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The first year I had a Hall of Fame vote also was the first year Mark McGwire was on the ballot.

My son was 12 at the time and a huge baseball fan so I included him in the process, and we went over the bios of all the players on the ballot, discussing traditional Hall of Fame benchmarks, career peaks and intangibles.

We also discussed McGwire’s alleged use of steroids, including former teammate Jose Canseco’s descriptions of their injections while together in Oakland and McGwire’s refusal to directly answer questions about it during a Congressional hearing.

I explained it wasn’t against any baseball rules for most of his career but that the drugs were illegal without prescriptions and that players who used them did not do so openly or — with the exceptions of Canseco and Ken Caminiti — admit it publicly (until, in some cases, testing positive).

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I gave him the “they all did it” rationale used by some in support of players such as McGwire and pointed out that others dispute it was so universally widespread.

His thoughts?

“Dad, isn’t that cheating?”

Of course it is.

And I’m continually surprised by how many people choose to make the issue much more complicated than that.

 

I didn’t vote for McGwire that year. I don’t vote for Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens.

And I have never voted for Sammy Sosa and don’t expect to ever vote for him.

He cheated. He wasn’t the only one, by far. But he cheated — and don’t give me any crap about his claims of never failing a test.

He was one of 104 players on the leaked list of 2003 positive tests when MLB conducted its no-penalty, supposedly anonymous survey testing to find out how prevalent steroids were in the game. He claimed his English wasn’t good enough to directly answer questions in that same 2005 Congressional hearing McGwire was part of, hiding behind a lawyer he brought with him. And it was an open secret in the game.

During a casual chat with a couple of reporters a few years after Sosa was traded to the Orioles, one newcomer to the Cubs asked what the slugger was like to deal with.

“I got along with him,” said one writer, “but he could be moody.”

Said the new Cub: “Well, when you’re on that stuff …”

Since 1945, “character, integrity and sportsmanship” has been included on the ballot among the stated criteria for consideration when voting (specifically as those things relate to on-the-field actions and performance).

Doesn’t say anything about Flintstones Vitamins. Says a lot to me about cheating.

And it’s not like that needs to be written into the ballot guidelines to be viewed as an important consideration.

The Hall of Fame is an honor. It’s a lifetime achievement award, recognition of a career worthy of the all-time greats. To consider integrity, to consider how a player went about that is only logical.

Each of these guys by definition of his stature in making the ballot — and for the era relevant to this debate — already has made vast fortunes playing the game, won as many championships as there were to win, played as many games as there were to be played and earned All-Star selections, MVPs, Cy Youngs, and, yes, fame.

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Denying a vote for the Hall of Fame takes none of that away — and doesn’t even keep him out of the Hall of Fame, for that matter. That’s because the institution in Cooperstown is also a museum, and as such contains countless displays and historical recognition of any noteworthy achievement any of these players might have contributed.

Have other PED cheats been enshrined? Probably. I can’t do anything about that. I cast my ballot each year to the best of my ability, including withholding my vote for those I think did steroids. In fact, with 10 years of eligibility to consider a candidate, I have sometimes delayed a decision on a player for which I haven’t been able to resolve the issue.

 

I have talked often with those in the game, specifically who played in that era, about certain players and considered their input.

What about players from the past with ugly characters and/or spitball pitchers who have gotten into the Hall? Can’t do anything about that. I didn’t vote then.

What about those who played when the game was segregated? I have no control over that, either — except to shine light on candidacies of deserving and lesser-known Negro Leagues players who come up for consideration on veterans ballots.

And what about all those players who used recreational drugs or amphetamines? Most of us this side of Dock Ellis can probably agree that abuse of recreational drugs is more likely to suppress performance than enhance it.

And as I told one executive years ago when he argued about “all the hits that Pete Rose got because he took greenies”:

“What about all the hits he lost because of greenies?” Habitual use of amphetamines to compensate for late nights and late-season fatigue has diminishing effects, especially when it comes to something that takes the degree of fine motor skills, timing and focus as hitting.

But all of these things are little more than distractions and diversions that are beside the point.

He cheated. I’m not voting for him.

What kind of greater-than-thou, sanctimonious crap is that? Look at it any way you want, but that’s not how I look at it. As much as I love and respect the game, it’s not my place to be its great protector. That was Bud Selig’s job — who is another who shouldn’t be in the Hall for his role in profiting off steroid power in the game until Congress did the heavy lifting to clear a path for testing.

Who made me judge and jury?

The Hall of Fame did. I didn’t lobby to be a Hall of Fame voter, and if those who run the Hall determine another pool of voters is better suited for the task, that’s their prerogative, and they will not hear a complaint out of me.

But for decades the Hall has entrusted the first phase of voting on eligible players to the Baseball Writers Association of America, and as an eligible voter I take the responsibility seriously. So, yes, I do consider myself a judge when it comes to my ballot — as we all should.

And, yes, we are all members of a jury that must come to a 75-percent consensus on a candidate for him to make it. So if I’m dead wrong on a guy, my vote won’t stop him from getting in.

My decision when it comes to Sammy, Clemens, Bonds and the rest is based on a lot of consideration and conversations with people in and around the game, and a certain kid.

Sosa cheated, and he doesn’t deserve the vote. Even a 12-year-old can see that.

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