The calls started to come the other night from other Hall of Fame writers asking if I intended to vote for Mike Piazza, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa. As a Hall of Fame voter the past decade I take the responsibility seriously.
Because of their connection to performance enhancing drugs, I did not vote for Mark McGwire or Rafael Palmeiro, the latter whom I covered when he was with the Orioles. Palmeiro certainly didn’t look bulked up at the time. I had been on the Yankees’ beat for several years when he waved his finger at Congress and said he never used steroids. I believed him.
My guess, and it’s only a guess, is he thought after that display he wouldn’t be tested. I liked Palmeiro and it pains me to leave him off, At 3,000 hits and 500 homers, achieved mostly before his testimony, he was a given. He’s fallen off the radar since his retirement which leaves me wanting more.
Of the candidates, the only one I am sure of is Craig Biggio. Bonds, Sosa and Clemens are a definite no now because they have been implicated or tested positive. There is evidence as to their use. Piazza is different and I don’t know about him yet. He hasn’t failed a drug test and wasn’t accused in the Mitchell Report.
I don’t care about the newspaper articles of his back acne. What gives me pause is his autobiography is coming out in February, deliberately held back by the publisher until after the Hall of Fame announcement. I am wondering why. If Piazza didn’t use steroids, then why not come out and scream it? He has friends in the press in New York. Why doesn’t he say something?
I’ll probably wait on Piazza until next year depending on what he says in the book.
What is also interesting is the silence from the teams. Not a word. In previous years, teams would bombard the voters with emails, similar to what the colleges do when they have a Heisman candidate. Nothing, not a peep from these teams. Makes you think they know something, and it isn’t good.
Not only their silence speaks volumes, but the Giants and Cubs seem to be distancing themselves from Bonds and Sosa, respectively. Sosa is a two-time cheater in my book, using steroids and a corked bat. He can pretend not to understand English before Congress and bleach his skin white after retirement, but he can’t hide. We know what he is.
With the Mets, a franchise in desperate need of positive news, there’s been no public support for Piazza, a player who said he wants to go in wearing their cap. (The Hall of Fame decides the cap with its basis on where that player made his mark.) The Hall’s thinking with Piazza is he’d wear a Dodger cap. Clemens would wear Boston, Bonds would wear San Francisco and Sosa would wear the Cubs.
I don’t think that will be an issue on the first ballot.
I’m sensitive on the steroid issue because I believe the essence of sport to the viewer is for him/her to know what they are seeing is real. Steroids blurs that perception, as does gambling.
I read one columnist wax poetic on Clemens’ rigid workout routine, of how he dragged a tire from his waist as he ran sprints. What do you think enabled him to do that?
I listened intently when Clemens boast of his workouts when I covered the Yankees. I wrongly assumed steroids was just for hitters, that the juice wouldn’t add anything to his fastball. That’s what David Cone told me.
But, that wasn’t the point, or the issue, to me then.
What steroids do is enable you to train longer and harder, to give you that strength and stamina to play hard in the August heat when other players struggle.
Yes, you still have to hit the ball. But, when you’re stronger and not tired, you’re able to maintain bat speed and that’s what generated the power. It’s not about the 450-foot homer, but the 411-footer that just gets over the wall. That’s where the ability to work harder comes in.
That’s the rub on steroids. How many additional homers and strikeouts the player accumulates when on steroids is anybody’s guess. When a player uses steroids, he’s enhanced by chemistry. Yes, he still has to work in the gym, but the steroids give him that extra push to lift that extra weight.
It isn’t really him doing that. It isn’t real and the public deserves real. The teams didn’t care at the time, neither did the Commissioner.
Baseball was wounded by the work stoppage of 1994-95 and the killing of the World Series by Bud Selig. Desperate for positive news, all of baseball relished in the McGwire-Sosa home run chase. Fannies were in the seats, and don’t forget, chicks love the long ball.
So did baseball, as the fans started to come back to fill the greedy owners’ coffers.
It was a shameful era in baseball history. But, it is history nonetheless, and history isn’t always clean and pretty.
If baseball would put an asterisk by the names of the players that cheated and remove them from the record books as cycling did to Lance Armstrong, I’d be all for it. As far as I am concerned the real home run record holders are Hank Aaron and Roger Maris.
When I talk of Bonds, I don’t even use the term home run. I say balls hit over the wall.
If baseball would do that, and the Hall of Fame note on the plaque the player was implicated using steroids, then I’d vote for him.
That would mean the truth.