For the first time in two years, America's baseball writers elected new members into the Hall of Fame Wednesday, including a player who briefly flashed across the firmament in Pittsfield. Adding to the good news were the rejections of the ballplayers who were at the heart of the scandalous steroid era, and what is even more encouraging is that these players appear to be shedding what support they had.
Pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, teammates in Atlanta from 1993 through 2002, and Chicago White Sox slugger Frank Thomas were elected to the Hall, with Maddux collecting 97.2 percent of the vote, just shy of the highest percentage ever. A four-time Cy Young Award winner as the best pitcher in the National League, Maddux pitched at Wahconah Park in 1986 with the Eastern League's Pittsfield Cubs in the increasingly long ago days when Pittsfield hosted professional baseball. Maddux was young and looked younger - he could have passed for a member of the local American Legion team, at least until he uncorked a pitch. Maddux had his trademark pinpoint control even then, and was not in Pittsfield long before moving on to Chicago and the start of a stellar 23-year career.
A Maddux teammate on that Pittsfield team in 1986 was Rafael Palmeiro, who hit 569 home runs and collected 3,020 hits in his 19-year major league career. Palmeiro appeared to be on his way to the Hall of Fame, but he failed a test for performanceenhancing drugs in 2005, just four months after he pointed his finger at his inquisitors in a U.S. Senate hearing on PEDs and denied ever having used them. Palmeiro, who had languished on the ballot for three years, dropped off for good Wednesday when his 4.4 percent of the vote left him short of the 5 percent needed to remain in contention. The same year the slightly built, hard-working Maddux will be honored in Cooperstown for doing things the right way, Palmeiro will essentially disappear from baseball's radar.
Barry Bonds, who devolved from a lithe speedster into a freakishly bloated slugger in breaking Hank Aaron's cherished career home run record, and former Red Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays pitcher Roger Clemens, lawyered up to elude allegations of PED abuse, but the Hall of Fame is not a court of law. They each received around 35 percent of the vote Wednesday (75 percent is needed for induction), slight drops for both from 2013, when no one was elected to Cooperstown.
The Popeye-biceped Mark McGwire, who shattered Roger Maris' single season home run record in 1998 and belatedly acknowledged using PEDs, received 11 percent of the vote Wednesday, his lowest total in eight years on the ballot. Sammy Sosa, an ordinary ballplayer who suspiciously hit 60 or more homers in three seasons and was caught using a corked bat, got just 7.2 percent of the vote Wednesday and will probably vanish Palmeiro-like from the ballot a year from now.
Apologists for the drug abusers argue that "everybody did it" - they didn't. Failing that, they may question the banning of the enhancements, but the drugs are illegal for good reason, primarily their short- and longterm health effects. The players mentioned above, as well as others, distorted the cherished records that are the foundation of the game and left a black mark that won't be erased. Major League Baseball is still catching and penalizing abusers - and dealing with the long-running embarrassment that is the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez - but it is getting healthier. On July 27, the game will receive a major boost when it honors three men who played the game properly through their long, distinguished careers and made baseball better for their presence.