The steroid era — Baseball’s Hall of Fame travesty


I don’t know about you, but I’m already tired of listening to sports talk radio blather on ceaselessly about the travesty of the 2013 Hall of Fame vote.

Not that I don’t think in some ways that it is a travesty, mind you. I do. However, I know two things:

1. The question of what to do with the steroid era is a complicated one with no easy answer — or right answer, for that matter.

2. It’s too easy to go overboard criticizing the baseball writers when you don’t have a vote yourself. Frankly, after a while, it just sounds like whining.

Whether you are talking about Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens — pretty much slam dunks for having used performance-enhancing drugs — or players like Craig Biggio who are more in the guilt-by-association category, it’s a thorny thing to vote for any of them.

Most importantly, I agree with San Francisco Chronicle sports writer and Baseball Writers Association President Susan Slusser and others who make it very clear that this isn’t a court of law. Nobody needs to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that these guys did or didn’t use steroids. It’s nearly impossible anyway, because there are no smoking guns. This is an election, and therefore it’s based on opinion.

Now, if you want to talk about changing the voting process or expanding who gets to vote, I’m game for a thoughtful discussion. Times have changed since the 1930s when the current process was put into place. Baseball writers aren’t the only ones covering the games now.

But, they are still the only ones covering the most games consistently, so we shouldn’t throw them under the bus simply because we don’t agree with the outcome of the vote. About half of America disagrees with the outcome of the last presidential election, and nobody worth listening to is calling for the other half to lose their voting rights because they made the “wrong” decision.

A pillar of the democratic process is that nobody is allowed to dictate what the “right” opinion is. Let the voters decide, right? Well, the voters have decided. And, no, we don’t have to like it.

But, the talking heads are missing the point. The vote outcome isn’t the travesty. The travesty is that we are here in the first place.

Blame the players’ silent solidarity, Major League Baseball’s blind eye, Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti, or, frankly, ourselves, as fans, for being obsessed with the home run. Pick one. We’re all to blame in some respect. No matter where your finger points, we’re here now, and everyone on the ballot from that era is suspect.

Judging the worthiness of players like Alan Trammell, Dale Murphy and Jack Morris is easy. With them, you simply get to decide if they deserve enshrinement into the Hall on their stats and baseball resume.

The rest — even Mariners great Edgar Martinez — force us to ask ourselves, “did they use steroids?”

Without the PED issue, Clemens and Bonds are slam-dunk first-ballot hall of famers. So, probably, are Biggio and Mike Piazza. And that is why this whole era is a travesty.

Sure, it’s easy to pin the scarlet letter on Bonds and Clemens. But even Piazza admitted to briefly using androstenedione — the same substance that has destroyed Mark McGwire’s Hall of Fame chances — in a 2002 New York Times article. Is that enough to keep him out? And what about Biggio? There have been unsubstantiated allegations — mostly from writer Jeff Pearlman — surrounding the Houston Astros of that era, but nothing even remotely close to a concrete accusation against Biggio.

Even Martinez has been forced to respond to accusations of “rampant” use of amphetamines and steroids in the Mariner clubhouse in the late 1990s made by former M’s outfielder Shane Monahan. Martinez said he knew nothing of it. Jamie Moyer and Raul Ibanez echoed the denial.

But, what do we really know?

It would be a lot easier if we had positive tests, or even more reliable witnesses to alleged use. We don’t.

The only way to be fair to the baseball writers is to put yourself in their shoes. So, here goes nothing …

Current rules allow each voter to choose up to 10 players for the Hall out of the list of those eligible. Google it if you want to see the whole ballot. If I had a vote, and no current rules are changed, here’s who I would put in:

1. Craig Biggio — Some might say he was an accumulator of statistics and not necessarily a Hall of Famer, but I say 3,000 hits is hard to argue with.

2. Jack Morris — He was the winningest pitcher for a decade and he’s waited long enough.

3. Lee Smith — It’s time for more relievers to get their due, and no better than Smith to represent them. Until Trevor Hoffman passed his record in 2006, Smith had recorded the most career saves in baseball history — many of them over multiple innings, unlike Hoffman or even Yankee great Mariano Rivera.

4. Edgar Martinez — No hometown bias here — OK, maybe a little — but Gar more than meets the standard of the best player at his position in his era, DH or not. Seven time All-Star, two-time American League batting champion, five-time Silver Slugger award winner … I could go on.

5. Mike Piazza — Without a doubt, he’s one of the best offensive catchers of all time.

You’ll notice I don’t have Clemens and Bonds on my list. I just can’t get over the legal proceedings, regardless if their outcomes. Remember, the ballot above is opinion, not a court of law. I just can’t bring myself to write their names down. Things may change for me, but right now, I just can’t do it.

What would you do?

Keep them all out? “Penalize” them by not voting them in on the first ballot? Ignore the issue altogether and vote them in anyway?

What if the rules could change? In my opinion, the Hall of Fame is just as much a museum as it is an enshrinement into baseball immortality. So, I might just vote guys like Bonds and Clemens in if I could print the accusations on their plaque. The problem with that idea, of course, is that guys like Bonds or Clemens might turn right around and sue the Hall to remove the language.

Imagine the acceptance speech: “Thanks for voting me in. We’ll see you in court.”

Further, if we’re airing dirty laundry, should we add “he was a huge jerk” to Ty Cobb’s Hall of Fame plaque?

Like I said, there are no easy, or right, answers. So, welcome to the brave new world that the steroid era has created. It’s not good for baseball, necessarily, but baseball probably deserves it for a little while.

But, it’s certainly good for talk radio.

Dan Jackson, The Daily World’s city editor and lifelong baseball fan, can be reached at 537-3929, or by email at djackson@thedailyworld.com.