Got a call the other day from USA Today, which was polling BBWAA Hall of Fame voters about A-Roid Rodriguez. The question:
Will I or won't I vote for him when he becomes eligible five years after he retires?
My answer was a reluctant yes.
And not only for A-Roid but for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and, starting next year, Mark McGwire, for whom I hadn't voted his first three years on the ballot. (Sammy Sosa is a tougher sell, because he was caught corking his bat, too.)
What's starting to sink in for me is that the use of performance-enhancing drugs was so widespread from 1985 (and maybe earlier) through 2005 (and maybe later) that I probably either have to vote for every deserving ballplayer or no ballplayer at all, regardless of his stats.
It's obvious that we can't trust any of them. For example, Frank Thomas has denied ever taking steroids and was among the first players to welcome random testing. Then again, he was huge, he was muscular, he was moody and his body broke down, all tell-tale signs of juicing. Now please, I'm not saying The Big Hurt was The Big Syringe. All I'm saying is that we can't be sure.
So do we exclude only the guys named in the Mitchell Report? (Don't forget: McGwire and Sosa were barely mentioned.)
Do we exclude only the Mitchell guys and those whose names are about to be made public from the 2003 testing procedure? (That's what sunk A-Roid, thanks to great reporting by Sports Illustrated's Selena Roberts.)
Do we exclude only the Mitchell guys, the 2003 guys and those we're pretty darned sure took steroids?
Do we exclude only the Mitchell guys, the 2003 guys, the pretty-darned-sure guys and the guys we now suspect are taking HGH and other hard-to-detect enhancers?
Do guys who admit and apologize - even if their admissions and/or apologies are as unsatisfying as A-Roid's was - get dibs over guys who deny? What if the deniers are telling the truth?
Do we throw out two decades of candidates - every darned one of them, from frauds like A-Roid to choir boys like Jim Thome - because even if they weren't users they surely knew juicing was going on in their clubhouses and they chose to ignore it?
Or do we say this:
"Hey, there was the Dead Ball Era, the Live Ball Era, the greenies era, the nearly century-long era that didn't let black men play big-league ball and, from 1985-on, the Steroid Era. The Hall of Fame always has been about how players stacked up against their peers ... and McGwire had to bat against Clemens, Andy Pettitte had to pitch to A-Roid and so on."
The latter is where I'm leaning.
Now excuse me while I go take a long, hot, cleansing shower.