The controversial 2012 Hall of Fame ballot is out, and so here we go again — this time with historic consequences.
This should be the greatest first-time-eligible class of inductees since the inaugural one back in 1936 — when voters had four decades of legendary figures from which to choose.
Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson made up that first class of enshrines. Cy Young, Tris Speaker and Nap Lajoie had to wait a year. But in terms of numbers and on-field accomplishments, the old-timers had little on these 2012 first-time-eligibles:
Seven-time MVP Barry Bonds, seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens, 600-home-run-club member Sammy Sosa, 3,000-hit-club member Craig Biggio, and Mike Piazza and his best-ever offensive numbers by a catcher.
Normally, the only question surrounding Bonds and Clemens would be how close they'll come to unanimous election. The latter three would be virtual certainties for election, as well.
But normal disappeared somewhere during the Steroids Era, and a decade-plus later, voters are stuck in a place they don't want to be; shouldn't be. Filling out the Hall of Fame ballot isn't so much a privilege as it is an angst-filled burden.
I'm trying to stay open-minded. I've read, heard and solicited the opinions of several voters.
I respect all of those opinions, and know they were formed only after serious consideration.
But I remain unconvinced by any of the arguments in support of putting known PED users — and even widely suspected ones — into the Hall of Fame. So for now, I'm sticking with a zero-tolerance policy.
Nothing changes the fact that PED users cheated the game. And in an otherwise very complicated, murky field, that's enough of a violation of the Hall's character, integrity and sportsmanship guidelines for me. Call it sanctimonious if you'd like, but I prefer to consider it my humble little effort to protect the game's integrity.
For me, it's an easy call for those who have admitted to using, or who turned up in government investigations or the Mitchell Report, as is the case for Bonds and Clemens. That's why Mark McGwire hasn't climbed above the 25 percent voting mark. The same goes for Rafael Palmeiro.
And I don't care if slick lawyers can outfox the government in court. This is not a court of law, merely an election decided by 600-plus Baseball Writers Association of America members who have at least 10 consecutive years of membership. Circumstantial evidence can be enough here.
I'm also not buying the argument you often hear for Bonds and Clemens: They were Hall of Famers before they started using, so they should get in. Pete Rose was a Hall of Famer before he started betting on games, too. It still boils down to the fact that they cheated the game, no matter how long they may have played clean.
Piazza never flunked a test, and so his candidacy very well could resemble that of Jeff Bagwell, the former Astros slugger who also was suspected of usage because of dramatic physical changes, but never was linked to a failed test. Bagwell's vote percentage jumped from 41.7 percent to 56 percent last year, putting him on track for election in the near future.
(There are none of those suspicions around Biggio — Bagwell's longtime teammate.)
Here's another misguided thought: The Hall already includes on-field cheaters, recreational drug users and other miscreants. That doesn't make it right to elect more cheaters.
Or, the line of reasoning that since so many players were cheating in the steroids era, let's just honor the best players of that generation — and let the Hall somehow denote it for what it was.
In fact, the steroids era arguably was the worst chapter in the game's history. It went far beyond one fixed World Series. It made a mockery of the record book, changed standards that stood for decades, and diminished what those who came before had done.
Never mind that the game's powers-that-be chose to either ignore it, or were ignorant of it for awhile. That's on them. The biggest reason why testing came about — and a stonewalling union finally changed its mind — was that enough non-cheating players finally complained loudly enough. It always come back to the fact that the cheating was wrong.
If 75 percent of my colleagues think differently, and elect a known user, or even a player who circumstantial evidence points to as a user, that's the democratic process. But for now, I'll err on the side of caution.
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