No matter how you slice or dice it, one way or another Bud Selig, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are the poster boys for baseball's much-maligned Steroid Era.
That being the case, it's not unusual the Hall of Fame candidacy of Selig, who was on watch at the time, might be linked to the players generally considered to be Examples A and 1A among those suspected of benefiting from performance-enhancing drugs. So when the former commissioner's election to the HOF by a Veterans Committee was announced early last month, there was immediate speculation about how it might affect Bonds and Clemens.
Even though those two had been strongly rejected by the Baseball Association of America's voting body in each of their previous four years of eligibility, there is clear evidence Bonds and Clemens were beneficiaries of the Veterans Committee's decision. Several BBWAA voters announced that, in light of Selig's election, they would reverse their position and vote for Bonds and Clemens.
That is one reason why many observers now expect the other two "PED Poster Boys" will be elected to the HOF before the end of their 10-year term on the BBWAA ballot. And there is one other factor which may be even more significant -- the younger the electorate gets, the more forgiving it becomes.
That's one of the things we have learned from a sophisticated tracking system started five years ago by Ryan Thibodaux, a 35-year-old baseball fan from Oakland (via Houston, where he was a huge fan of former Astros Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell). It used to be there was about a two-week drumroll of buildup from the voting deadline (Dec. 31) until the HOF announcement in mid-January. Now, thanks to Thibodaux and many writers who make their votes public -- some well before the deadline -- it has become a two-month project from the time ballots are mailed in November until the announcement, which this year was scheduled for 6 p.m. Jan. 18.
In the interest of full disclosure, this column was written a week before the announcement, when Thibodaux had more than 42.3 percent of the votes (184) logged on his website, bbhoftracker.com. The numbers showed Bonds (20) and Clemens (21) had substantial net gains from those who voted a year ago. That was enough to indicate they would make significant gains over last year, when Clemens got 45.2 percent and Bonds 44.3 percent of the vote and that the needed 75 percent for election was doable within the next few years.
Perhaps even more revealing was the impact of first-time voters. Bonds and Clemens claimed an overwhelming 91.9 percent (11 of 12) of those early returns. Since the BBWAA requires 10 years covering baseball for eligibility, that can be interpreted as an indication younger voters new to the scene will be more forgiving than those who have been around awhile, a trend that most likely can be expected to continue.
This may be a case where the younger set has it right. Experience is a good thing, and if nothing else, it generally promotes a thorough discussion rather than a knee-jerk type reaction.
My first reaction, years ago, to this ongoing debate was this was something dumped into the lap of the BBWAA voting body. The numbers don't lie; in most cases they are HOF-worthy. The players in question have not been deemed ineligible (as was the case with Pete Rose, who mistakenly sometimes gets included in this debate); so what is the difference between the Steroid Era and the one that dealt with recreational drugs? Are sportsmanship, character and integrity issues any different for one than the other?
Frankly, that's an issue that has bothered me as a voter. My first inclination was to vote based on a player's record, which is what I did. But then, as some of the candidates were eliminated and others just contributed to what would become a crowded and unmanageable ballot, it quickly became obvious other legitimate candidates would suffer because of what could be deemed wasted votes.
Admittedly, it isn't fair to withhold a vote for fear it would be meaningless. But, like life, sometimes these decisions aren't fair. Is it right to vote for two you feel unworthy (Bonds and Clemens) because another (Selig) got a pass?
I happen to think Selig got that pass, if you can call it that, because he was hampered until he was finally able to push through a strong testing program. I also believe that's the reasoning another Veterans Committee denied HOF status for Marvin Miller, who adamantly opposed any form of testing throughout his reign as executive director of the players association and later as the union's top advisor.
I'm not smart enough to know all the answers. My gut tells me anything associated with cheating is enough to keep one out of the Hall of Fame.
Reality tells me cocaine and assorted recreational drugs happened and left a black cloud over baseball, just as segregation had done decades before. It also tells me steroids and PEDs happened and severely tested the integrity of the game, just as gambling had done generations earlier.
I'm not sure when or how, but sooner or later it'll get figured out. It won't be as perfect as 90 feet between the bases, but somehow it will get done, and it'll work.
Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com.