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December 31, 2012 at 11:12 AM

Here’s to hoping that Hall of Fame voters do what they believe on steroids instead of pandering to popularity

Baseball’s all-time home run leader Barry Bonds is the lightning rod for the Hall of Fame debate about whether playerslinked to steroids should go to Cooperstown. Photo Credit: AP

Almost time to say goodbye to the old year and ring in the new. We’ll get back to discussing the Mariners in 2013, or if they do something later today. But this time of year is always one of my least favorite in a baseball context because we get to Hall of Fame voting time and have to listen to an endless screed of insults on the internet telling voters how foolish they are unless they cast a ballot a certain way.

The steroids issue in baseball has exacerbated the situation tenfold and it’s not going to leave us anytime soon. Since Major League Baseball turned a blind eye to steroids on its own shores in the 1990s and the early part of last decade — then continued to do so in its favored recruiting grounds like the Dominican Republic afterwards — we writers are left to clean up the mess when it comes to Hall of Fame voting. Some people believe it’s not up to the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) to decide whether players linked to steroids get voted in to Cooperstown of not. I respectfully disagree, since we are the ones being given ballots and told to vote. When you do that, then point out that players we are voting on may have cheated, well, that’s an open invitation for us to do something about it.

Many of those now criticizing writers for excluding certain players from the Hall of Fame are the same ones who bashed the media for not writing “the truth” back in the 1990’s when players were shooting up behind closed doors. Some writers have felt compelled to apologize for this. I don’t. I have no idea what’s going on in a private clubhouse area walled off to the media any more than you do. I may have my suspicions, sure. But like opinions in the internet age as well as other bodily features, everybody’s got one.

As a writer, I’ve tried to avoid making proclamations about players who might be “clean” as well, no matter how squeaky clean some fans and writers may consider them to be. I’ve tried, in general, to avoid much of the hype that goes into sportswriting and often celebrates on-field athletic accomplishments as equivalent to feats of real courage in other walks of life. That way, you avoid being embarassed later on should unflattering truths come out about a topic you wrote on. That way, you don’t feel compelled to apologize years later for something you had very little control over. Some of us did our best when writing about steroids and some didn’t. Our best may not have been good enough for some people, but I’m OK with how I handled it. Like I said, I tried to avoid the hyperbole and mostly managed to. Not always. But when I didn’t, I learned for next time, which is the best any of us can do.

But those who used to make it a hobby to chastise writers for not doing enough about a topic going on largely behind closed doors a decade ago can’t have it both ways. Now that more of this topic is in the open and we have reports, paperwork and confessions about steroids, it’s a bit hypocritical to criticize the writers who are actually trying to do something about it. Who are actually trying to decide whether a person who cheated gets to go into Cooperstown.

Are we qualified to make that call? The president of the Hall of Fame says we are and that he’s pleased with how voters continue to interpret the rules and carry out their duties. That’s good enough for me. Who better to make that call than the guy in charge of the institution we are voting members into? That one carries more weight with me than other voices I’ve heard, no matter how loud they try to be.

Should cheating disqualify a player or subject them to punishment? To me, it depends on the degree of cheating. I don’t think that getting caught with an emory board one time should necessarily negate a pitcher from Cooperstown inclusion. But that’s just me. That’s my take. Other voters may have a different take. Want to avoid having your fate get caught up in a morals debate between voters? Simple, then. Don’t cheat.

For me, that’s really where this Hall of Fame debate should be focused. Not on the voters. On the guys who cheated in the first place. The guys who cut corners despite being warned in a baseball memo issued in 1991 that told them steroids and other PEDs would not be tolerated. The guys who continued to do it anyway, using baseball’s lack of an effective policing system as carte blanche to keep breaking the rules and in some cases violating U.S. laws in-place since the 1980s.

We’re a little uncomfortable in this country when it comes to dealing with cheaters from all walks of life, not just baseball.

Our banking system was nearly destroyed because we tolerated institutionalized cheating for so long. Everybody from the very top of financial institutions to the lowest level brokers was cheating on mortgages and getting away with it, including the home buyers earning $30,000 a year and filing paperwork that qualified them for a $2-million property.

They justified it with the “Everybody was doing it” line I hear so often when it comes to the use of steroids in baseball.

We had cases of out-and-out cheating in Florida that may have decided the U.S. Presidency in the 2000 election. Have had accusations since then that both political parties are cheating when it comes to exceeding pre-set spending limits. America shrugs and moves on.

Our biggest corporations and business leaders cheat on taxes, despite being wealthy enough to survive quite well without doing so.

We allow a credit scoring system rife with errors and half-truths. A system where deliberately scoring a person’s credit lower works in favor of the credit agencies (who earn more business from buyers of said scores) and the client companies who pay for and then use marked-down scores to justify charging higher rates to consumers.

We have employees padding their resumes under the “everybody does it” excuse. Husbands cheating on wives and vice-versa, leading to some of the highest divorce rates we’ve ever known. College students cheating on entrance exams. Insurance companies cutting corners and paying out as little as they can get away with.

