But for me, if the preponderance of the available evidence indicates that a candidate potentially used PEDs, he did not receive my vote. The three new and prominent names on the Hall of Fame ballot that fit this category were those of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa. Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro have never received a vote from me, either.
Rumors regarding PED use, conjecture about PED use, speculation to the same end, do not disqualify candidates for me. At this point, almost anybody who played the game in the 1990s can be victimized by a rumor campaign. That can't be enough to disqualify a genuine candidate.
The arguments on the other side of the PED-usage debate are clearly audible. Yes, baseball has a long history of players bending the rules to try to get an edge.
Pitchers threw spitballs long after the pitch was outlawed. Other pitchers scuffed the ball. They went to the mound with sandpaper and thumbtacks and other scuffing implements hidden on their persons. They may have been as well-equipped for an afternoon of carpentry as they were for the national pastime.
Hitters corked bats. And at one time, the use of amphetamines was, by all reasonable accounts, much more widespread than steroid use ever was.
And certainly, in the more distant past, the media helped cover up the sins of the players, maintaining the pretense that they were all-American hero types. Ty Cobb, for instance, was a great player, but we now know that he was a violent man and the worst sort of bigot.
We all understand this history. But we are not voting on that now.
It is also easy to comprehend the argument that Bonds was performing at a Hall of Fame level when he weighed 195 pounds, before he changed body types. The parallel holds for Clemens, who was also headed for Cooperstown before his alleged PED usage began.
So, why not elect them on that basis? Because, because, because after that, the preponderance of evidence clearly demonstrates to me that they used PEDs. In the process, the game was cheated. The fans were cheated. Even the record book took a beating.
And this is where we come down to the fundamental criteria for election to the Hall. With the ballots sent to the eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, standards are set out for the voters' consideration, under the heading, appropriately enough, of "Voting." The instructions include this:
"Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played."
I have read this passage every year for two decades while contemplating votes for the Hall of Fame. Now, I pore over it again. And I cannot find the meaning: "But it would be OK to use steroids."
The notion that PEDs were somehow OK in baseball prior to the current program of testing and penalties is simply wrong. A commissioner's edict prohibited the use of PEDs. This edict lacked teeth because there was no testing program to back it up, but the notion that steroid use was completely acceptable is completely erroneous.
Opinions will vary dramatically. Some voters have indicated that they will vote for no one from the so-called "steroid era" because PED usage was widespread. Other voters have said that, for the very same reason, they will not exclude any candidates from the same time period.
Will it be a shame if some of the greatest players in the game are excluded from the Hall by this process? Of course it will. But the National Baseball of Fame is the most exclusive gathering of its sort in all of professional sports. The issue of performance-enhancing drugs is no place to start compromising those lofty and necessary standards.