Sainted Hall should allow all tainted players

November 30, 2006|By DAVID STEELE

You don't want to be in the shoes of the Baseball Hall of Fame voters right now. A lot of them don't want to be in their shoes.

They've dreaded this day for five years, or longer, depending on when exactly the voting members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America realized that Mark McGwire's home run totals, single-season or career, were something less than a pure, unsullied slice of Americana.

The day of reckoning has arrived. What the voters decide on McGwire will affect what they decide on everybody who comes after him - Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, anyone who has ever even been superficially tied to doping.

Better them than me. I'm not eligible to vote. Thank goodness, all I'm eligible to do is sit at a far distance and play the "If It Were Me" card (not to be confused with the "If I Did It" card, which is another column entirely).

So, here goes. If it were me ...

I'd vote 'em all in.

Baseball deserves nothing less.

Baseball has done everything in its power to cover its tracks on the crime it committed against its own game for all those years. It hasn't come close to covering them all up. This stretch of time, when the writers vote for the Cooperstown Class of 2007, is baseball's chance to pass the buck, to let those voters help it clean up the mess.

It would be so convenient if the writers took the opportunity to rewrite history and keep McGwire and the others out. It would be much better if they gave that nasty chapter of history its due, and vote McGwire and the others in.

You can't put the genie back in the bottle now. Doing that lets baseball off the hook. It also lets the writers who were complicit in the charade off the hook, too, and in varying degrees they all were. There wasn't a lot of resistance to the stampede to anoint McGwire and Sammy as the saviors in '98, so resisting them now does no good.

Baseball itself has the most to answer for, though. It's still getting away with the scam; attendance went up again, and it still gets respect from the public it wouldn't get if it was, say, wrestling instead of the storied national pastime. Never mind the so-called Mitchell investigation, the testing program that nobody trusts, the Jason Grimsley affidavit that stirred things up only long enough for the key figures to issue vehement denials and change their stories.

If next summer, baseball doesn't have to deal with McGwire taking the Fifth during his acceptance speech, with rows of empty seats vacated by boycotting Hall of Famers, or the ruination of Cal Ripken's and Tony Gwynn's big day, it would be simply par for the course.

It would be much better for voters to make baseball lie in the bed it's made.

If the vote is to be used to exercise real power, it should be used to put the sport's shame in bronze on the walls of the Hall. That way, the story of how Big Mac and Co. got in - all of the story - will live forever. Generations from now, kids will say, "Wasn't that during the era where everybody was cheating, and baseball let it happen?"

It goes hand in hand with the theory that baseball should not remove, or put asterisks next to, the questionable records. Two weeks ago, ESPN baseball analyst (and ex-Sun baseball writer) Tim Kurkjian appeared on a panel for a sports media symposium at the University of Maryland, and he answered a question about the record books by saying that the marks should stay in, because fans will always know about the taint on them all anyway, and will decide for their own what the real records are.

Apply that same concept to this vote. Give future fans credit for their sense of honesty and fairness. This is the game baseball wanted to play for years, and it can't be un-played now. It reveled in it then; let it stew in it now.

There's not enough of that sort of truth-telling as it is in this so-called shrine. Gaylord Perry, an admitted cheater, is in. Buck O'Neil, a credit to the sport in every conceivable way, is not. There's not even enough room here to describe the other assaults on decency on display there, or not on display. Let's not act as if the Hall has standards now.

So swing wide those doors, wide enough for the steroid-engorged shoulders and acne-ridden backs to squeeze through. Don't let them, or the game, hide in the shadows of a rejection vote.

Admit that this sacred place is really all about numbers and reputations and mythology and as much human failure as success - not nearly as much about character and integrity as they'd like you to believe.

Vote 'em all in. It would serve baseball right.

That's what I would do, if it were me.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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