Baseball’s highest honor is growing more remote for those caught in the sport’s doping scandal, with All-Stars such as recently suspended Alex Rodriguez likely relegated to the black-list treatment imposed on those who gamble on the game.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame, which has admitted just 243 players in its 77-year history, hasn’t added some of Major League Baseball’s record holders from the so-called Steroid Era.
Rodriguez, the New York Yankees’ third baseman and baseball’s active home run leader, and 13 other players were suspended in an investigation of a Florida anti-aging clinic. Rodriguez alone appealed the decision and continues with the team. Current players have joined baseball writers in a public stance against performance-enhancing drugs, or PEDs, equating doping to gambling, which has players such as Pete Rose and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson banned from the Hall of Fame for life.
“The way things are going, there are going to be more Hall of Famers outside the Hall of Fame than there are inside the Hall of Fame,” baseball historian and author Peter Golenbock said in a telephone interview. “There are a lot of unforgiving sportswriters out there.”
More than 550 members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America vote annually on candidates for the Cooperstown, New York-based Hall of Fame. Players must receive at least 75 percent of the ballots to gain entry. Voters are given few guidelines on how much to consider the use of PEDs, which were banned by baseball starting in 1991, with no formal testing until 2003.
Richard Justice, a columnist for MLB.com, is among the minority who voted this year for Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, when both former Most Valuable Players linked to doping received less than 40 percent of ballots. He said he wrestled with the decision after previously overlooking players connected to banned drugs, and considered not voting.
“The bottom line is, Rodriguez isn’t getting in regardless of my vote,” Justice said in a telephone interview. “He’s not getting in the first time, and he’s not getting in the 10th time if past voting is any indication. Bonds is never getting in. Clemens is never getting in.”
Troy Tulowitzki, an All-Star shortstop with the Colorado Rockies, said he supports that approach.
“There shouldn’t be any leeway or saying, ‘Hey, this guy only got caught once, so he should still be eligible,’” Tulowitzki, a three-time All-Star, said in an interview. “If you’re caught, you shouldn’t have a chance.”
The youngest player in major-league history to reach both 500 and 600 home runs, Rodriguez and 2011 National League MVP Ryan Braun were among players suspended for what baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said was the use of banned substances supplied by the Biogenesis of America clinic in Coral Gables, Florida.
Rodriguez, who four years ago admitted to doping from 2001-03 as a member of the Texas Rangers, has denied any connection to the clinic. The 38-year-old will be allowed to play until his appeal is settled in arbitration. He has the biggest contract in baseball, a 10-year, $275 million package that runs through 2017.
Clemens won a record seven Cy Young Awards as his league’s top pitcher in a 24-year career that ended in 2007, and Bonds won a record seven MVP awards and is baseball’s all-time home-run leader with 762. This year, their first on the Hall of Fame ballot, Clemens received votes from 37.6 percent of BBWAA voters, while Bonds received 36.2 percent. Voters have also repeatedly kept out Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa, all of whom hit over 565 home runs and have been connected to drug use.
Tulowitzki, 28, is among current players who say they want to clean up the sport and punish those who use banned substances. The Major League Baseball Players Association, which fought drug testing for decades, said before the bans were announced that it would tell players to accept them if the evidence against them was strong.
The change in player sentiment began last season, according to Justice, when Braun successfully appealed a suspension by questioning the test-collection procedure for a urine sample that showed testosterone use and free-agent Melky Cabrera signed a $16 million contract four weeks after serving a 50-game doping ban.
Max Scherzer, the Detroit Tigers’ pitcher and union representative who has an American League-best 17 wins, said current punishment is insufficient. Players are banned 50 games for their first failed test, 100 games for a second offense, and barred for life with a third violation.
“When you intentionally cheat this game by using PEDs, the punishment doesn’t fit the crime,” said Scherzer, 29, according to the Detroit News. “You can still benefit financially from doing it. Until we get rid of that incentive, it won’t be the day we get rid of PEDs.”
