By Joe Rutter
As I was filling out my Hall of Fame ballot — voters can choose up to 10 candidates — I decided it was difficult to check the names of four holdover candidates and three newcomers without giving serious consideration to arguably the greatest left fielder of all time and right-handed power pitcher of several generations.
Which is how I came to reverse course and vote for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.
I did not vote for Bonds and Clemens last year in their first year of eligibility. I decided long ago never to give a first-ballot vote to someone with integrity issues and Bonds (BALCO) and Clemens (Mitchell Report) had an abundance of qualifications in that category.
I strongly considered keeping them off my ballot again. After all, I had voted for Mark McGwire until he came clean on steroids use. And I’d never voted for Rafael Palmeiro because of his positive test. Or Sammy Sosa because of his flawed Congressional testimony.
However, I don’t think all players from the Steroids Era should be painted with the same broad brush. Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza were big-bodied, right-handed sluggers but they never were publicly associated with steroids, so they have gotten my vote.
Considering a player from the Steroid Era’s merits is the most difficult decision a Hall of Fame voter faces. And I, like other BBWAA voters, take it seriously.
I don’t subscribe to the theory that if you vote one PED user in, you vote them all in. Nor do I believe that if you shun one, you have to shun them all. There is too much gray matter in this discussion, and it’s a subject I have pondered greatly when formulating my ballot.
Last year, I had a former major league player familiar with my voting history message me to say that I unwittingly have voted for a performance-enhancing drug user. He wouldn’t divulge the name or names.
It got me wondering. How would I know or not know if a player used or didn’t use steroids. Answer: I wouldn’t, unless there was a conviction or admittance of guilt. This former major leaguer, unless he had direct knowledge, wouldn’t know with 100 percent certainty, either.
Which brings me back to Bonds and Clemens. Bonds, of course, testified that he unknowingly used the Cream and the Clear. Clemens, despite vehemently denying PED use, faced a mountain of evidence in the Mitchell Report.
Yes, they are the two faces of the Steroid Era. But Bonds did hit 762 home runs, and Clemens did win 354 games. Bonds won the MVP seven times. Clemens won the Cy Young seven times. And that was hard for me to ignore.
Am I hypocritical for voting for them? Probably. But as we get further away from the Steroid Era, my stance on such players has evolved (and softened). So, if I was going to open my ballot to tarnished players from that era, I was going to start by voting for the best of the best.
The rest of my ballot:
Holdovers (4): Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio, Jack Morris
Newcomers (3): Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas