In a previous column about the 2010 Hall of Fame ballot, I said I would write something about accused steroid users and the Hall of Fame. Never let it be said I don’t follow through on my promises, regardless of what a series of ex-girlfriends and former employers have said. My opinion on this is simple — let them all in, with one exception, hence the asterisk in the headline.
A little history first — baseball has banned the use of steroids without a valid prescription since 1991, but there was never any testing. That kicked in for the 2004 season, when the infamous anonymous testing (which, as it turned out, wasn’t very anonymous at all) of 2003 nabbed 104 players, or 7% of the league, using steroids. That was more than the 5% specified in the union contract, so testing begun.
So while it was against the rules to use steroids from 1991-2003, there was no testing, which means there was no way to tell who was on the juice and who wasn’t. And let’s face it, there were plenty of articles written as well as warning signs all over the place that steroid use was running rampant throughout the league. But the great Bud Selig — who should be charged with perjury for telling Congress he had no idea players were using steroids — did nothing. Everybody was making too much money.
So you can’t blame the players for saying, “if baseball is looking the other way, I might as well use it like everybody else.” And more than 104 players were using steroids, you can be sure of that. Those were just the stupid ones who kept using despite the testing.
This is why I feel players accused of steroids should be let into the Hall of Fame. They were just playing by the rules of baseball, which basically said, “Steroids are banned, but we won’t test you for them. So you have to promise you won’t use them to hit more home runs and throw 100 mph , thus making millions of dollars. Wink wink.”
Mark McGwire has been the first test case. In his three years on the ballot, he received about 25% of the vote each time. Now, let’s look more closely at McGwire. Before he told the world “I’m not here to talk about the past,” he admitted using Androstenedione, or Andro, which is a steroid precursor. It has since been banned by baseball, but was not when reporters found it in clear view in his locker during the Great Home Run Chase of 1998. And except for Jose Canseco’s claims (which have mostly been confirmed, actually), there is no other evidence McGwire used steroids.
McGwire is being penalized for his performance before Congress (left), where his oft-repeated mantra was seen as a virtual admission of steroid use. Conventional wisdom was that McGwire didn’t want to lie and face perjury charges, and he didn’t want to admit to anything, so he just refused to talk about the past. So basically McGwire is being kept out of the Hall for what people think he did, even though they have no evidence. How many other players were using steroids, but were not called before Congress, and thus did not have to come up with a response that would open themselves up to second guessing?
The fact is, we don’t know who was using steroids and who wasn’t. So we either leave everyone out from the Steroid Era, or put everyone in. I choose putting everyone in. And that includes guys like McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and anyone mentioned in the Mitchell Report. Don’t get me wrong, they probably did use steroids or other PEDs, but we don’t know for sure because there was no testing. And there were dozens of other guys who were able to keep lower profiles who escaped suspicion. Why do they get in, and the others don’t?
Now to that asterisk. Anyone who failed a drug test should be banned from the Hall of Fame. It’s that simple. That is the only way to know for sure who cheated and who didn’t. Also, it shows that those players are stupid. We should try to keep stupid people out of the Hall as well. So that means Rafael Palmiero and Manny Ramirez are out. Sorry.
What about Alex Rodriguez, who admitted being on the list of 104 who tested positive? I say let him in. All his forced admission (left) means is that he used steroids prior to 2004, just like the dozens of other players. That testing was supposed to be anonymous, and A-Rod should not suffer because of the union’s failure to destroy the list of names, and the government’s incompetence to keep the names from leaking out.
So I think McGwire should be voted in this time around. But he won’t — he’ll probably get his usual 25%. What I think will happen is eventually one of the alleged users — probably Bonds or Clemens — will be voted in, and that will open the floodgates to all of the accused, but not proven, steroid users.