Time tends to ameliorate. Fury and outrage tend to soften. And so we saw it again this week: Baseball’s Cold War, thawing by degrees. The villains of the sport’s Steroids Era are inching ever closer back to the mainstream, to forgiveness.
Alex Rodriguez is an admitted, convicted performance-enhancing drugs guy. He acknowledged using steroids from 2001 to 2003 and was implicated again in the 2013 Biogenesis scandal. The nickname A-Roid fit. He was suspended for 162 games, sitting out the entire 2014 season. It sure wasn’t a problem for TV, though. Scarlet letter? What scarlet letter? Rodriguez has been a baseball broadcaster for Fox Sports and has been a guest on ABC’s “Shark Tank.” Just this week, it was announced that he will join ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” broadcast crew.
Also this week, we saw two of the faces on anybody’s steroids Mount Rushmore — Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens — come closer than ever to being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, an eventuality that now feels likely.
Hall of Famer Joe Morgan had sent an impassioned email in November to the Baseball Writers’ Association of America members who are Hall voters (including myself), beseeching us to continue to ban men such as Bonds from Cooperstown, New York. Morgan is a Hall vice chairman and sits on its board of directors. His email was a startling conflict of interest, and inappropriate. And persuaded nobody, apparently.
Bonds garnered a personal-best 56.4 percent of the 2018 vote, and Clemens had 57.3 percent, also his best total. Both had been languishing around 35 percent in 2014, but for the past two years, for the first time, a majority of voters have supported their induction. If their totals increase again by as much as they have since 2014, they will meet the 75 percent requirement and finally be in Cooperstown. Now that’s something I’d bet on. They should both be in by the time Rodriguez appears on the ballot for the first time in 2022.
There isn’t the ostracizing of tainted players that there was even 10 years ago, when Sports Illustrated named MLB’s steroids problem the story of the decade for the 2000s.
In 2010, Mark McGwire finally admitted publicly to using PEDs much of his career. Since that time he has worked constantly, back in the sport’s good graces, as a coach with the Cardinals, Dodgers and now Padres.
Bonds has been a spring training instructor with the Giants, served as Miami Marlins hitting coach in 2016, and is now back with the Giants as a special adviser.
Quick digression: There ought to be the same thawing of attitude for Pete Rose that there has been for the steroids crowd. Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred should overturn Rose’s lifetime ban for gambling so he may appear on the Hall of Fame ballot and at least have a fair shot at induction. Rose will turn 77 as the new season begins, and his blacklisting has gone beyond punitive. It will be a shame if the game’s back is still turned to its all-time hits leader as he dies.
I voted for Bonds and Clemens this year. I did not vote for McGwire. I made the distinction for two reasons.
One is that McGwire’s career résumé does not equal that of Bonds’ 762 home runs or Clemens’ 354 wins and 4,672 strikeouts. Bonds’ and Clemens’ career achievements are so staggering there is a strong likelihood their résumés would have been Hall-worthy with no help at all. The other is that the proof of McGwire’s steroids use lies in his own admission, while evidence against Bonds or Clemens is more dubious.
Do I suspect Bonds and Clemens both used? Yes. But the proof is not stand-up-in-court irrefutable.
Clemens was said in the Mitchell Report to have used steroids late in his career based on the testimony of a former trainer — allegations he vehemently denied under oath. He was charged with perjury and found not guilty. Yet the only member of the baseball 300-win club not in Cooperstown remains on the outs.
Bonds was implicated in the BALCO scandal but, like Clemens, has never failed a drug test, or been suspended for PEDs.
Rafael Palmeiro, Manny Ramirez, Ryan Braun, A-Rod, Miguel Tejada, Dee Gordon — they are among the 61 major-leaguers suspended for PEDs since 2005. But not Bonds or Clemens.
Players who used steroids or other enhancements are in the Hall. You know it. So are too many players to count who used greenies, or amphetamines, back in the day. Cooperstown is not a holy cathedral. It is a museum of the best to have played baseball, not just the saints among them.
Steroids are banned from the game for good reason, yes. Users should be suspended, yes. Rose deserved punishment, too.
For me a player’s steroids taint absolutely is weighed in my Hall vote. It is held as a negative. But it is not a singular, Litmus test factor. I do not believe steroid use should bring an automatic death penalty in terms of exceptional players’ Cooperstown hopes, just as I do not believe what Rose did merits a lifetime ban.
The gradually increasing lenience toward Bonds and Clemens on the part of voters is understandable, and fair and good. Baseball will not crumble in moral decay upon their eventual Hall induction. The Lord will not smite Cooperstown with a bolt of lightning.
For Bonds and Clemens — and Rose, too — the smirch on their names that won’t ever go completely away should be punishment enough to satisfy the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
It is time.
Let them in.