The Great Wall of Steroids that keeps so many baseball stars out of Cooperstown is crumbling right before our eyes. After years of fighting the fight, I am considering dropping my weapon and coming down off the Wall. And I’m wondering what you think. Seriously.
The 2017 Hall of Fame ballot sits on my desk, waiting to be checked off and mailed. Voters received a friendly e-mail from the Hall Wednesday, reminding us that the ballot must be filled out and postmarked no later than Dec. 31. At the close, it read, “Your participation in Hall of Fame voting is important and most appreciated.’’
Swell. But this has become the most volatile and toxic thing we do all year. And recent events have only made it more troubling.
Those of us who have defended the Wall have been left out there all alone. Former MLB commissioner Bud Selig was elected to the Hall of Fame by the 16-member “Today’s Game” committee at the Winter Meetings earlier this month. Uncle Bud received 15 votes from a panel stocked with Hall of Fame members. Selig did a lot of good things in office, but he goes down as the Steroid Era commissioner and a lot of voters have a problem keeping Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens out of Cooperstown when Bud sails in on his first year of eligibility.
The Hall and MLB have issued no guidelines here. It’s up to the conscience of the writers to “keep the cheaters out.’’
But who are the cheaters? Or are they all just products of the Steriod Era?
Identifying PED guys falls into three categories. The first tier would be players who tested positive or owned up to something. It’s been easy to say no to guys such as Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, and (someday) Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez. Palmeiro, Manny, and A-Rod were all investigated and disciplined.
The second group includes guys such as Clemens and Bonds, players who were repeatedly named in the Mitchell Report, commissioned by MLB to deal with use of PEDs. Clemens and Bonds both endured lengthy trials and faced perjury raps.
The third group is the “back acne/whisper campaign” suspects. This includes players who never tested positive, but simply did not pass the sniff test — in the eyes of some. Players such as Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, and Ivan Rodriguez. Players who took on new body shapes after they finished playing. Their stats are Hall-worthy, but the suspicions cut into their vote totals.
Oh, and let’s not forget Sammy Sosa, who is in a group of his own. Sosa hit 609 home runs, passing the magic 60-mark three times. He received only 7 percent of the votes last year, barely enough to remain on the ballot. Sosa has become a pariah to the sport, especially to the Cubs. He was in Paris when the Cubs won the World Series.
Everyone dismisses Sosa because we all know he was cheating.
But how do we know? He played the language-barrier card before Congress, he’s not in the Mitchell Report, and the only positive test we have is the same one David Ortiz failed when players agreed to anonymous, penalty-free testing in 2003.
There’s the magic name right there. David Ortiz. Baseball loves David Ortiz. His career path (released by the Twins in 2002, the year before he tested positive; better at 40 than any player other than Bonds) is as suspicious as any of the “steroid guys,’’ but commisioner Rob Manfred went out of his way to issue the equivalent of a presidential pardon to Ortiz when the slugger retired in October. On the final day of the regular season, the commissioner of baseball traveled to Boston and told us not to believe all the positives that were leaked in 2009. Manfred reminded us not to make any unfair conclusions based on the 2003 testing.
“Even if Rob Manfred’s name was on that list, he might have been one of those 10 or 15 where there was probably, or at least possibly, a very legitimate explanation that did not involve use of a banned substance,’’ said the commissioner.
So there. Baseball wants Ortiz to be innocent. But there’s no love for Sosa. Big Papi gets the break that none of the others get. And we’ve been warned that anybody who doesn’t vote for Ortiz when he becomes eligible in five years might be unfair.
Just about every cheat has delivered a phony explanation of his ignorance or innocence. But now MLB is getting into the game of cherry-picking which guys are truly guilty and which ones are being suspected unfairly.
I talked to Manfred and Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson about this at some length in October. Those were thoughtful discussions with no conclusion.
In October, ESPN’s Buster Olney wrote, “Long before baseball writers place the final X’s on their ballots this year and lock in their votes, they need to ask themselves a question that should shape their decisions this year and into the future, a question that should coax hundreds of writers out of their self-appointed roles as baseball’s morality police. It’s a question which, when applied logically, should lead to the election of Bonds and Clemens. The question: What are they going to do when Ortiz’s name appears on the ballot in five years?’’
And my question to you is this:
Is it time for voters to come down off the Great Wall of Steroids? Thoughts are most welcome. The clock is ticking.