Bob Ryan

When will it end?

Sosa writes game's latest dark chapter

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / June 18, 2009
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Here’s the question for baseball: What is the end game?

Is it to ensure that the game is cleaned up and will be forever played in the proper spirit? Or is it to stage the baseball equivalent of the Nuremberg Trials, bringing to justice all the nefarious miscreants of its recent past? And if the latter is indeed the case, a second question must be asked:

Is that soul-searching really necessary?

Do we need to be reminded again that everyone slipped up, that baseball management and the national media either covered up the situation or, which is far more to the point, just never really caught on? That’s old news. As a member of that baseball-loving media, I certainly plead guilty to being ignorant and naive. I saw certain things, but I never made any serious attempt to connect the dots.

So, shame on me? Yup. But other than saying three Hail Marys and five Our Fathers, and throwing in a good Act of Contrition, what am I supposed to do? I’ll just try to be more observant from now on. I really don’t know what else to say or do.

We are now in possession of information that implicates some of the great achievers of our time as people who incorporated performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) into their otherwise legitimate training regimes. Some of that evidence is more direct than others, but the totality of it is staggering. It was better living through chemistry, all right.

Please tell me you were not surprised to learn that Sammy Sosa allegedly tested positive in 2003. We all recall the Original Sammy, the Blown-Up Sammy, and the Incredible Shrinking Sammy. We all watched his sudden inability to speak English when he appeared before Congress. Of course he was doing something. I wasn’t thinking in those terms a decade ago, but a lot’s gone on since that glorious summer of ’98. We’re all a little bit hipper to reality now.

But now that we’ve caught him, what do we do with him? Oh, that’s right. We can keep him out of Cooperstown.

Yes, we can, and we probably will. If Mark McGwire can’t attract even 25 percent of the vote, what do you think will be Sammy’s percentage? We Hall of Fame voters have been dissing McGwire’s 583 homers, and it won’t require any great resolve to ignore Sammy’s 609, the sixth-highest total of all time. The clock has now begun ticking on Barry Bonds. Can’t wait till 2012.

One of the worst aspects of the PED mess is that just about everyone who puts up any large numbers is now suspect. Would you not agree with the following?

1. All sluggers are suspect.

2. All Caribbean-based sluggers are doubly suspect.

3. All Dominican sluggers should be booked and read their Miranda rights.

Sadly, that’s where we are.

It’s clear that there has been a more casual attitude toward the use of PEDs by Caribbean-based players, and it’s undeniable that PEDs are easily available down there, especially in the Dominican Republic, which has become an irreplaceable source of baseball talent.

Of course, I don’t really believe that everyone was using PEDs (I’m including human growth hormone, HGH, for the sake of this discussion). I mean, even David Eckstein has hit a home run every now and then. But we know that many people were, and that would also include the pitchers. We’ll never know how many classic battles there may have been between an artificially-enhanced pitcher and an artificially-enhanced batter. And given the fact that there is still no regular testing available for HGH, we don’t know how many took place last night. It would be naive to think there were none, even if commissioner Bud Selig boasts about baseball’s stringent new drug-testing policy. (We still have this HGH quandary.)

Selig says the emphasis should be on the future, on cleaning up the game. That makes sense.

But baseball is more about the great continuum of past and present than any other American sport. Baseball gleefully wraps itself in nostalgia and numbers. When the only man to hit 60-plus home runs three times is tainted, that becomes a problem, just as it’s a problem when your all-time home run king is tainted, or when your one-season home run king is tainted, or when the man No. 2 in post-WWI victories among righthanded pitchers is tainted, or when the man acclaimed as the best of all contemporary players is tainted.

We won’t even mention that your all-time hits leader is also tainted, for a very different reason.

So, yes, the Hall of Fame issue is important to baseball.

Rejecting the likes of McGwire, Sosa, Roger Clemens, and Alex Rodriguez on what we’ll call moral grounds is, at best, shaky. In the cases of Bonds and Clemens, the argument has been advanced that each man had clearly constructed a Hall of Fame résumé before the period in which he is believed to have started messing around with PEDs. And in each case that happens to be true. Should a voter reject them for going, oh, I don’t know, a bit over the top in pursuit of even more glory and riches? I’m just asking.

We are on a very slippery slope now, and we can’t get off. Are we remotely capable of parsing every individual career, of separating the pre-PED portions of careers from the post-PEDs, or, in the case of McGwire, figuring out how many of his post-1995 homers became homers, as opposed to warning-track fly balls, as a result of his messing around with PEDs?

Should we put Clemens under oath and ask him to give us a reasonable estimate of how many post-1997 Ks might not have materialized without the extra juice?

It seems to me that’s where we’re going.

Here’s my Hall of Fame solution, everyone gets voted on by the apparent merits. The numbers are the numbers are the numbers. But we institute a policy of color-coded plaques.

PURPLE - Admitted he did stuff.

GREEN - Wouldn’t admit it but, c’mon, you think we’re stupid?

WHITE - No remote evidence of malfeasance.

Then we can address the real issue: How did PED use affect pennant races and championships? That should keep us busy until Barry Bonds’s great-great-great-great-great-great grandson steps in against Roger Clemens’s great-great-great-great-great-great grandson.

Discuss among yourselves.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on He can be reached at

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