The results of one of the most anticipated votes by the Baseball Writers Association of America in the long history of the Hall of Fame will soon be announced. Voters will decide if three of the most controversial ballplayers of the game’s steroid era will enter the hallowed halls of Cooperstown, and in so doing, the writers will also reveal if they stood up for the integrity of a sport that so many ballplayers have stained.
All-time home run leader (with an *) Barry Bonds, former Boston Red Sox pitching ace Roger Clemens and former slugger Sammy Sosa, the only man to hit more than 60 home runs in three straight seasons, are all on the ballot for the first time. There is strong evidence that all three players used steroids and/or other performance-enhancing drugs to dramatically improve their performances, and Sosa was exposed as a bat-corker when his bat broke during a game and the distance-enhancing substance fell out. They have no business in the Hall and the low vote totals of substance abuser Mark McGwire suggests they may not get there. However, the apologists and rationalizers have been out in force since balloting began last year trying to make a case for the trio.
Both Bonds and Clemens ended up in court on charges that they lied to law enforcement authorities about their steroid use, and the spin is that they were vindicated. While Bonds did escape on several charges, he was convicted of obstructing justice, and the case against Clemens for lying about his steroid use before Congress ended up in a hung jury. At any rate, the court of public opinion and the ballots of Hall of Fame voters do not have to meet the same criteria as a court of law.
The federal investigation into the BALCO steroid distribution case in San Francisco, where Bonds rolled up his outrageous home run numbers, produced substantial evidence of his guilt, and Bonds’ transformation from a lithe speedster in Pittsburgh to the Michelin Man in San Francisco also strongly indicates steroid abuse. Clemens appeared washed up as a pitcher until a miraculous resurrection of his fastball, along with the telltale bloating of his physique, enabled him to pitch successfully for several more years. The evidence against Clemens was substantial, and the indignant Lance Armstrong-style denials of Bonds and Clemens only compounded the injury they did to the game. Sosa, a singles hitter who suddenly started setting homer records, forgot how to speak English when called upon to testify to a U.S. Senate committee investigating steroid use, but unlike Clemens and Bonds, at least he kept silent.
The "everybody did it so the playing field was level" rationalization offered by some pundits is cynical and inaccurate, as there is no evidence that "everybody" was taking steroids. This is an insult to a player like Craig Biggio, a normal-sized infielder on the ballot whose otherwise outstanding statistical accomplishments over an exemplary 20-year career are overshadowed by the dubious accomplishments of the walking pharmacies who hit home runs and did little else. This attitude penalizes a legitimate slugger like Fred McGriff, also up for consideration, who while playing clean couldn’t match the home run numbers rolled up by the likes of Bonds and Sosa.
The steroid era was allowed to corrupt the game and render cherished statistics meaningless because so many -- the media, the players’ union, the fans -- looked the other way, or were dazzled by the home runs popping out of ballparks in the dozens. If the baseball writers look the other way with their ballots, the game will not only be unable to move on from the steroid era, another may be in the offing. Ballplayers are still being caught using performance-enhancing drugs and some are undoubtedly not being caught. It would set an awful example if past abusers were rewarded by Hall of Fame voters, and upon their induction, the Hall would no longer be worthy of the name.