Yes, we in America do have a thing about allowing cheats in our midst. They may tolerate it to the same degree in France, too, for all I know, but I live and work here so this is the place I’m worried about. And we’re dealing with baseball played in this country, so I’m going to look at the atmosphere that exists here and serves as a backdrop to this Hall of Fame debate.

We do, as a society, like to take the quick way to things. We do often take the easy way out. For proof, look at our credit card debt, our leasing of cars previously out of our price range, our homes being foreclosed on because they were paid for with more borrowed money than the places were worth. We’re all about getting ahead and keeping up with the Joneses. Less about putting in the years of work required to build a foundation for that success to happen. We want it quick and we want it now.

None of us is squeaky clean. We’ve all cheated, or cut corners at one time or another in some area. And maybe that’s why this Hall of Fame debate is such a sensitive topic for some people. Maybe there’s a little fear lurking behind the angry arguments that voters “have no right” to punish those who have been linked to cheating with steroids and other PEDs.

Maybe it’s the “Wow, that could be me getting judged” factor at play.

But there is no way around this. No easy way out this time, no matter which side of the fence you happen to come down on. Those writers who make their living trying to please everybody and be popular — and we’ve seen that explode into a cottage industry in the internet age of instant feedback — ┬áhad best stay out of this debate. Because somebody is going to come away really upset with you, no matter how convincing an argument you try to make.

Again, this is not the place for an easy way out. Tough calls are going to have to be made and judgment calls are going to come into play. There are going to be degrees of cheating weighed in voters’ minds, lest every stolen catcher’s sign in a game be used as grounds for Hall of Fame exclusion. Common sense is going to come in, since this isn’t a court of law and we can’t regulate for every hypothetical in every given individual case.

The alternative is to do nothing. In my mind, that’s taking the easy way out. Too close to what we’ve allowed to happen in our country already with consequences far graver than any Hall of Fame decision.

The myth that “We really don’t know, so we have to let them all in” isn’t good enough for me. Here’s a thought: we don’t know everything about anything. But the hard way is to keep trying to learn more about what we don’t know everything about. The easy way is to automatically walk away from things we don’t know everything about.

We do know plenty about who was linked to steroids, based on firsthand testimony, documented paperwork, The Mitchell Report, leaked tests that were supposed to be confidential and other things. No, the standards of evidence are not as high as they would be in a trial. This is not a court of law. The tradeoff for those deemed guilty is, nobody is going to jail (unless they lie to Congress about it) here. We’re talking about inclusion into a Hall of Fame — not the end of a person’s life or freedom.

Bottom line is, while we tolerate a high level of cheating in this country, we also do punish those who get caught doing things all the time.

We don’t free the guy caught burglarizing a house just because there might have been five other burglars we didn’t catch.

We didn’t let Bernie Madoff go even though we know there are probably a bunch of others just like him or worse operating in New York City alone.

The guy caught cheating on his college entrance exam won’t be let off easy just because he was a brilliant honors student all the years before that and it was probably just a one-time thing.

Gary Hart didn’t get to finish his run at the U.S. Presidency in 1988 just because other past, sitting presidents cheated on their wives.

Richard Nixon will never be remembered as the global statesman he was with China and other important initiatives because of that whole Watergate thing.

Even our society, as tolerant as it can be with cheaters, does have consequences for those caught with their hand in the proverbial cookie jar. Don’t want to face the consequences? Simple, don’t cheat. And if you do, don’t get caught. The minute you do, you place your legacy in the hands of others. You no longer control your own destiny.

And that’s what we face here in this Hall of Fame decision when it comes to steroids and what to do with candidates who have been linked to PEDs. In many ways, the consequences we’re debating pale in comparison to others I’ve mentioned above. And that makes it even more imperative that voters make some tough decisions here. This isn’t me getting overly moralistic and taking myself too seriously. If anything, I’m saying “Get a life. This is baseball we’re talking about, not world peace.”

If a few writers can’t handle a little adversity and make some tough calls without breaking into a sweat, by all means, take their ballots away. But I happen to think many of them are qualified and can make informed decisions. And this topic is begging for a decision to be made.

That’s all we need — somebody to make the call. If you want to let guys into Cooperstown, let them in. Just make a halfway reasonable case for it. And it doesn’t have to be a case that I support. Just make it because it’s truly what you believe and not because a group of anonymous fans are calling you names on the internet. The time for pandering to public opinion — in a country where many folks are reluctant to deal with cheating full-on — is over with. Somebody is going to make an enemy here. Get past it and make the tough call, whichever way it goes. No matter who you give the vote to, somebody’s going to disagree with something. Right now, the BBWAA has the vote. They get to make the tough call. And yes, that call has to be made because the numbers used to gauge Hall of Fame inclusion have been thrown into question by cheating. And those who cheated will have to live with the consequences, just like all the other cheaters who got caught before them.

Have a Happy New Year, stay safe and don’t try to cheat the breathalyzer.








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