Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
Sammy Sosa will be eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame beginning in 2013.
It means nothing. It’s like John Mayer hoping to get into the Celibacy Hall of Fame.
You might have seen the USA Today story the Sun-Times picked up Friday about the chances of Sosa, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and other villains of the Steroid Era getting into the Hall.
How is this even a discussion? Unless the federal government, with the blessing of the American Medical Association, decides that performance-enhancing drugs are a good thing, Sosa and his once-merry friends never will see the inside of the Hall without buying tickets.
What’s that? You’d like to see solid evidence of past drug use on Sosa’s part? Well, there is the New York Times report that he tested positive for PEDs in 2003. And you might recall the way he conveniently forgot how to speak English during a 2005 congressional hearing about steroids in Major League Baseball. Through an interpreter, he said he never had used “illegal performance-enhancing drugs.’’
None of that would be enough to convict a man in court, of course, but this isn’t a courtroom. It’s a group of voters that doesn’t need to have reasonable doubt to decide whether someone was dirty while putting up big numbers on the field.
There doesn’t need to be overwhelming evidence.
Being a Hall of Fame voter allows you to be judge and jury, in the same way that being a civic voter allows you to be judge and jury. If a politician is up for re-election, you’re allowed to vote on what you consider to be his shadiness, even if he hasn’t been convicted, indicted or accused of anything.
Vote conscience — and eyes
An injustice, you say? An injustice would be if Sosa were left off the 2013 ballot. But he will be on the ballot. After that, it’s up to the conscience of each individual voter from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
My conscience can’t get past the fact that Sosa went from 36 home runs one season to 66 the next. My conscience tells me the increase was fuel-injected. My conscience agrees with what my eyes saw — that Sosa’s body shape changed dramatically during the 1990s.
My conscience leads me to believe Bonds was a cheating fool, as was Clemens.
I’m not alone. It’s fair to say that most people believe Sosa didn’t hit all those homers under his own power. Same with Bonds. The evidence against Clemens seems overwhelming. It’s hard to envision a scenario in which any of them ever will give an induction speech in Cooperstown, N.Y.
When Sosa comes up for vote in 2013, we’re going to hear the usual arguments for leniency, all of them bogus: Steroids don’t help a player hit a baseball farther. Steroids weren’t banned in MLB when Sosa was hitting most of his homers. Everybody was doing steroids in that era; why single anyone out? Cheating has been going on forever in baseball.
No good arguments for leniency
Let’s deal with these one by one.
◆ Steroids do help you get stronger and, thus, hit and throw a ball harder. They help you recover more quickly from intense workouts. They help you get through the long grind of a baseball season. It’s a competitive advantage to be able to walk to the mound every fifth day feeling fresh.
◆ It’s immaterial that steroids weren’t a banned substance in baseball when Sosa and the others were playing. Unprescribed anabolic steroids have been illegal in this country for a long time. Federal law trumps whatever rules MLB had or didn’t have on its books.
◆ As your mom said, just because everyone is doing something doesn’t make it right. It’s unfair to the players who were clean during that era to be lumped in with the users, but it’s inevitable. Blame the cheaters for that.
◆ Cheating has been a part of baseball from the beginning. But as far as anyone knows, throwing spitballs doesn’t lead to organ damage. Kids still emulate ballplayers, so it follows that kids might be tempted to use performance-enhancing drugs if they believe their heroes are using them. That’s only a good thing if you think liver problems are a good thing.
Bonds would have made the Hall of Fame if he hadn’t used performance-enhancing drugs, but that doesn’t soften the pile of hard evidence that says he did. The evidence cries out that he broke home-run records while juicing.
Because of it, he and others have assured that the Steroid Era never will be forgotten. In a way, that’s good. It will be a reminder to baseball of what it doesn’t want to be again.
But it also means Sosa never will go away. Just what the world needs: a heart-tapping, kiss-blowing Pete Rose.