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Erasing a line in the sand

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  November 28, 2012 08:45 AM

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Here is what the Hall of Fame ballot says when it arrives in the mail:

Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

That's it.

Ideally there would be a list of those players who used performance-enhancing drugs, the dates they used them and a detailed statistical analysis of whether the drugs in fact enhanced their performance.

There's not, of course. You have to guess. In some cases, it's pretty easy. In others, it's pretty hard. In some cases, you have no idea whatsoever.

This will be my third year voting. In my first year, I mustered up a mighty wave of self righteousness and decided that no player I suspected of using PEDs would get my vote. I'll show them.

Last year I moved my line and decided that unless there was some kind of tangible connection to PEDs, I would consider voting for a player. I changed because of Jeff Bagwell, a guy who sure looked the part of a drug user but was never linked to it. It seemed unfair to exclude him based only on suspicion.

Now I've decided to erase the line completely.

Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and the rest of the scoundrels will get my vote. I'll look at the players based on their statistical merit, how they compared to other players of their era and to other players in the Hall of Fame. I won't sit at my desk and do Google searches to decide who is clean and who was cheating.

If you think that is a cowardly way out, I can't argue with you. But it beats stabbing around in the dark and hoping to be right.

It is my belief taking steroids or other performance enhancing drugs is cheating. If you have to obtain prescription drugs illegally, you're breaking the law of the land. Whether that happened to be a baseball rule or not is insignificant.

The first day Bonds stuck a needle in his buttocks, he didn't tell everybody. He knew what he was doing was wrong.

But it's also my belief that the Hall of Fame is a reflection of baseball history. There was a period in baseball when blacks were banned. There were 16 teams in 1920 and now there are 30. There was a Dead Ball Era. There was a time that pitchers were so dominant that they lowered the mound. There wasn't a DH until 1973. You can go on and on about how much the game has changed.

The Steroid Era is a part of that of history, too. There was a time in baseball when everybody — owners, players, management, the Players Association, media — looked the other way at drug use. It was generally accepted that a lot of players took steroids.

There was no testing, just balls getting launched into the atmosphere at historic rates and scrubby pitchers who showed in spring training suddenly throwing 95-mph fastballs.

Some of players got caught. They got their drugs from a small-time dealer named Kirk Radomski, a clubhouse attendant with the Mets who ratted them out. Clemens allegedly fell in with Brian McNamee, a former cop who proclaimed himself a trainer.

But other players were smarter and kept their secrets hidden. The Hall of Fame shouldn't be determined by who covered up their wrongdoing the most effectively. If so, then what is the point?

Then there is this: Clemens was ridiculously good for 13 years with the Red Sox. Then, if you believe McNamee, he started using PEDs after he got to Toronto in 1997. So is Clemens out because of some moral code or is he in based on those first 13 years?

What of the guy like Andy Pettitte, who swears he tried HGH only briefly? Is he excluded when he gets in the ballot?

Are amphetamines OK because the players back in the 50s used them? Is Ryan Braun in or out because he figured out a loophole in the testing system last winter when he tested positive?

Sorry, but I'm in no position to decide all that. The Hall of Fame is a wing in a museum, a place to go learn about the game. PEDs were part of the game and my ballot will reflect that.

I'd be happy to hear what you have to say about this. Please feel free to leave a comment and hopefully a reasonable discussion will take place.

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