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Senior Baseball Columnist

Steroid cheaters may reach Cooperstown but won't get my vote

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The frauds of the Steroid Era have cast a dark shadow over baseball and its record book. (Getty Images)
The frauds of the Steroid Era have cast a dark shadow over baseball and its record book. (Getty Images)

Easy thing would be, vote the scoundrels in.

Box next to Barry Bonds' name? Check.

Box next to Roger Clemens' name? Check.

Box next to Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro? Check, check.

Yes, easy thing would be to throw up my hands, pass the buck, step in line with the many others who say, hey, ain't my responsibility to judge the Steroid Era.

But I can't do that. And I won't do that.

And so no, when I cast my Hall of Fame ballot by the New Year's Eve deadline, I most definitely did not vote for anybody who has admitted taking performance-enhancing drugs. Or for anyone who is buried under an avalanche of circumstantial evidence.

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The former guys will never get my vote. (I detail those who did here).

The latter? More than ever before, the fact that candidates can remain on the ballot for 15 years becomes invaluable now. It may take that long for the circumstantial evidence to become hard evidence ... or to evaporate away. Probably, it will take longer.

In the Hall of Fame's rules for election, No. 5 reads: "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."

Integrity. Sportsmanship. Character.

In each of those areas, players who used steroids fail the test. Period. Yes, scoundrels and miscreants already have been enshrined in Cooperstown. But the Steroid Era was one of the most shameful in the game's history.

It distorted the record book, grotesquely. It pushed retired legends into the shadows when they never should have left the spotlight, and it shined the spotlight on others who never should have been center stage.

Just because the commissioner, the owners and, especially, the players union abdicated their responsibility to the game for so long, to me, only increases the obligation for somebody, somewhere, to stand up for what's right.

If I can do that even from my small corner of the voting world, then I am grateful to have that chance.

There is no glee here in withholding my vote from these guys. This is by far the most contentious issue in my 14 years of Hall voting. Many of my closest friends in the business vehemently disagree with me.

Fine. Each voter must do what he or she thinks is right.

For me, this is it. I cannot in good conscience cast a vote for the frauds any more than I can walk out of a department store having hidden a shirt in a bag without having paid for it. Fair is fair, just is just, honest is honest.

For this, I have been accused of standing on my moral high ground (as if attempting to adhere to some basic moral principle is a bad thing). I have been accused of getting on my high horse.

What I wonder is whether those who vote with impunity have any standards at all.

I know the arguments for voting for these guys. Baseball history is rife with cheaters. What about the spitball? Amphetamines? Sign-stealing?

Misdemeanors, not felonies. Yes, Gaylord Perry rode the spitter to the Hall, but he's the exception, not the rule. Besides, that argument is apples and oranges. I wasn't voting when he was elected. I can only go on the ballot in front of me.

I know the other arguments. Baseball did not begin PED testing until the 2004 season, so it doesn't matter what guys were doing before then. Not buying it. Steroids always have been against federal law, which, last I checked, supersedes baseball law. There is a reason why, even before 2004, this stuff was all done in the shadows.

I know still more arguments. Like, if the commissioner, owners and players union didn't do anything, why should Hall of Fame voters whack those who became Incredible Hulks via Vitamin S? And, we shouldn't whitewash history by keeping these guys out of the Hall.

As to the latter point, this is not whitewashing history. As they will tell you in Cooperstown, the Hall is a history museum. And they do a beautiful job with that. Whether or not Bonds and others are enshrined, key pieces of their memorabilia will be displayed. Their stories will be told, same as Pete Rose's.

It's no win, and no fun, sorting through this quagmire. The gray area is vast, and covered in muck, and there is no question some who secretly juiced eventually will pass through the gates of Cooperstown while others are barred on circumstantial evidence.

That is a problem. But that's on the players' union, which stonewalled on PED testing for too many years when its members had the chance to get on the right side of the issue for the greater good of its own constituents.

Now, because of that, we're supposed to throw up our hands up in Hall of Fame voting because it's unfair to the players to try to weed out the cheaters?

I'll tell you what's unfair: That the game's caretakers didn't do a damn thing to protect its integrity at the time. That Hank Aaron and Roger Maris are no longer record-holders. That clean utility infielders and end-of-the-roster players lost their jobs to juicers by the dozen because they declined to cheat.

Easy thing would be, wash my hands of any responsibility -- just as so many others have before me -- and give 'em all passes to Cooperstown. Vote the scoundrels in.

Sorry.

I do not claim to have the definitive answers in this mess. Maybe some of these guys will be voted in. And if they are, then that's the way it is.

But it will not be with my vote. There comes a time to take responsibility, to make a stand, to declare right is right and wrong is wrong.

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