GORDON WHITE: Debate Rages: Steroids, PEDs Sticking Point for Hall of Fame
Major League Baseball players who use PED (performance enhancing drugs) and are then voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame should have a big asterisk alongside their names to denote their achievements were tainted by PED.
At least that is what long-time Hall of Fame members Hank Aaron and Ozzie Smith believe should be done to the likes of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Gary Sheffield, Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, Andy Pettitte, Manny Ramirez and others who are now on the Hall of Fame ballot or will be on that ballot five years after they retire from active MLB.
Each of these nine players has either admitted to using PED or been linked to such usage while not conceding he did use steroids or other PED. Each of these players had outstanding careers with record-setting performances or statistics good enough to be considered for Hall of Fame membership.
Hank Aaron, who broke Babe Ruth's career home run record of 715 and went on to set the mark at 755 homers for a career, said, "The thing is, do you put these guys in, or do you put an asterisk beside their names and say, 'Hey, they did it, but here's why'. To be safe, that's the only way I see that you can do it."
Aaron and other members of the Baseball Hall of Fame spoke last weekend while attending this year's ceremonies in Cooperstown, N.Y. They were there to celebrate as Ricky Henderson, MLB's stolen base record holder, and Jim Rice, one of the three great Boston Red Sox left fielders, were inducted into the Hall.
Joe Gordon, the New York Yankee and Cleveland Indian second baseman, was inducted posthumously.
The great shortstop, Ozzie Smith, agreed with Aaron, saying, "For those people in this particular era, the only thing I think you can do is put an asterisk by it. And the asterisk has to read that these numbers were accomplished during the Steroid Era. Baseball has always been a game where we've had an idea of what was real and what wasn't. In this particular era, I don't know if any of us know what's real and what's not."
Smith played for the San Diego Padres, 1978-1981, and then earned his greatest glory with the St. Louis Cardinals, 1982-1996. Aaron hit 733 of his home runs with the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves, 1954-1976, and his final 22 homers with the Milwaukee Brewers, 1975 and 1976.
In addition to Hank Aaron's career mark of 755 home runs, unassisted by PED, there is Roger Maris' "clean" 61 home runs he hit in 1961 that broke Babe Ruth's 1927 mark of 60 homers in a single season. Both of these numbers were eclipsed by one or more of the nine players mentioned above as having been tainted by links to steroid use or other PED.
First Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs in 1998. Then Barry Bonds hit 73 in 2001. Sammy Sosa hit 66, 63 and 64 home runs in each of 3 seasons during a 4-year span in the 1990s. Bonds, who has been facing possible federal perjury charges involving PED, played his last MLB game two years ago after breaking Aaron's career home run record. Bonds finished his career with 762 home runs.
Sosa and Bonds tested positive during MLB's first drug testing program in 2003, according to reports about the list of more than 100 players who tested positive in that 2003 examination of MLB athletes. Although MLB executives and the players' union agreed that no names of players testing positive would be made public, the names have been leaking out one by one in recent months.
The latest names to be exposed came out Thursday when The New York Times reported the Dodgers' Manny Ramirez and the Red Sox' David Ortiz tested positively in 2003. Ramirez was with the Red Sox in 2003.
Both Ortiz and Ramirez were with the Red Sox a year later when Boston broke its 86-year drought and won the World Series. They were leading factors in that success as they hit third and fourth in the Sox batting order and each one had a very productive season.
Ramirez was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers a year ago this month. Shortly after this season began he was suspended for 50 games after testing positive for drugs banned by MLB.
Both Ortiz and Ramirez are possible future candidates for the Hall when they end their careers.
Harmon Killebrew, a Hall of Fame member who hit 573 home runs during 22 years in the American League, said, "As far as I am concerned, Hank Aaron is the all-time home run champ and Roger Maris should still have the single season record at 61. But Barry Bonds is the name you see in the record book."
Thus spoke Hall of Fame members who cherish baseball records and their own achievements made without using PED.
Even though it is very easy to agree with Aaron, Smith and other Hall of Famers and separate drug users from non-PED users in the Hall, there are some obvious problems with their rather over-simplistic use of that devilish little multi-pointed ink blotch known as an asterisk.
For starters, how about that good old American tradition of innocent until proved guilty?
Despite what has been said and written, Clemens, Sosa and Bonds have not been found guilty of using steroids as of today, reports notwithstanding. Clemens and Bonds insist they never knowingly used PED while Sosa says nothing on the subject. Mark McGwire claims he used PED substances that were not banned by MLB at the time he ingested them.
Do you put an asterisk alongside the name of men who deny PED use while no one can prove the players performed such acts that are forbidden by current MLB rules?
Also, everyone seems to forget the players who are never mentioned as PED users but might have secretly been users. Suppose one or more of them, who played during the steroid era, is voted into the Hall of Fame. Are they to get a free pass while players linked to steroids but not proved guilty of the practice have an asterisk?
Then there is the question: Just when did the "steroid era" begin? And has it ended? Some experts claim the great majority of MLB players in the late 1980's, the 1990's and early this century used steroids and other PED and that many are still users.
Also, an asterisk may not be necessary if none of the players linked to steroid use are voted into the Hall of Fame.
Also, some folks insist that players throughout MLB history have used foreign substances to enhance their efforts on the field. These people say that use of cocaine in the early 20th century was one example of PED in the old days.
Also, heavy drinking and use of alcohol was common among players back then. This was followed by drugs to sober up the next day. All of these were, according to some, "ancient" PED.
If so, these people say, then there should not be anything to distinguish PED use today from PED use of 75 to 100 years ago.
Last winter 539 Hall of Fame ballots were cast when Henderson and Rice were voted in.
A player must be named on 75 per cent of the ballots cast by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America in order to get into the Hall. Gordon was selected by the special and much smaller Old Timers Committee.
Mark McGwire has been on the Hall of Fame ballot for the last three years. Each time he was named on less than 30 per cent of the ballots cast.
It appears obvious he is not getting into the Hall of Fame via the BWAA route because of his links to PED. His evasive testimony before a Congressional hearing four years ago did not help him.
Most people feel that players such as Clemens, Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro (3,020 hits, 569 home runs and 1,835 RBIs in 20 MLB seasons ) will suffer the same fate at the hands of BWAA voters.
The Hall of Fame chances for Alex Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte are different.
They have admitted wrong-doing and asked forgiveness. Manny Ramirez admitted to his mistake that caused his recent suspension from the Dodgers. But he has not yet spoken to the 2003 allegation of testing positive.
Will all this suffice to warm the hearts of those cynical sports reporters in a few years when they see A-Rod, Pettitte or Ramirez on the ballot?
As to Barry Bonds' chances, they are very close to zero right now.
Hank Aaron and Ozzie Smith may wish to set steroid users apart if and when those miscreants enter the Hall of Fame. But I doubt very much that anyone strongly associated with PED usage is going to get by the guards at the gate while some will get into the Hall of Fame even though they used PED and nobody knew about it.
Therefore, it is best to forget the asterisk and let voters decide if the achievements of a career are, on balance, worthy of induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is email@example.com.
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