Juice has sucked fun out of voting
Cover major league baseball on a daily basis for a newspaper for 10 consecutive years and you get to vote on Hall of Fame candidates. Forever.
It is one of the great privileges of being a baseball writer. It's a responsibility most of us take seriously. And it has become a tremendous pain in the posterior. Much as I hate to admit it, Alex Rodriguez's sad situation makes one wonder if it's time for baseball writers to withdraw from Cooperstown's business.
Last weekend's bombshell news that A-Rod tested positive for steroids - and Rodriguez's subsequent confession - brought the Hall of Fame conundrum to the fore. Again.
Are you going to vote for A-Rod when he's on the ballot?
What about Bonds and Clemens?
Do you think this will help Mark McGwire?
What if more big names surface when the other 103 players who tested positive are outed?
There are no easy answers. A difficult and untidy question has become impossibly messy.
It all goes back to the infamous Hall of Fame voting Rule No. 4. Unchanged for decades, the rule states, "Candidates shall be chosen on the basis of playing ability, sportsmanship, character, their contribution to the team on which they played, and to baseball in general."
Football doesn't have a Rule No. 4. That's how O.J. Simpson's bust stays in Canton, Ohio. All that matters is what you did on the field.
Baseball asks voters to consider "character." This is a slippery slope. For starters (and I've said this many times), as much as I love my baseball-writing brothers and sisters, we could not be less qualified to pass judgment on the "character" of ballplayers. Asking baseball writers to assess character is a little like hiring sports radio savants to take your SATs. It's a whole bowl of wrong.
Writers never actually passed judgment on the likes of Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose. Both have overwhelming Hall numbers, but they've never been on a ballot because they were placed on the "permanently ineligible list" by the commissioner of baseball.
Other figures have been kept out of Cooperstown, or made to wait, because of the "character" clause. Ferguson Jenkins and Orlando Cepeda come to mind. They had drug troubles, and it postponed their inductions. Gaylord Perry got into the Hall even though he admitted he cheated by loading up the baseball.
Now we have the 'Roids Boys, starting with McGwire. McGwire hit 583 home runs but he can't even crack 25 percent of the vote because we're all convinced we saw a confession of steroid use when he dummied up before Congress in 2005. Rafael Palmeiro is soon to be on the ballot and he's not getting in because he failed a drug test after lying to Congress.
In the wake of the A-Rod disclosure, a look at the all-time home run list reveals that five of the top 12 players are confirmed cheaters or strongly suspected of being cheaters: Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, McGwire, Palmeiro, and Rodriguez.
Rodriguez is asking future Hall voters to consider his body of work outside of those years he admits he was on the juice. He wants us to take away his three 'roided-up years in Texas and discover that his numbers are still Hall-worthy. This is what many of Bonds's defenders insist: Barry already had qualified for the Hall by the time he left Pittsburgh. He was a Hall of Famer before he was a juicer.
Sorry, no can do. A golfer who only cheats on the back nine is still disqualified. A cheater is still in violation of Rule 4.
But what if everyone was cheating? That's what we're wondering in the wake of the A-Rod splash and the 103 unnamed users who played alongside Rodriguez in 2003. This seems to help the likes of McGwire, Bonds, and Clemens. If we start to believe that all the players were using performance enhancers, then the playing field was, in fact, level.
And that is why the prospect of casting a future vote is so unpleasant. It's becoming almost impossible to remain consistent. Are you a hanging judge, or all-inclusive? Or do you cherry-pick, excluding only those you think were cheating? Does one withhold votes from A-Rod and Palmeiro because they failed a test, but vote for McGwire and Sosa because it was never proven? Or do you go with instinct?
Certainly it's a mistake to make any declaration until a player's name appears on a ballot. A-Rod has nine years left on his contract. Players do not appear on the ballot until five years after they retire. This puts A-Rod on the ballot sometime around 2024, at the earliest. A lot can happen between now and then.
Bonds? He could be in jail by the time we vote on him. What would that say about "character"?
Clemens? Could be indicted any minute.
Miguel Tejada? The feds bagged him for lying yesterday.
Now A-Rod is dirty. It goes on and on.
Voting for the Hall of Fame is no fun anymore. It puts us in a game we never signed on to play.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.