December 12, 2012

Editorial: Snub steroids or be snubbed


---- — Between now and Dec. 31, the more than 600 members of the Baseball Writers Association of America must decide which of the super-elite Major League Baseball players will be inducted next August into the Hall of Fame.

For our part, we’re hoping they say no, decisively, to Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and any other player against whom there is substantial evidence they enhanced their statistics with illegal substances.

To be elected into the hall, 75 percent of the voters must endorse a player. First-time election is rare — players are eligible for election, beginning five years after their retirement, for 20 years. After that, a Veterans Committee may consider them for induction.

Judging by statistics alone, Bonds, Clemens and Sammy Sosa — also eligible for the first time this year — are shoo-ins. Bonds is the all-time home run leader with 762, having passed Babe Ruth at 714 and Hank Aaron at 755. He is also the season-record holder, with 73, and won an astonishing seven Most Valuable Player awards.

Clemens, a pitcher, is ninth on the all-time wins list and third in strikeouts. He, like Bonds, was the best of his generation and among the very best ever.

Sosa hit 609 homers, eighth most ever, and is the only player to hit 60 in a season three times.

But the cloud of steroids hangs darkly over each of them. There is more than a strong suspicion that each took steroids to boost his performance.

They are the highest-profile players to have their lifetime of stellar play questioned by Hall of Fame voters, but they are not the first.

Others, such as Mark McGwire, have not fared well. McGwire, a towering figure during most his career, became that way after using steroids — a fact he has admitted. He has never received more than 24 percent of the Hall of Fame vote, though on numbers alone he’d be a first-ballot breeze.

Thus, it’s likely that Bonds, Clemens and Sosa will be disappointed, as well — at least this year.

The shame of it is that Bonds and Clemens, at least, were Hall of Famers before they ever were tempted by steroids. It’s said that Bonds, though perhaps the best all-around player in the game at the time, felt diminished in the public’s mind by 60-homer exploits of McGwire and Sosa and was seduced into believing he had to beef up to be elevated to iconic status.

He beefed up, all right. Even his hat size appeared to increase.

The shame of steroid use is not just in the violation of strict baseball rules — a la Pete Rose, another Hall of Fame would-be. It is in the devastation it has done to something baseball has always cherished: its records. Baseball is a game of legendary numbers.

For decades, 50 home runs in a year and 500 in a lifetime, for example, were measures of superstardom. Not any more.

For that, Bonds, Clemens, et. al. must pay the price.