COLUMN: Well done, baseball writers

Herald High School Beat Writer Mike Phillips

Herald High School Beat Writer Mike Phillips

Finally, someone got punished.

The Baseball Writers of America Association did what Bud Selig and the powers of baseball couldn’t — or wouldn’t — do. The BBWAA did something the MLB players union did everything it could to prevent at any cost.

The BBWAA punished Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, along with Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.


Thanks for having the guts and the integrity (and the love of the game) to finally bring some reality and order to this sad and disturbing era of baseball — an era that cheated the game, the fans and every player who was honest.

That’s what happened this week when some of the biggest names in the Steroid Era were denied entrance into the Hall of Fame.

No one was elected to this year’s Hall of Fame, and the omission of Bonds and Clemens, who were on the ballot for the first time, along with the dismal voting for McGwire (16.9 percent) Sosa (12.5) and Rafael Palmeiro (8.8) made a statement that was long overdue. Bonds received just 36.2 percent of the vote and Clemens got 37.6 percent. You need 75 percent to be elected into the Hall.

No, every steroid user was not punished this week, and that is the greater problem of the Steroid Era. We will never know just how many players cheated — or are still cheating even today.

But baseball respects and honors its history far more than any sport, and until this week’s Hall of Fame votes were made public, there was nothing to definitively stamp “disgrace” on the Steroid Era.

As far as MLB is concerned, Bonds, Clemens and even McGwire are heroes. All their records are intact. Not a single hit, home run or strikeout has been taken away from any of them. Imagine bank robbers pulling off the greatest heist in history and then getting a parade to celebrate their crime.

They suffered no consequences until the BBWAA, which votes on the Hall of Fame, shamed them Wednesday and took away the one thing that theoretically means the most: entry to Cooperstown.

Bonds and Clemens still have 14 years left on the ballot, but the feeling here is that if they were going to get in, this was their chance.

McGwire’s votes have dwindled over his seven years on the ballot — down from 23.6 percent on his first ballot to 19.5 last year and just 16.9 this week — and even his tear-filled apology on ESPN in 2010 didn’t do him any good with the writers.

The fact McGwire was coming back to baseball as the hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals and knew he would be in the eye in the public again after his disastrous showing in front of Congress in 2005 when he looked like a guilty dog, no doubt helped him decide it was time to come clean.

He might have garnered a little more sympathy if not for all his bravado in 1998 when the entire nation fell in love with the home run derby between McGwire and Sosa. We are all to blame for that — the writers, fans and all of baseball. We all jumped in the pool. It was just so much fun that summer. Maybe that’s why we are so bitter now. McGwire cheated and lied and made a mockery of the single-season home run record and got away with it.

I firmly believe Bonds never would have considered using steroids if not for the great home run derby of 1998. He knew McGwire and Sosa were cheaters and liars and saw the way the public adored them, and had to think, “Why not?”

After all, everyone was getting away with it.

Bonds, who broke McGwire’s single-season record for home runs in 2001 when he hit 72, not only trampled on the most prestigious record in all of sports, but he was arrogant about breaking Hank Aaron’s record for career home runs.

His arrogance and defiance, saying the record, “is not tarnished,” is why most baseball fans today celebrate Bonds being shut out of the Hall of Fame.

Message to Bonds: The votes he didn’t get were not tarnished. They were, unlike his home runs, honest and legitimate.

Bonds and Clemens both would have made it to the Hall of Fame easily if they hadn’t betrayed their careers by cheating. Both had resumes that would have inducted them into the Hall long before they ever considered using steroids.

The door was wide open to cheat.

The players union did everything it could in the 1990s to prevent any testing for performance-enhancing drugs, and that’s one reason MLB didn’t even ban steroids until 2002.

Even now, the players union stands up for Bonds and Clemens, trying to convince a public that is sickened by what the Steroid Era did to baseball, not to mention the insult to the players who played before the game was juiced. Roger Maris and Aaron have been slapped in the face and the great power hitters of the past — Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Reggie Jackson and others have seen their careers diminished by the inflated numbers of the Steroid Era. No one stood up for these men until the votes for the Hall of Fame came in this week. Those votes said, “You don't belong in the same house with these legends of the game.” It's about time someone said it.

Here's how the Hall of Fame felt about the voting this week.

“The standards for earning election to the Hall of Fame have been very high ever since the rules were created in 1936. We realize the challenges voters are faced with in this era," Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson said on the BBWA website. “The Hall of Fame has always entrusted the exclusive voting privilege to the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. We remain pleased with their role in evaluating candidates based on the criteria we provide.”

Here's how players union felt.

“Today's news that those members of the BBWAA afforded the privilege of casting ballots to elect even a single player to the Hall of Fame is unfortunate, if not sad,” said MLB players union executive Michael Weiner in a formal statement after it was learned the HOF wasn’t admitting anyone in 2013. “To ignore the historic accomplishments of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, for example, is hard to justify. Moreover, to penalize players exonerated in legal proceedings — and others never even implicated — is simply unfair.''

What's unfair is what the Steroid Era did to baseball and to the honest players of the game. Like it or not, character is part of the criteria on the ballot. You don't need any character or integrity to make millions in baseball.

There will be players elected next year. Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine will be first-ballot inductees, and Craig Biggio, who received 69 percent of the vote on his first ballot this week (the closest anyone came to making it), will get in next year. Braves slugger Dale Murphy, who was in his 15th year on the ballot this week, might even make it next year on the veterans committee vote.

The players union also was critical of the Mitchell Report, which in 2007 named almost 100 players, including Clemens, in its lengthy 20-month investigation of steroid use in baseball. Clemens, who was indignant and won his case in court, has never convinced the public — or the baseball writers — that he didn’t cheat and lie about steroid use.

The Mitchell Report was the first real statement made about the steroid era, and this week’s voting for the Hall of Fame is even a more profound statement because it actually took something away from the men who took so much away from the game.

Finally, someone was punished.