BASEBALL’S BIGGEST SHUTOUT
This one should go down as the “Referendum Vote”, and it should be considered a referendum on everyone linked to the game during what is now known as baseball’s “Steroid Era”. For the first time since 1996 no players showed up on the 75% of the ballots of the Baseball Writers of America necessary for induction into the Hall of Fame. It will be a quiet summer in Cooperstown, with only three men who died more than seventy years ago being granted entry. It is no coincidence these were the first ballots to consider Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa. While Mark McGwire’s first appearance on the ballot, two years ago, marked the beginning of the representation of that era, Bonds, Clemens and Sosa are clearly the poster boys of that dark time in baseball history, Bonds and Clemens susected of using steroids, Sosa with a positive test in his background. All of the newcomers on this years ballots, and some of the returnees, guilty of using steroids or not, suspicious or not, paid the price for the era itself, notable among them two first timers, Craig Biggio and Mike Piazza, who both finished in the top four in this year’s vote. Biggio’s name has rarely been linked to steroid use, other than being part of the era. He owns one of the Hall of Fame milestone statistics, 3,000 hits, and fell less than seven percent short, an indication he’s ticketed for immortality, possibly as soon as next year, which may be a referendum on his own status as a first ballot entry, reserved for the elite of the elite, more than a referendum on the era. Piazza, however, may have a longer wait. He fell seventeen percent short and many writers have openly expressed specific doubts about his purity, citing several injuries during his career that are common to steroid use, and the rash of pimples on his back that is characteristic of that use. The percentages for ballot repeaters Jack Morris and Jeff Bagwell, 67 and 59 respectively, would indicate there is induction in their future while the delays for both can be considered products of the indictment of their era, neither having been directly tied to steroids. That’s not to say the Bonds’, Clemens’, Sosas and McGwires of the era are the only ones who deserve to be sanctioned for that era. Bonds and Clemens are almost certain to eventually gain entry, Sosa and McGwire, both of whom showed up on less than 17% of the ballots, are considered more tainted. Bonds and Clemens had Hall of Fame credentials prior to the suspicions of steroid use, Sosa and McGwire are suspected of building their most hall-worthy credentials while juicing. The responsibility for the blight on baseball during that era falls on everyone involved, owners who delighted to the symphony of the turnstiles while home runs were flying out of the park, non juicing players who refused to demand testing for all under pressure from a union that saw those home runs as arbitration fodder to raise the numbers on all player contracts, writers who delighted in chronicling the exploits McGwire and Sosa, as they pursued Roger Maris, and Bonds, as he pursued Hank Aaron, and a commissioner who oversaw it all, seeing only dollar signs. The writers had their say yesterday. There were so few clean hands during that era that by holding everyone responsible they got it right. With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.