January 11, 2012

Steroids cast shadow on baseball's Class of 2013

Hall of Fame vote is about to become a slippery slope.

One of the perks of becoming a sports journalist is earning the right to vote this or that player onto an All-Pro team, to an MVP award or even into a Hall of Fame. Candidly, it can be fun.

For those who have earned the right to vote for members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, it has mostly been fun right up through Monday's latest ballot, which landed Reds shortstop Barry Larkin in Cooperstown.

But beginning now and for the foreseeable future, those who vote for baseball's highest honor and the most difficult Hall of Fame to enter in North America now have a burden disguised as a perk.

When the ballot for the Class of 2013 is sent out, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Mike Piazza will be on the list. A carton of syringes should be on it as well.

I don't have a vote, and want zero part of this voting procedure. This vote will demand a no-win judgment call.

Since absolutes in some of these cases are nearly impossible, the best option is not to look at them through a black-and-white lens but rather acknowledge the kaleidoscope that are these ballots.

"I'm not sure 'dread' is the right word. There is going to be some sadness looking at that ballot," said Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. She will become the first female president of the Baseball Writers Association of America later this year, and has been voting on the HOF for five years.

"Some of those people in the prime of their careers that you would have thought they would have been in the Hall of Fame for everything they did in the game, and apart from this one thing they should be.... There is no fair way to go about it. There is no guideline at all. I don't plan to vote for anyone that I have good knowledge that cheated the game."

On this latest ballot, former Rangers Juan Gonzalez and Rafael Palmeiro were way down the list. Accept this now: Despite his 3,000 hits and 500 homers, Raffy is never going to get in. Ever.

His critics often dismissed his statistics as a product of the offensive era. Once he was busted, voters who were reluctant to vote for him had their justification to forever say no.

Raffy did the right thing in mostly going away since he left the game, and his good relationships with the media big-hitters in this region pretty much ensured no one locally was going to go after him once it was reported that he failed a drug test.

I would be stunned if the voters in this market whom Raffy had a good rapport with did not vote him in. Relationships can trump a lot in this world.

It will not be enough.

On this latest ballot, Raffy's second time, he received 12.6 percent. That number needs to be 75 percent for induction.

Compared to what is coming, the decision on Raffy is easier than reaching first on an intentional walk.

Even without allegations of steroids, Sosa can easily be excluded based on his record as a one-trick, circus-freak act much the way Mark McGwire has. BTW: This latest ballot, McGwire's sixth, has him with 19.5 percent.

But Bonds, Clemens and even Piazza are far more complex.

Few are going to argue Bonds or Clemens did not belong in the HOF before they were linked to 'roids. Now there is empirical evidence that they used... something.

Piazza, drafted in the 62nd round, was often rumored to be a creation of a syringe full of something that is legal only in Mexico. Or at least we think that, but we don't know that. Slusser plans to vote for Piazza.

But she is a "No" on Bonds and Clemens. Too many documents. Too many prosecution witnesses to suggest that our eyes were not wrong.

There may be a lot of like-minded voters regarding this pair. And spare me the "this is a partial discrimination because Bonds is black" assertion. Boorish jerk is not color specific (see Kent, Jeff).

My gut tells me all three of these men will be inducted into Cooperstown -- eventually.

I can easily envision a large portion of voters waiting years and years to vote "Yes" on this trio as a measure of punishment, since baseball did nothing on its own.

"Bonds and [Alex Rodriguez] were Hall of Famers before there was any evidence of them taking steroids, and that is the heartbreaking part," Slusser said. "Everyone has a different opinion on this. I don't think anyone likes the idea of voting in someone they know took steroids. I think some people will hold their nose and vote them in anyway. Some people say the easiest answer is to vote them all in and act like they didn't take [steroids]."

Slusser calls this situation fluid, and she is open to changing her mind as more evidence becomes available, which it will.

I vacillate on this scenario. One minute I say vote them in, and put in Pete Rose with an asterisk. The next minute I say keep them all out.

A vote that was once fun is now just a burden.

Mac Engel, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @MacEngelProf

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