The reward for surviving 10 years in the Baseball Writers Association of America, which with shrinking newspaper staffs and budgets isn’t as easy as it once was, is the opportunity to help select which great players enter the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
For a ballot to count in the final totals, it needed to be postmarked by Dec. 31. Some, including a few fellow first-time voters, sent in their ballots almost soon as they arrived in the mail.
Hopefully, the second time around next year will be easier. And not as stressful.
Eventually, I voted for the maximum 10 players.
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Four were easy choices — Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome and Trevor Hoffman.
Three more required more consternation — Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling and Edgar Martinez.
One wasn’t easy and took the last spot over three others — Fred McGriff.
Yes, count me in the growing group of voters who believe Bonds and Clemens should be in the Hall of Fame despite the strong, strong, strong, strong suspicions and evidence that they enhanced their ridiculous career stats with performance-enhancing drugs.
Believe me: I went through all the arguments for and against.
They were great players before being first accused of using PEDs, but who knows when they started?
They are accused of violating one of the tenets of being in the Hall, the integrity clause. But how many of their opponents were using in the Steroid Era?
I buy into the notion that “greenies,” amphetamines used by many players in the Hall of Fame for decades, enhanced performance. If they didn’t, they would still be legal. But greenies didn’t make the kind of physical alterations that PEDs did and do.
Complicating matters are current and former players who have opined against the Steroid Era players. It’s not just the great players who peeve them, but the borderline players who used and continued their careers and made millions while sending others to the minors or out of the game.
I respect them, I respect their perspective, and I heard them as I went through this process.
So how did I get to the point where I checked the box next to Bonds and Clemens?
A few things:
▪ The Hall of Fame is a museum, and I have a degree in history. As much as MLB and the Hall and its members want to skip past the Steroid Era, they can’t because it’s one of the most important stretches in the game’s history. Baseball’s story can’t be told without it.
▪ The Mitchell Report on steroid use in MLB, the smoking gun for some Hall voters, explicitly recommends to the commissioner that the players tied to PEDs in the report not be punished retroactively. Who am I to punish them? I’m not bigger than the commissioner or the Mitchell Report.
▪ MLB and the Hall of Fame have put the writers in a difficult position by not deciding what to do with the PED guys. MLB officials frequently pass the buck by saying MLB and the Hall are separate entities, even though the commissioner attends each induction ceremony. The Hall of Fame won’t make a decision. but won’t object to a letter from Joe Morgan that includes the threat of he and other Hall of Famers boycotting the induction ceremony if accused PED users get in.
▪ Furthermore, and pardon the cynicism, MLB is complicit in the rise of PED use by not pushing harder for stricter rules sooner. MLB and its teams also profited handsomely from all those tainted home runs, and because of that can’t pretend steroid-fueled players didn’t help the game’s bottom line. (The players association’s hands aren’t quite as dirty, as many players wanted to weed out the cheats well before testing was formally discussed. Salaries, though, skyrocketed during the Steroid Era.) Bonds and Clemens, by the way, never failed a test given by MLB. No one who has failed a test since testing was implemented in 2005 will ever get my vote.
▪ The best way to get a resolution is to get Bonds and/or Clemens elected. If the Hall of Famers do boycott, perhaps they force the Hall’s hand. Maybe the Hall allows voters to check 12 boxes instead of 10. Also, if both get in, it clears the ballot for those who aren’t getting the votes they deserve, players like Jeff Kent, Larry Walker and Omar Vizquel.
Well ... there you have it.
For those of you who made it this far, thanks. For those of you who disagreed much earlier but made it this far, thanks. For those of you who know someone who read this and threw up a little, tell them thanks. And give them a mint.
We’ll see what today, the day the voting results are announced, brings. It could be the start of resolving how to handle the best of the Steroid Era.
Until the issue is resolved, Bonds and Clemens will continue to make voting a conundrum.