Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011
By Patrick MooneyCSNChicago.com
Nearly six years ago, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire sat inside a hearing room at the Rayburn House Office Building. They would not be viewed the same again after that St. Patricks Day in Washington.
Palmeiro pointed his finger at lawmakers and insisted: I have never used steroids. Period. Less than five months later, he would be suspended for failing a drug test, and claim that he didnt knowingly take steroids.
Sosa leaned on his interpreter and suddenly his English wasnt so good. McGwire said he wasnt there to talk about the past, but he would eventually, confessing his steroid use last year so that he could rejoin baseball society.
Those enduring images from 2005 will not fade away.
That much was clear Wednesday after the Baseball Writers Association of America skipped over Palmeiro and McGwire on the ballot, and sent a message for when Sosa becomes eligible in 2013.
Right around the same time the 112th Congress gathered for the first time, the National Baseball Hall of Fame revealed that Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven had been elected to Cooperstown.
At its best, this process elevates barstool arguments into a philosophical debate about the essential nature of the game. Baseball needs it to stay in the headlines, months after the season ended and weeks before pitchers and catchers report.
At its worst, it spirals into a witch hunt. To be sure, this remains political.
Alomar, a 12-time All-Star who won 10 Gold Gloves, received 90 percent of the vote. Despite being the finest second baseman of his generation, he had to wait an extra year before induction, perhaps because some voters still remember him spitting at umpire John Hirschbeck.
It took 14 years and an extensive Internet lobbying campaign before Blyleven was recognized for his 287 wins and 3,701 strikeouts. The right-hander with the nasty curveball earned only 17.5 percent of the vote when he first appeared on the ballot in 1998, and less than half as recently as 2007.
With that in mind, perceptions can absolutely change. But McGwires support bottomed out at 19.8 percent this time, and Palmeiro will have to make up a huge amount after getting 11 percent in his first year of eligibility.
The writers are saying that this was the Steroids Era, like they have done Mark McGwire, Blyleven said on a teleconference, as quoted by The Associated Press. They've kind of made their point. It doesnt surprise me.
Guys cheated. They cheated themselves and their teammates. The game of baseball is to be played clean. I think we went through a Steroid Era and I think its up to the writers to decide when and who should go in through that era.
A record 581 ballots, including five blanks, were cast by BBWAA members. The only other players to gain more than 50 percent of the vote were shortstop Barry Larkin (62.1) and pitcher Jack Morris (53.5). Jeff Bagwell (41.7) stayed in the picture, and this could have been the first of 15 times he will have to defend his record.
It wont necessarily get any easier. Besides Sosa, here are some of the candidates coming in 2013 and 2014: Barry Bonds; Roger Clemens; Mike Piazza; Frank Thomas; Greg Maddux; Tom Glavine; and Curt Schilling.
Whatever happens, it wont be an injustice. The game already made them absurdly wealthy and famous, all without the physical risks of, say, playing in the NFL.
This isnt a court of law, but you also shouldnt get immunity to publish any random suspicion or string together piece after piece of circumstantial evidence as absolute fact.
There is still much to learn about what steroids did to baseball. Maybe someone more credible than Jose Canseco will be willing to talk about what happened inside those clubhouses. Perhaps well see another whistleblower on 60 Minutes or read another book as enlightening as Game of Shadows.
In the meantime, all those tortured explanations from the BBWAA will still come down to a simple yes or no.
I wasn't expecting to be going in this year with the feedback I have gotten throughout the last few weeks or so, Palmeiro told The Baltimore Sun. But I thought more voters would look at my overall career and put more emphasis or weight on what I have done and not just on a positive (drug) test at the end of my career. There was a message there to be sent, and it was received."
Five hundred home runs and 3,000 hits dont mean what it used to.
Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.