COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — It came and went without much commotion Saturday, maybe because it looked more like bureaucratic bookkeeping than anything else.
But when the Hall of Fame announced the time former players can spend on its ballot was being reduced from 15 years to 10, it meant the drug cheaters had lost again.
Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens — the ‘‘Lab Four’’ of the Steroid Era — almost surely won’t make the Hall now. Five years can make a big difference in voter turnover, meaning that the chances of new voters coming in with a more sympathetic view of those players just shrunk.
So Saturday was a very good day.
The Hall of Fame people would love the entire discussion about performance-enhancing drugs to go away, and the move was made at least partly with that in mind. Steroids? Nothing to see here, folks.
Officials said research has shown former players rarely are voted in after 10 years of eligibility. I don’t care what the rationale was behind the rule change; I just like the effect. We’re not likely to be listening to an induction speech from Sosa, either in Spanish or English, should he remember that he knows the latter language.
There has been a public pushback against those of us who think Bonds, et al., never should see the inside of the Hall as members. That was inevitable. Time passes, and people soften: Cheating has gone on forever in baseball, lots of players were using steroids during those years, steroids are overrated as a competitive advantage, etc. We’ve heard all the excuse-making.
But drugs left a blot on the game, not just in terms of integrity but in terms of statistics, which appear to be holier now than they ever have been, thanks to analytics.
Former White Sox slugger Frank Thomas, who was inducted into the Hall on Sunday, recently told the Chicago Tribune that ‘‘probably 80 percent’’ of ballplayers were using PEDs during his career. The Big Hurt is given to embellishment now and then — the Sox said team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf was feeling lightheaded Friday in Cooperstown; Thomas’ version had paramedics pumping Reinsdorf’s chest — so my guess is that his estimate is high. But the bigger point is that lots of players were dirtying the image of the game. And we want to reward that?
Newly minted Hall of Famer Tony La Russa says drug cheats should get in with an asterisk next to their names. He would say that. He stood by while McGwire and Jose Canseco were taking the pharmaceutical route to huge power numbers. If he had thanked them in his Cooperstown speech for helping to make it all possible, it wouldn’t have been a stretch.
It’s hard to understand why La Russa and other keepers of the game not only absolve the cheaters of their baseball sins but want to hold them up with the other greats of the sport.
One of the arguments for Bonds’ inclusion in the Hall is that he had phenomenal numbers before apparently starting to use PEDs. One, how do we know exactly when he started using? Two — and more important — steroid use wipes out all previous good. One carelessly tossed cigarette can start a raging forest fire. With that in mind, the Hall of Fame made its rule change.
The Hall has a responsibility to educate the public about what PEDs did to the good name of baseball. That tale needs to be told — in a big way. A Steroid Era wing? I’ll leave that to the museum curators. But the answer isn’t in inducting the cheaters and applying an asterisk, a symbol that looks an awful lot like a wink. Putting these players in the Hall would be rewarding their behavior. The idea of Bonds sitting alongside Sandy Koufax at an induction ceremony is painful.
Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez are among the players trying to stay in the game as long as they can. They’re hoping that voter sentiment will ease toward cheaters. The longer they remain active, they think, the better their chance of having a better reception in the voting. Apparently, feeling shame for one’s misdeeds isn’t an option.
Thomas said in his speech that there are no shortcuts to success, alluding to PEDs. He’s wrong. Countless players have become rich and famous because of steroids. But there’s no need to add a plaque to their bounty.