Baseball has been holding its collective breath for five years. And today, the Baseball Writers Association of America – the group that votes for the Hall of Fame will render a verdict federal prosecutors couldn’t get.
All the drama of “will he or won’t he” is a foregone conclusion. Barry Bonds and Rogers Clemens won’t be enshrined in Cooperstown on their first ballot.
Unlike most years where voters refuse to discuss their selections, many made up their minds well before they filled out their ballot this time around.
ESPN’s Buster Olney wrote following the Roger Clemens perjury trial last summer, “I was already going to vote for Clemens, for the same reason I have always voted for Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro: The institution of baseball condoned the use of performance-enhancing drugs for almost two decades with inaction. To hold it against a handful of individuals now is, to me, retroactive morality.”
Others view it differently.
Tim Brown of Yahoo.com wrote, “Whether or not the government could prove its case, it doesn’t change the facts the way I see them. I won’t vote for anyone I believe took steroids or performance-enhancers, and so I won’t vote for Clemens.”
Those writers believing they have the moral high ground routinely point to the voting rules, specifically No. 5: “Voting shall be based on the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”
No one argues Bonds and Clemens playing ability or the contributions to the teams on which they played. Few will be able to overlook their lack of integrity, sportsmanship and character.
Those who voted for Gaylord Perry in 1991 yet refuse to elect Bonds and Clemens should lose their vote. Perry showed no integrity, sportsmanship or character for the majority of his 22-year career.
His spitball was legendary, and in his autobiography, Me and the Spitter: An Autobiographical Confession, he wrote, “I became an outlaw in the strictest sense of the word – a man who lives outside the law, in this case the law of baseball.”
Hank Aaron admitted in his autobiography, I Had a Hammer; The Hank Aaron story that he tried an illegal drug considered widely used by players in the 1960s and ’70s.
“1968 was the first time since my rookie year that I didn’t drive in or score 100 runs,” wrote Aaron. “I was so frustrated that at one point I tried to use a pep pill – a greenie – that one of my teammates gave me. When that thing took hold, I thought I was having a heart attack. It was a stupid thing to do.”
Aaron’s career wasn’t built on amphetamines. He tried it once and didn’t like it, but did try to gain an edge. And if he didn’t have such an adverse reaction to the drug, who knows how many home runs he could have hit.
During the Pittsburgh drug trials in the mid-1980s, outfielder John Milner testified that Willie Mays introduced him to a liquid amphetamine known as “red juice.”
Rogers Hornsby, the greatest second baseman of all-time, wrote an article “You’ve Got to Cheat to Win,” in which he claims that he cheated and had seen cheating in almost every game in which he played.
“When I played second base,” he said, “I used to trip, kick, elbow or spike anyone I could.”
Cheating shouldn’t be condoned, but its history dates back to the 19th Century.
ESPNNewYork.com columnist Wallace Matthews lays out the most common argument for those who’ll vote for Bonds and Clemens because, “It wasn’t against the rules: The rules of baseball, that is. Or, more accurately, it wasn’t specifically prohibited in the CBA. Well, neither is murder. In the United States, steroids are classified as controlled substances, and possessing or using them without a prescription for a specific medical condition is a federal crime.”
The federal crime argument is a joke. Taking amphetamines is a federal crime. Players who used cocaine in the 1980s committed a federal crime. And Babe Ruth, along with hundreds of baseball players committed federal crimes, during prohibition.
Many will argue amphetamines didn’t help performance like PEDs. True enough, but that’s not the point. Whether any of these drugs helped a little or a lot is irrelevant. All of them were taken to gain an advantage.
To condemn players in the steroids era is revisionist history. Cheating is cheating. And federal crimes are federal crimes. None is better or worse than the other.
Cooperstown is the final resting place for immortality, yet it littered with immorality. No place on earth is more fitting to enshrine Bonds and Clemens.
Eric Goodman hosts Afternoon Drive with Mac and Goodman from 3p-6p Monday through Friday on Mile High Sports Radio (AM1510 | FM 93.7).