Judging Chooch, Bonds, Clemens & Sosa

Posted: November 30, 2012

A CSNPhilly.com poll issued on the heels of Carlos Ruiz' Adderall suspension asked fans if they still thought as highly of the catcher as they did before he was caught illegally using the a performance enhancing drug. More than 60 percent said they did.

At about the same time, members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America were asked anew to serve as high priests to Major League Baseball, and in particular the Baseball Hall of Fame, as it pertains to assumed or suspected steroid users. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa are on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time this year, renewing a debate about how vigilant voters should be - or whether we should even be deciding such things.

A few years ago, those who favored opening the doors to suspected cheaters would have been a tiny minority. Never, never, ever. It wasn't that long ago, for example, during a series against the Giants, that fans in the leftfield bleachers of Citizens Bank Park hung the greatest in-stadium sign ever: "Move Your Head Barry, I Can't See."

And while Barry is no more popular in these parts now then he was then, the poll on Chooch seems to reflect an erosion of civic outrage regarding cheating.

It's as if we have been worn down by the moral debate and by a cat-and-mouse system in which the feline seems visually impaired and the rodent seems, well, perpetually performance-enhanced. In 2011, 105 players received exemptions from MLB to use legally prescribed Adderall, a percentage so astronomically higher than the national average of ADHD sufferers that it was impossible not to conclude there was widespread abuse of the drug.

MLB has since cracked down on this, but the diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is far from universal among physicians even now. So why should Shane Victorino get to use it and Ruiz should not? Is it simply a case of finding the right doctor?

And if we are to ban Bonds, Clemens and Sosa because of a majority opinion as to their steroid guilt - no confessions yet though - what is our obligation on those who, rightly or wrongly, are suspected as well? Bag Bagwell? Even Jim Thome's name has surfaced in such discussions.

Some believe the right to vote invokes the right to interpret morality. Often these people cite the words on the ballot that read, "Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the team(s) on which the player played."

The problem, of course, is that there already are plaques on the Hall walls of players who violated those tenets. Eddie Murray was no sportsman, Gaylord Perry wrote a book about cheating (integrity), Ty Cobb admitted sharpening his spikes so as to injure other players (character).

Truthfully, entrance into the Hall has leaned heavily on the first two and a little bit on the last. Dale Murphy, who dripped with integrity, sportsmanship and character but who finished two home runs short of 400, might be the poster child for this. Murphy was a great and beloved teammate as both a Brave and Phillie and few, if any, have been better ambassadors of the game.

Judging by the low number of votes he receives annually, none of that has mattered.

So let's place that well-worn phrase where it belongs, inside of an encasement celebrating the lost naivete of baseball's yesteryear. After all, even such Hall of Famers such as Mickey Mantle have been mentioned as amphetamine users back in the day when writers traveled with teams and such things were not reported.

Similarly, many of us celebrated the Popeye transformations of past players, giggled right along when Lenny Dykstra referenced "magic vitamins" as contributing to his transformation from the Punch-and-Judy hitter description that led to his trade from the Mets. You go all the way back to those days of the late-'80s, when players such as Kevin Mitchell transformed themselves from gap hitters to home-run kings and you wonder how many hundreds of players, maybe thousands, slipped through the loose noose of our self-appointed role as morals police.

Yes, yes, it wasn't illegal then. But what if Bonds came along then? Or Clemens? Or Sosa? Would they be no-brainers this year? Why, of course they would.

Which brings me back to Chooch. The 60 percent who will cheer him when he steps to the plate against the Mets in his first game on April 28 will do so not because of moral callousness but due to moral ambiguity.

Similarly, if baseball does not want its who's who of prolific steroid suspects on the walls of its celebrated Hall, its namby-pamby commissioner need only to rule them ineligible.

Otherwise, they should expect the usual: votes based mostly on the first two criteria, a little on the last, with that soft, squishy middle - the part that represents a more naive era gone by - largely ignored.

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