Commissioner Bud Selig likes to say that Major League Baseball’s “Steroid Era” is over now that the sport tests players for steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. But it ain’t over ’til it’s over, as baseball legend Yogi Berra once said, and the Steroid Era will never be over as long as there’s a Hall of Fame Museum and players being inducted into it.
The Hall of Fame announced Jan. 5 that second baseman Roberto Alomar and pitcher Bert Blyleven were elected to the Hall by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Alomar, Blyleven and executive Pat Gillick, who was elected by the Expansion Era Committee, will be inducted July 24 in Cooperstown, about 90 miles southeast of Syracuse.
While Blyleven, Alomar and Gillick are deserving inductees, there was more buzz last week about who didn’t get in. Once again, a player with no-brainer Hall-of-Fame credentials was virtually ignored because of his connection to steroids.
Rafael Palmeiro is just one of four players in baseball history with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs (first-ballot Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray are the others). Throughout baseball history, getting either 3,000 hits or 500 home runs has always been a sure ticket into the Hall.
But Palmeiro, in his first year on the ballot, received just 64 votes (11 percent) from the record 581 ballots that were cast for this year’s election. To get into the Hall, a player needs to be named on 75 percent of the ballots.
In August 2005, Palmeiro was suspended for 10 days for testing positive for a steroid. That was just 4½ months after Palmeiro, while under oath before Congress at a hearing on steroids in baseball, famously pointed his finger at his questioners and declared, “Let me start by telling you this: I have never used steroids, period. I don’t know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never.”
That was the same congressional hearing at which slugger Mark McGwire said he “was not here to talk about the past” when asked if he ever used steroids. McGwire did not confess to using performance-enhancing drugs until last January, and that was only because he had to say something because he was returning to baseball as the batting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals.
McGwire, who socked 583 career home runs, received 115 votes (19.8 percent) in this year’s election. In his four previous years on the ballot, McGwire received 23.5, 23.6, 21.9 and 23.7 percent of the votes.
Clearly, the writers have sent a message: If you were caught using steroids, if you admitted using steroids, or if there’s enough evidence to suggest you used steroids, we’re not going to vote you into the Hall of Fame.
That’s a big problem for baseball that’s only going to get bigger. Players may remain on the ballot for up to 15 years provided they receive at least 5 percent of the vote every year. So it’s likely the McGwire and Palmeiro candidacies will taint Hall of Fame induction announcements for several more years.
And in 2013, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa—who could join McGwire on the Mount Rushmore of steroids users—will be eligible for the Hall of Fame for the first time. As long as they get at least 5 percent of the vote each year, Bonds, Clemens and Sosa will be on the ballot until 2028.
After their eligibility expires, the steroidstained players will be considered by the Expansion Era Committee, which consists of former players, executives and media types. It’s a small group (16 members), and it will take only take a few non-steroid-using former players on the committee to keep the likes of McGwire and Palmeiro from Hall of Fame induction.
And then there are current stars like Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who admitted using steroids, and former Red Sox outfielder Manny Ramirez, who was suspended for using steroids.
Rodriguez’s current contract runs through 2017, when he’ll be 42. It takes five years for a player to be eligible for the Hall of Fame. So that’s 2022 plus 15 years on the ballot and, well, that’s a story this writer won’t have to worry about.
But baseball will, because its all-time home run leader (Bonds), its future all-time home run leader (Rodriguez), and one of the game’s all-time greatest pitchers (Clemens) will likely be on the outside of the Hall looking in, and that will always be the source of discussion and debate.
As long as baseball keeps statistics and honors its greatest players, the steroid era will never completely go away. Long after the names of Bonds and McGwire and Clemens have been dropped from Hall of Fame consideration, little children will visit the Hall with their parents and ask, “If Alex Rodriguez hit more home runs than anybody else, why isn’t he in the Hall of Fame?”
Cooperstown bound: Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven are worthy inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but what’s noticeable this year is who is absent from the list.