Scherzer declined an interview request through the team when the Tigers were playing the Yankees in New York on Aug. 9.
The only penalty to eliminate that incentive is a one-strike policy similar to the consequences for gambling, according to Fay Vincent, the baseball commissioner from 1989 to 1992. He said players don’t bet on games because of punishment levied against Rose, a former MVP whose 4,256 hits are the most in baseball history and who admitted betting on his sport after years of denial, and Jackson, a career .356 hitter who was thrown out of baseball in the so-called Black Sox scandal over fixing the 1919 World Series.
“Nobody gambles inside baseball,” Vincent, who helped lead the investigation into Rose’s betting, said in a telephone interview. “What Bud knows is, he’s got to increase the deterrent mightily, got to make it a total exclusion from baseball if you get caught using. We can’t have these three tries and you’re out. Have to make it draconian and career-threatening.”
Rose, 72, said last week that he regretted not immediately admitting to gambling on games. He urged people using PEDs to acknowledge their actions.
“We have to get these people to understand that if you make mistakes, people will forgive you if you come forward,” Rose said, according to USA Today. “Don’t do like I did. Don’t do like Braun did. Don’t do like A-Rod did.”
Rose didn’t immediately return an e-mail yesterday seeking further comment on drug bans.
Selig said when he announced the discipline last week that Rodriguez used testosterone and human growth hormone over “multiple years” and tried to “obstruct and frustrate” baseball’s investigation.
“At some point we’ll sit in front of an arbiter and give our case,” Rodriguez told reporters after the suspension was announced. “That’s as much as I feel comfortable telling you right now. We’ll have a forum to discuss all of that and we’ll talk about it then.”
A Dec. 13, 2007, report by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell said Clemens used steroids and HGH in 1998, 2000 and 2001. The 51-year-old former pitcher has denied doping and in June 2012 was acquitted of lying to Congress about his use of performance-enhancing drugs. Clemens’s first prosecution ended in a mistrial in July 2011 after government lawyers showed jurors evidence the judge had excluded.
Bonds, also identified in the Mitchell Report as a steroid user, was convicted in April 2010 by a federal jury in San Francisco of obstructing a U.S. probe of drug use by professional athletes. Jurors couldn’t agree whether Bonds lied when he told a grand jury in 2003 that he didn’t knowingly take steroids, didn’t take HGH and didn’t receive injections from his trainer. The 49-year-old former outfielder was sentenced to two years’ probation and 30 days of house arrest, and appealed the case.
The absence of some of baseball’s biggest names already has had a negative financial effect on Cooperstown, where 75,000 fans attended the 2007 induction of Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn. About 2,500 turned out this year, when no living members gained entry. Next year’s class will be larger, according to Justice, as Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas are all likely to be voted in on their first year of eligibility.
The writers’ ballot includes this instruction: “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the teams(s) on which the player played.” Justice said voters have asked MLB and the Hall of Fame for guidelines on how to interpret those words, and received no help.
Players now are questioning the integrity not just of their peers, but also the results of games and playoff series, according to Peter Gammons, a member of the writers’ wing of the Hall of Fame and an MLB Network analyst. In the 2009 AL Championship Series, for example, Rodriguez batted .428 with three home runs and six runs batted in as the Yankees beat the Los Angeles Angels in six games. They won the World Series 10 days later over the Phillies.
“When you start to question whether or not results are legitimate, then there is a terrible problem in that game,” Gammons said in an interview.
Fox Sports senior writer Ken Rosenthal is among voters who say they won’t vote for confirmed or admitted dopers, at least for the time being. He said that as more All-Stars and MVPs are linked to performance-enhancing drugs, voters may need to address whether they are fully comfortable denying entrance to a large portion of the best players from the current generation.
“It troubles me, yet not enough to the point where I vote yes for Bonds, Clemens, etc.,” Rosenthal said. “At least not at this point.”
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