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PED Debate Continues to Plague MLB Hall Voting

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USA TODAY
PED debate drags down Hall voting
Bob Nightengale, bnighten@usatoday.com, USA TODAY Sports
 
It has turned into the most vicious, acrimonious, mud-slinging process in all of sports.

It's the Baseball Hall of Fame voting.

We can't agree on the value of a pitcher's earned-run average, the significance of a slugger's back acne or "not guilty" federal court rulings.

We can't even agree to disagree. We engaged in a heated argument at the Baseball Writers' Association of America meeting in December on whether we should even discuss changes to the voting process.

And please, don't get us started on the performance-enhancing drug issue, which has turned the voting process into a theater of the absurd.

One year ago this week, nobody earned the required 75% of votes from the BBWAA to earn election to the Hall of Fame, turning Cooperstown into a relative ghost town on the final Sunday in July.

Today, when results of 2013 balloting are announced, it will be dramatically different. Greg Maddux, the greatest pitcher of his generation, will easily earn election to the Hall and perhaps break Tom Seaver's record of 98.6%. He will be joined by longtime teammate Tom Glavine and slugger Frank Thomas. Houston Astros second baseman Craig Biggio could make it a sweet quartet.

But their elections won't bring clarity to the PED debate or even civility among fans and media -- traditional and emerging -- whose rightful scrutiny of the process often crosses into name-calling.

It has become clear that those who have publicly tested positive or confessed to PED use will never get into the Hall of Fame. They might even be permanently off the ballot after this year's election, failing to receive the necessary 5%. Step aside, Rafael Palmeiro (8.8%) and Mark McGwire (16.9%).

For everyone else, it's electoral chaos.

Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, the two greatest players of their generation with more MVP and Cy Young awards than anyone, have denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs. They were acquitted on charges of lying about alleged PED use to a grand jury and congressional committee, respectively, though Bonds was convicted of an obstruction charge.

Yet in their first year eligible, Clemens received 37.6% of the vote and Bonds 36.2%.

Sammy Sosa, who hit 609 homers and averaged 58 homers in a historic five-year stretch, received 12.5% of the vote. He insists he never used performance-enhancing drugs, and the only direct link is a positive test during the 2003 anonymous drug survey, according to The New York Times. He also could find himself off the ballot after this year.

Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell were long suspected of performance-enhancing drug use because of their tremendous muscular physiques and power while also greatly outperforming the pedigree assigned them by the scouting community. Both have denied any illegal use.

Piazza, a 62nd-round draft pick, since has admitted to the use of androstenedione, a supplement now banned by Major League Baseball and every other major sports league.

Last year, there were more voters who believe they were clean than dirty. In his third year on the ballot, Bagwell received 59.6% of the votes. Piazza debuted at 57.8%. Both figures are far short of the required standard but high enough to engender hope of eventual election.

If Piazza and Bagwell eventually get into the Hall of Fame, are we rewarding them for being smart enough not to get caught? If they are snubbed, are we being unfair for listening to innuendo?

And if we have no evidence on Piazza and Bagwell, what do we have on Bonds and Clemens? Did any of us see Bonds or Clemens injected?

I believe drug use during the steroid era was much greater than anyone can imagine. I saw the deformity of the bodies. The surreal power. The dramatic weight losses and weight gains. The mood swings.

And, yes, the drug secrets that not only some of their closest friends confidentially revealed but also their agents, associates and peers.

This is why I take the lonely stance, judging players simply on their performance on the field and their impact on the game.

I vote for the steroid players.

And none of the players on my ballot this year have ever publicly tested positive or admitted to steroid use.

Yes, I'm talking about Bonds, perhaps the greatest player since Babe Ruth, and Clemens, one of the top five power pitchers ever.

You see, we have absolutely no idea who was clean or dirty during the steroid era, and anyone who tells you they know is lying to your face.

Please, forget the integrity, sportsmanship and character clause involving PEDs. The truth is that general managers and managers loved having steroid users on their team. Those guys were the most disciplined and dedicated players in the clubhouse.

They weren't running around at night. They took pristine care of their bodies. They ate right, slept right and, man, did they ever spend countless hours in the weight room.

One active GM and another former GM told USA TODAY Sports they had direct knowledge of steroid use on their clubs. Yet the only time they'd get upset is if they signed a player and he stopped using.

The general managers spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the topic.

The only ones hurt were the players who insist they were clean -- only they truly know -- and whose Hall of Fame-caliber numbers were dwarfed by those who chose to use PEDs.

"For myself, it was just playing the game right,'' says first baseman Fred McGriff, who hit 493 home runs but has never received more than 24% of the vote in four years on the ballot.

"That was the way I was raised. I was raised that steroids were illegal. It's a mess, but I know it was possible to be clean and put up great years."

McGriff averaged 32 homers and 102 RBI in his 19-year career.

Hall of Fame manager Tony LaRussa, who had admitted steroid users McGwire and Jose Canseco playing on his teams, vehemently denies that he had direct knowledge of any steroid use. Oh, sure, he had suspicions, and reported those to the front office. Yet just like the writers, no absolute proof.

"For someone to say that I knowingly ignored that," La Russa told USA TODAY Sports, "is so full of (expletive). There was never a guy who played for me, who took an at-bat, who pitched an inning that I knew for a fact anything was going on. At some point toward the end (of the pre-testing era), you had strong suspicions, and you voiced it, but there was nothing you could do.

"We are not policemen. If you had strong suspicions, you pushed it upstairs. And the people upstairs would push it to MLB from there."

Now we are trying to reverse history, pretending it bothered our conscience all along.

Maybe the door has already been open. Former major league pitcher -- and pitching coach -- Tom House has said steroid use was widespread in the 1960s and '70s, an era that produced dozens of Hall of Famers.

We'll likely never know the full truth about any era. But we sure can analyze performance on the field with our eyes and research material.

Here's my ballot:

Newcomers. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Craig Biggio.

Holdovers. Jack Morris, Fred McGriff, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza.

Let the mudslinging begin.

 

January 8, 2014
 

 

 
 

 

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