One by one, the steroids dominoes have fallen in baseball. The list of finger-waving, needle-pricking cheats has grown to the size of a well-stocked grocery list. Dave Winfield, a legend who made the Hall of Fame the right way, has been watching closely. Just like the rest of us.
"I watched a lot of players over the past decade do some spectacular things and was in awe," Winfield said in an interview with CBSSports.com, "and then everything fell apart. You weren't sure what to trust.
|Dave Winfield made the Hall of Fame and was drafted in three sports ... all without the help of steroids. (Getty Images)|
The recent debacle involving Roger Clemens and the lasting radioactive cloud lingering over baseball because of steroid use continues to beg that important question: What in the hell do we do with the great players implicated in steroids when it comes to the Hall of Fame?
It's a question that hasn't gone away and may not for decades. Winfield is a perfect person to ask. He's one of baseball's great ambassadors and is a member of the major league and college baseball Halls of Fame. He is quite possibly the best athlete this country ever produced (he was MVP of the College World Series as a pitcher) and just one of three people ever drafted by three professional sports (MLB, NBA and NFL). Winfield says he did all this without steroids. Of course, I believe him.
Winfield is a truth teller, not a steroid user. But he dislikes wading into controversy so what he says next is interesting because Winfield is taking a stand not enough veterans from his era have done.
"Look at Mark McGwire and his home runs," said Winfield. "He hit them out of the park so in one way they're legit. But they're suspect, too. You're putting me on the spot by asking what I would do with him and the Hall of Fame. I'll leave that up to the voters and they haven't put him in.
"Let's say I definitely don't disagree with [the voters]. I'll just leave it at that."
McGwire has admitted past steroid use and fell far short of his Hall of Fame try in 2007 when only 23.5 percent of voters picked him. It raised doubts about whether alleged infamous steroid users like Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro will ever enter Cooperstown.
These players are like a lost tribe. There's no home for them.
The same year McGwire was soundly rejected Tony Gwynn received 532 of 545 votes. Gwynn, speaking of steroid use, said at the time: "In the late 1980s and early '90s, we had no rules. We knew, players knew, owners knew, everybody knew, and we didn't say anything about it."
Winfield believes baseball is now weeding out most of the drug cheats. He cites the recent suspension of Florida Marlins catcher Ronny Paulino for 50 games after testing positive for a banned substance and the dozens of minor leaguers busted as well.
This is my only point of disagreement with Winfield. He's correct in that baseball has improved its testing programs, but these procedures test a player's intelligence level only. A player would have to be seriously dumb to fail these tests.
Besides the current drug of choice in baseball is likely HGH, not steroids, and there's still no HGH testing procedure in the major leagues. The reliability of the HGH tests used on the minor-league level is highly debatable.
Anti-doping experts like Don Catlin believe baseball's HGH test would only catch a cheater if he used the drug within 24 hours of the test. That's a ridiculously small window.
As for Winfield, he recently began promoting Ask.com's Answers for the Cure, a breast cancer awareness drive. He also had to deal with the death of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. Winfield was long estranged from the Yankees owner and his team after Steinbrenner paid Howie Spira $40,000 to find dirt on him.
How did Winfield ever forgive Steinbrenner for that horrendous act?
"It took me a long time but you know what happened?" he said. "Through different ways, we reached out to one another. We came to an understanding. I was upset for many years and separated from that organization a long time. Everything worked out and I'm glad I don't have that weight on my shoulders."
And they were huge shoulders ... built without steroids.
Unfortunately so many potential Hall of Fame talents can't say the same.