Letting assumptions into Hall voting a slippery slope

Since there's no way to know all the users, judgment is reduced to a guessing game

By Richard Justice
01/08/13 10:00 AM ET

I'm perfectly fine with keeping steroid users out of the Hall of Fame if someone will just point them out to me.
Go ahead. I'll wait.
Only thing is, be fair.
If you're going to finger one steroid user, be sure you finger 'em all.
Barry Bonds?
Roger Clemens?
If keeping Bonds and Clemens out of the Hall of Fame will keep steroids out of the Hall of Fame, let's lock the door on them.

On the other hand, if steroid use was rampant, then how do we know who used and who didn't?
Maybe Bonds and Clemens just got unlucky. Maybe they got noticed while dozens of others will be rewarded with baseball's highest honor because they got away with doing the same things Bonds and Clemens are supposed to have done.
Maybe this whole character/morality thing has become too fuzzy. Maybe it always was.
One voter told me he wouldn't vote for Clemens, Bonds, McGwire, etc., because he has too much respect for the game.
Oh, Lord, scoop out my eyes with a plastic spoon. There are few things sportswriters enjoy more than preaching about right and wrong.
I love Craig Biggio. He defines Hall of Famer any way you want to define it. He was never fingered as a steroid user, either. Never failed a test. Never was named in a criminal investigation. Never was accused by anyone, as far as I know.
I have no idea whether Craig Biggio used steroids or not, and none of the people who are voting for him know, either. They may think they know. They don't.
And that guy who said he had too much respect for the game to vote for Bonds and Clemens doesn't, either.
Still, Biggio may be a first-ballot inductee while his longtime teammate, Jeff Bagwell, may be passed over again, even though he put up better numbers than Biggio. But there's a perception that Biggio is clean and that Bagwell used steroids, even though Bagwell has never been connected with the drugs except by getting big and hitting home runs.
This is silly. It's one thing potentially not to vote for a guy named in the Mitchell Report. Or a guy named in a criminal investigation.
But it seems insane not to vote for a guy because he fits the profile of a steroid user. I mean, he may have used steroids, but we really don't know, so let's leave him out just in case. That's a shaky standard, and if it's the one we're using, it's going to be difficult to vote for a lot of guys.
I don't like the idea of steroid users standing up there with Frank Robinson and Hank Aaron on induction Sunday, either. Honestly, it kind of makes me sick.
But this is what happens when performance-enhancing drugs enter a sport. It's in all of them, not just baseball, by the way. Everyone falls under the umbrella of suspicion.
Our choices as voters are:
Vote for the best players and stop playing the guessing game regarding steroids.
Stop voting.
Pretend you know more than you do and are protecting the game by not voting for Bonds and Clemens.
Steroid use is not a gray area. To use steroids, a player has to find a dealer. In doing this, he has to break the law. He knows he's breaking the law, too. He also knows he is putting his reputation on the line.
Yes, there was a culture in which it was OK. Players believed their union would protect them, and until 2002, it did just that.
There was also peer pressure. If some of the best players on earth had to use steroids, then the average -- even the above-average -- player probably felt he had to use them, too.
What about the 25th or 26th guy on the roster? He might be the guy with a family who's trying to avoid another year in the Minor Leagues, or he might be trying to do just enough to score one significant contract to pay off the mortgage.
"It's a huge moral dilemma for a lot of guys," Brad Ausmus once said.
It cuts many different ways.
"So I show up at Spring Training after working my tail off all winter," Luke Scott once said, "and the guy at the locker next to me has added 15 pounds of muscle. I know how he did it. He knows how he did it.
"But he comes in and has a great spring and you guys write all this great stuff about him, and the organization falls in love with him. No one cares how he added the muscle."
That's the thing about Clemens. His competitive fires raged, and if there was a substance that allowed him to get better, to continue being the best, Clemens was probably going to have a tough time sorting out his ambition and his judgment.
Does that make him a bad guy? We want players to care about their teams as much as we care about them. We want them to pay the price, whatever that price is. In the past couple of decades, science has given players options that players from previous generations never had.
What would Willie Mays and Hank Aaron have done if the same options were available? That doesn't make steroid use right, but it's a great temptation for people who are driven to be the best.
Did they think they would be disgraced if they were found out? They probably only looked around and said, "I've gotta keep up."
A few years ago, when Commissioner Bud Selig asked his historian, Jerome Holtzman, to look into baseball's different eras to try to figure out steroids' place in the larger history of the game, Holtzman heard stories that players were injecting themselves with various substances in the 1950s.
They probably weren't getting a competitive advantage out of it, but the intent to cheat was there.
It's all too cloudy. I love the Hall of Fame. I think of it as a sacred place in terms of this game we all love.
I also know Clemens and Bagwell and Biggio and McGwire. They were really good players. They were also part of a generation of players fueled in part by steroids.
We will never know who used and who didn't. I'm tired of the guessing game. I feel it's insidious.
So I'm voting for the best players. Here are the names I checked: Bagwell, Biggio, Bonds, Clemens, Edgar Martinez, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling and Alan Trammell.
I didn't vote for Kenny Lofton, Fred McGriff, McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa and Larry Walker because I ran out of space on my ballot. There's a case to be made for all of them.