or lack thereof. There’s no proof one way or another, so it doesn’t make sense to ban certain players from the Steroid Era while admitting others who could be just as guilty.

Even Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, first-ballot Hall of Famers in 2007, disagreed on what was known and what was believed. “We knew,” Gwynn said at a news conference after his election. “Players knew. Owners knew. Everybody knew, and we didn’t say anything about it.”

“I didn’t know,” Ripken said then. “Looking back, maybe I can be the most naive and most ignorant person around.”

Still, Gwynn said he was “shocked” when former teammate Caminiti admitted to using steroids. Surely we would be shocked, too, if certain players came clean and confessed. But unless baseball (foolishly) alters statistics or eligibility requirements, voters should stick to the numbers.

And spare me any arguments about “cheating,” unless you’re willing to include all of baseball’s illegal substances.

Yes, I’m talking about amphetamines, performance-enhancing drugs that inexplicably avoid the same scrutiny.

Using them without a prescription is against federal law, yet players popped the pick-me-ups like sunflower seeds until 2006, when baseball banned amphetamines. I hate to keep using Ripken in this instance, but since “Ironman” played in 2,632 consecutive games at a time when 80 percent of his peers regularly used the so-called “greenies” to endure the six-month grind well, you see how issues of “integrity” and “character” can get messy.

Clemens, Bonds, Sosa and McGwire played leading roles in the Steroid Era, but keeping them out of Cooperstown won’t rewrite the history book. We don’t know exactly who did what, just that a lot of players did something.

Whether they’re admitted users, suspected users or thought to be non-users, the players’ statistics are posted in black-and-white.

There’s no need to add shades of gray when so much coloring occurred outside the lines.

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