Saturday, January 08, 2011

Mayans: World to End in 2012. Baseball: Make That 2013

Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro were not elected to the baseball Hall of Fame last week. They didn't, however, lose the election. And not losing was all the win they needed.

Each of the two noted performance-enhancing drug user received more than the minimum percentage of the Hall vote needed to stay on the ballot in 2011 for the 2012 Hall class (Disclosure: I voted for McGwire, but not Palmeiro). In doing so, both players took a significant step towards being elected to Cooperstown some time the road, say by 2017 or thereabouts. In fact, if McGwire and Palmeiro maintain their ballot status next year, I'd go so far as to say they are strong favorites to become immortals at a future awkward induction ceremony.

The Hall's rules give a player 15 years of eligibility to be elected by the voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America who compose its jury. That's a lot of time for historical revisionism, and the alteration of judgment through the passage of time has worked well for inductees Jim Rice and Bert Blyleven. Nobody, however, has ever needed their history revised more drastically than do McGwire and Palmeiro, the poster children (and I do mean children) for PED use and abuse during baseball's Pharma '90s.

Oddly enough, such revision is on the schedule. It's due to start in December 2012, when the voters will get a ballot which will include the names of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Both Bonds and Clemens are no worse than the 20 greatest players of all time. Both Bonds and Clemens are universally and rightly assumed to have used PEDs like 1890s ballplayers used liniment. Both very well could be doing time in a federal sneezer for perjury when the voting goes down -- for lying about using PEDs to people like Congressmen and grand jury members.

Both Bonds and Clemens are considered likely to be elected to the Hall anyway. I'm voting for them. More to the point, many of my fellow voters are on record as saying that they will do so even as they refuse to vote for other players they think "tainted" the game by drug use, on the novel grounds that Bonds and Clemens were already Hall-worthy players BEFORE they started taking PEDs.

You have to love the baseball community. The scientific method is less used there than in the Republican freshman caucus of the House of Representatives. Leaving aside the absolutely unprovable nature of the above rationale, let's consider its practical implications. If Bonds and Clemens are elected as Hall members, then the voters have established a clear PED policy -- it disqualifies a candidate for membership except when it doesn't. I said clear, not logical or morally justifiable.

The absurdity of that position will make it insupportable. No voter could cast a ballot for Bonds, then not vote for McGwire, whose pure numbers are utterly Hall-worthy, as are Palmeiro's, are defend that choice without looking as stupid as the ESPN guy who voted for B. J. Surhoff this year. Believe it or not, almost every Hall voter takes that responsibility with the utmost seriousness, and treats both the pure baseball and ethical issues involved as matters requiring real thought. They want to do the right thing. It is beyond obvious that once one known PED user is elected, you can't keep other PED users out on the grounds THEIR accomplishments are tainted. That argument is too powerful for voters to ignore.

Here's one that's even more powerful. If enough voters, and all it takes is 26 percent, maintain a consistent position on PED use and keep Bonds or Clemens out of Cooperstown, then they won't be voters much longer, and neither will I or any BBWAA member.

Logic always works in reverse, too. If Bonds and Clemens don't get elected, then NO known or suspected PED users will be elected. And the more we learn about the Steroid Era, the more we know that that means pretty much everyone who played at that time, especially pretty much everyone who was any good.

The "keep 'em all out" policy, then, would result in somewhere between five-10 years in which NO players would be elected to the Hall. The annual ceremony at Cooperstown in late July would consist of broadcasters and sportswriters accepting their annual awards, and increasingly bottom-of-the-barrel inductees from the Veterans Committee. I'm sure thousands of folks are just dying to travel to the middle of nowhere to hear Pat Gillick speak.

Major League Baseball the business is not going to tolerate a Soviet-style erasure of a decade of its traditional historical narrative of unbroken glory. A sport that markets generational continuity can't possibly let that happen. Before it does, MLB will yank the vote away from the writers (something it has always wistfully wished to do) and set up a new electorate that WILL let in Bonds and Clemens -- followed by the McGwires, Palmeiros, Sosas, etc.

Mind you, this is a good thing. If the knock on PEDs was that they created an unfair competitive advantage, but everyone was taking them, then what was the advantage? It will be a far better thing for baseball and reality if the players of the PED Period are judged on their accomplishments alone, while it is duly noted those accomplishments were assisted by means the game has now forbidden and sanctioned.

Baseball 1990-2005 is not an uplifting story. But it happened. And history as true as man can make it is always better than a fairy tale, no matter how moral and just the outcome of said tale might be.


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