How many more Hall of Fame weekends like this one can Cooperstown withstand? The museum's administrators have planned lovely alternatives to inducting any modern players. But posthumously saluting Lou Gehrig and Rogers Hornsby, who never received formal induction ceremonies, does not make up for the absence of the eligible-but-unelected Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, two of baseball's most statistically accomplished players. They will also be absent next year, and probably the year after that.
It seems unlikely that the exclusion of players linked to PED use will continue in perpetuity. At some point, the writers/voters will yield, if only out of exasperation. Too many players have now been connected to the drugs -- 10 MVPs from the last quarter-century if you sort through confessions, the Mitchell Report and the Jason Grimsley affidavit.
Ryan Braun became the first of the 10 ever to be suspended last week, and maybe that will prove something of a tipping point. The sense that past juicers got away with something may fuel some of the voters' reluctance to check Bonds' and Clemens' names on the Hall ballot. The same institution, the Baseball Writers' Association of America, chooses MVP winners and Hall of Famers, though by rather different methods. When Braun accepted his 65-game unpaid sabbatical last week, the BBWAA explained that it would not revoke his 2011 MVP award and hand it over to runner-up Matt Kemp.
I suspect that's why so many writers declined to choose Bonds and Clemens this year. They weren't driven by the "don't make him a first-ballot pick'' nonsense. They know that whatever they decide cannot be reversed, and they are reserving the right to review more context as it becomes available. Tom Verducci, the most insightful and best-informed writer in the country on the subject of PEDs in baseball, said as much right after the election results came out.
At some point, writers may feel compelled to reconcile not only allowing all those tainted MVP awards to stand, but also giving two more to Bonds after federal agents had raided his personal trainer's house. The 2003 award was somewhat understandable. The raid took place about a month before the end of the season, and it wasn't clear what the discovery meant. But after the 2004 season, when he received his final MVP award, the trainer, Greg Anderson, had already been indicted on drug-distribution charges and Bonds had appeared as a witness in front of a federal grand jury. Forced to make a snap judgment that could not be reversed, voters leaned in favor of honoring the best performance of the season.
Perhaps the same will happen in the 15th and final year of eligibility for Bonds and Clemens. At about that time, Braun could have concluded 10 more years as an outstanding player without ever incurring another positive drug test. If his stats, however suspicious, merit an MVP award, will he get it? How many more stars will have been caught by then?
Also, since contrition appears to be a condition for acceptance (see Mark McGwire's renaissance as a hitting coach), either that standard must change, or Bonds and Clemens will have to get past their encounters with law enforcement, which found their work as witnesses less than credible, enough to 'fess up. It's one thing to surmount your pride about taking PEDs, another altogether to concede a point that, in denial, led to a criminal indictment.
So under what terms can hormonal augmentation become a forgivable offense and no longer a barrier to entry in Cooperstown? As something of an agnostic on the issue (I don't vote even though I am eligible), I probably have different answers than many of my colleagues. I've always thought that the Hall of Fame debates received far more prominence than they deserved and took the place of serious reporting and discussion about the health effects and the trickle-down effect onto the next generation of players.
If we prioritize the reasons for excluding PED users, the purity and integrity of the Hall really doesn't merit mention. Most of the attempts to equate the widespread use of amphetamines with the introduction of hormone treatments have always been a mindless canard. But the equivalency does not ring false when it's applied to the sanctity of the game and its enshrined giants.
The difference comes into play in one of the two areas that should matter. From everything I've read and heard from doctors and during rare candid interviews, a critical mass of other athletes using amphetamines does not make another athlete feel that they are absolutely necessary. For the most part, their effects can be duplicated with regular great sleep, a good diet, minimal liquor consumption and legal substances such as coffee or Red Bull.
Steroids take athletes places they could never go on their own, and not just because they help with recovery. (Stuart Stevens, who tried a variety of PEDs and wrote about the experience for Outside Magazine in 2003, said he took the steroid Deca Durabolin and put on close to 12 pounds of muscle without lifting weights. He also said the overall effects of his small dosages alarmed him.) With that much allure on the side of using, athletes need pretty strong deterrents to stay away from them. Drug testing and clinic investigations help, but an easy pass into the Hall of Fame undermines their limited effect. If it stops some abusive coach or parent, of which there are plenty connected to the sports world, from doping up a kid with dreams of watching his Cooperstown acceptance speech someday, so be it. Shut the door as long as possible.
The other concern, at least for me, is the fact that celebrities and superstars have only begun to pay for the same sins that have ruined people of lesser stature. Minor-leaguers have been tested and suspended for 20 years, their careers derailed by an attempt to work alongside players like Bonds and Clemens. Anderson went to prison for dealing, even though he was hardly the driving force in that conspiracy. At the BALCO sentencing hearings, while the rich ballplayers' names remained formally redacted and silenced, Anderson's septuagenarian landlady was named in open court because she cashed a check for him. Kirk Radomski, a former Mets clubhouse employee who helped land the drugs for players, had federal agents at his doorstep threatening to lock him up if he didn't cooperate with Sen. George Mitchell on baseball's 2007 tell-almost-all report.
Stan Conte, the Giants' trainer, quit his job after a federal subpoena arrived and he realized that doctor-patient confidentiality did not apply to his professional relationship with Bonds. He knew he would be compromised as a caregiver if he remained and could be asked to testify about anything he learned from Bonds after that, so he resigned. (The Dodgers eventually hired him.)
I wonder what it says to these people if the superstars get induction ceremonies while all they get are lawyer bills, humiliation, aggravation, displacement or prison. At the very least, if somehow voters put suspected users in the Hall, I'd like to see Anderson listed as a Giants employee so he could have clubhouse access, as an honored guest for the Bonds induction. In fact, his contributions to the home run records should be noted in any display on them. Bonds never had that much power before they worked together. Surely, Anderson deserves mention.
Maybe that's the answer to the question of when Cooperstown can move forward and not duplicate this weekend: Whenever the honorees will be unafraid to have a ceremony with everyone who supported their careers, including the dealers.