This summer, the Hall of Fame will ask kids to pledge to stay away from steroids.
Next winter, the Hall of Fame will send out a ballot that includes Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro.
A contradiction? A message to voters?
Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson insists that it's neither one. Idelson said Wednesday that the Hall has always been an education center, in addition to being a baseball museum and a Hall of Fame, and that the new BASE (Be a Superior Example) program fits in with that.
He also said that the Hall isn't -- and won't -- tell anyone how to vote, and that the new education program should not be read as a directive to eliminate steroid users.
"We believe in allowing voters to use their own value judgment," he said. "We're very comfortable with the rules for election as they stand."
In other words, it's my problem. Mine, and the other 500-some Hall of Fame voters.
Actually, I'm fine with that. Deciding how to treat proven, almost proven and suspected steroid users is the hardest thing I've had to do in all the years I've had a ballot, but I'd rather the Hall leave the decision to us, rather than make it for us. I'd rather they put Pete Rose on the ballot, too, rather than take that decision away from us.
Based on the voting so far, there's no danger that Bonds or Clemens or McGwire will be standing on stage in July 2013, accepting a plaque that glorifies a steroid-aided career, at the same time that the Hall is trying to educate youngsters about the evils of drugs.
McGwire has never even received 24 percent of the vote in his five years on the ballot, with 75 percent required for election. Bonds will likely get more than that, since some voters will see him as having a Hall of Fame career before he likely began using, but I can't imagine him coming close to 75 percent, because many voters won't support anyone connected at all with steroids.
That's been my position for the last two Hall elections (after I voted for McGwire in his first three years on the ballot). It's a position I reexamine every year, and one I'm still not completely comfortable with. I'm just more comfortable with it, for now, than I would be with playing a part in electing someone who likely (or in some cases definitely) cheated the game.
The Hall of Fame shouldn't run away from the issue, because it is a big part of what happened in baseball. And education about steroids (and other performance-enhancing drugs) is more effective than simply announcing that proven steroid cheats will be banned (and if you just ban the proven cheats, you'll be letting quite a few unproven but strongly suspected cheats in).
Maybe the debate over whether Bonds, Clemens et al should be Hall of Famers can even be part of the education program, which is designed to teach about the negative effects and consequences of using performance-enhancing substances.
Idelson hasn't helped me with my vote -- and I don't want him to. But if the BASE program works, maybe fewer kids turn to steroids, and maybe some future votes will be easier.