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Baseball Hall Of Fame Shutout A Ringing Verdict On Sport's Steroid Era

Jan 9, 2013
Originally published on January 9, 2013 6:31 pm



From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block.

JEFF IDELSON: Time to open up the envelope.


BLOCK: The envelope revealing the results of this year's vote for baseball's Hall of Fame. We're hearing Jeff Idelson on the MLB Network. He's president of the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York.

IDELSON: For only the eighth time since voting began in 1936, Brian, the voting membership did not elect anyone to Cooperstown.

BLOCK: And there you have it - a big fat zero for the Hall of Fame this year, the first time that's happened since 1996. And with that, a ringing verdict on the Steroid Era in baseball.

NPR's Mike Pesca joins me to talk this through. Hey, Mike.


BLOCK: Well, home run king Barry Bonds was on the ballot, seven-time MVP. Pitcher Roger Clemens was on the ballot, seven-time Cy Young Award winner. Not only did they not make the Hall of Fame, they didn't even come close.

PESCA: No, swing and a miss. And wouldn't the Oscars get terrible ratings if when they open the envelope...


BLOCK: No one wins.

PESCA: Yeah. OK, so this is an entire consequence of what's known as the steroid era. And all of the players that we're talking about, and some that we will talk about, have different levels of connections to what's, you know, called steroids or performance-enhancing drugs. Barry Bonds went on trial for it, he was found not guilty on those charges except the minor charge.

However, the details of the trial revealed that he was rubbing The Clear and The Cream, a human growth hormone into his skin. And the dispute was did he know what that hormone was. And then, Roger Clemens also had a trial for perjury and he denied steroids. But the Mitchell Report indicates he did steroids. Many journalists have written extensively about his steroid use. And Sammy Sosa is in these categories. Other guys possibly did steroids. It is a mess, although I saw one baseball writer call it a process.

But it is the baseball writers who do have the vote - if you spend 10 years as a baseball writer in the Baseball Writers Association of America, you get to weigh in on who gets in the Hall of Fame. There is a clause, you've got to consider a player's character. And there are many ways to do it, but what we saw today is that none of the players on the ballot got the 75 percent of the vote necessary to get into the Hall; largely, in many cases, because of performance-enhancing drugs.

BLOCK: Does this mean, Mike, the players we've mentioned, who do have these connections or believed to have connections with the steroid, are they done? Will they never make it into the Hall of Fame?

PESCA: No, as a matter of fact, let's take the top vote getter was Craig Biggio of the Astros. And he actually doesn't have connections to steroids or no one really mentions this out loud and has made the case. He got 68 percent of the vote. And history shows that if you get that percentage, anyone who got more than 50 percent of the vote on his first ballot has always been elected in history. So there's a very good chance Craig Biggio will get in.

A very good chance that Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza, who got in the high 50s. Now, these are two guys with less tangible evidence that they did performance-enhancing drugs, than guys like Clemens and Bonds. But, at the same time, the voters could do whatever they want. And they saw that Bagwell was this huge, beefy guy who hit a lot of home runs. They saw the same about Piazza, who certainly should get in as the greatest offensive catcher in baseball's history.

And I think some of them - and many writers have explained their votes. Some just punted on the whole issue. Some said I had my suspicions. Some said I have very strong suspicions about Bonds. I have weaker suspicions about Piazza, but what if they both did it and I let one in and not the other, it wouldn't be right. This is why we call it a mess, by the way.

BLOCK: Yeah, and then there are players like Mark McGwire, for example, who admitted steroid use. And he said he knows he's never getting into the Hall of Fame.

PESCA: Yes, he says he's made his peace with that. And the vote would indicate that that's the case, and he keeps getting a lower percentage of the vote. At the same time the steroid issue is being reckoned with, there's also a statistical revolution in baseball. And so a lot of the statistic that normally were surefire Hall of Fame, like count home runs - if they're over 500, you automatically get in - that might not be the case. And I think some of those statistics are hurting McGwire.

Also, there's evidence with McGwire and Sosa - who only got 12 percent of the vote - that the time they were alleged to have done steroids coincides with the best years of their career. And if you take a guy like Barry Bonds, you know, you can make the case that before it was ever alleged by anyone to have done steroids, he had already won three MVP awards. Maybe he should have just gotten in, you know, based on the early years of his career.

BLOCK: Well, briefly, Mike, there's always next year. Are there players coming up who will be eligible next year, who have a stronger chance of getting into the Hall of Fame?

PESCA: There are. There are new players will probably be first ballot Hall of Famers. A pitcher like Greg Maddux, who's really kind of a scrawny guy and dominated pitching like no other did in this era, in the National League. He'll certainly get in. Tom Glavine may get in. Slugger Frank Thomas may get in. Those are unconnected to steroids and a few of these guys who came close this year will probably get in.

BLOCK: OK, NPR's Mike Pesca. Mike, thanks.

PESCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.