Wednesday, November 28, 2012

That's the Steroid Era Knocking on the Hall Door

            By Ross Newhan

            Baseball's steroid era has never come knocking on the Hall of Fame's door to the comprehensive extent found on the ballot currently being digested by about 650 eligible voting members of the Baseball Writers Assn. of America.
            Among the players who are on the ballot for the first time are Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Mike Piazza..
            On the isolated basis of statistics and accomplishments, all would seem to have either an excellent or reasonably solid chance of garnering the 75% required for election.
            However, all have either been proven to have used varying forms of performance enhancing substances, admitted to having used a performance enhancing substance at various times for varying durations or been strongly suspected of having used an enhancing substance.
            If you were to poll my BBWAA colleagues you would get a mixed bag of reactions and philosophies regarding players who fall into one or more of the above categories.
           Never, perhaps, would those colleagues be split to a more argumentative extent regarding two players of a more renown stature than Bonds, the home run king who also holds the record for Most Valuable Player awards, and Clemens, who won 354 games and holds the record for Cy Young awards.
         Both would be automatic selections if it wasn't for the PED issue, but that issue is an enormous cloud impossible to ignore in the case of Bonds and Clemens, as well as in the case of Sosa and Piazza, although none of the four ever tested positive for a PED once baseball began testing in 2005.
        The steroid era stained baseball statistically and, in turn, historically, and while it is impossible to say--without verifiable proof--who cheated and who didn't, the accusations by Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco, among others, that the cheating was widespread is now easier to believe than dismiss (a cheating that continues to a still staining, if lesser, extent).
       And where does that leave my philosophy regarding the Hall of Fame?
      I respect the opinion of colleagues who contend that we are only guessing as to how level or non-level the playing field was during the height of the steroid era and, therefore, any player who has earned the Hall of Fame statistically, historically and never tested postive will receive their vote.
     In contrast, I am more cynical and personally involved.
    My son, David, played parts of eight years in the major leagues and almost six in all. He did not use PEDs, and I believe him on that, having seen him lose roster spots and salary to players who were proven to have used PEDs (or later admitted to it) while their union did nothing to protect the non-cheaters.
    I recognize that the Hall is not comprised entirely of saints, but my criteria-- born in full disclosure by that personal attachment and my long experience--is that where there is reasonable belief of PED use I will/would withhold my vote unless, in subsequent years, by some means, I could be convinced otherwise.
    I also disagree with the view of some colleagues that voting members are not the morality police.
   If they are not, who is?
   I mean, where was the union and commissioner for many of the years in question? And doesn't the Hall's instructions, sent with each ballot, expect the voter to be exactly that, a morality judge?
    Those instructions ask voters to evaulate "the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played."      
    The first year chances of Bonds, Clemens, Piazza and Sosa?
    I believe Bonds, Clemens and Piazza will ultimately get 75% and would not be surprised if Piazza does it in his first year of eligibility.
   The former Dodger catcher, arguably the all-time best hitter at his position, has never been linked to a positive drug test but has acknowledged briefly using the steroid precursor androstenedione early in his career before it was banned by baseball.
    If precedent is a gauge, two potential Hall candidates with steroid links, Rafael Palmeiro (who failed a drug test) and new Dodger hitting coach Mark McGwire (who ultimately acknowledged using steroids for nearly a decade after first refusing to testify before Congress)  will never be elected. Palmeiro, who hit 569 home runs and collected 3,020 hits, received only 11% of the vote in his first year on the ballot last December, while McGwire, who slugged 583 homers, has never gotten more than 23.7% of the vote in six years on the ballot.
   The results of the 2012 election will be announced in January. Nate Silver has yet to be heard from.    

   No one had a more profound impact on the industry and more deserved to be voted into the Hall than the longtime union leader who died Tuesday at 95.
   A succession of veterans committees--more than one comprised for the most part of Hall of Fame players who owed so much to Miller and the last being a 12 member post-integration committee in 2010 that included two owners (Jerry Reinsdrorf and David Glass) and a longtime executive (Andy MacPhail), although the vote was not announced (I, too, was a member of the committee) and I am not implying that those three industry executives voted against him.
  Miller created one of the strongest unions in the country, opened the game to free agency and saw the average salary increase from $7,000 when he became leader of the fledgling union to the current $3.4 million. No one is more responsible for the game's economic structure, and I suspect that at some point he will be voted into the Hall.
  However, it is a shame matching the posthumous induction of Ron Santo that it did not happen while he was alive.


   The ongoing introduction of synthetic enhancers has prompted talks between the commissioner's office and union on the subject of tightening testing, according to multiple sources who insist there is no indication that an agreement or any change is close.

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