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Frizzi: Steroid Era reaches the Hall of Fame

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Recent events in Major League Baseball made me remember a time in the not too distant past when baseball players resembled Transformer figures kids played with.

With big necks and bulging forearms, the ballplayers of the late 1990s and throughout the 2000s looked more like East German weightlifters. It must've been due to improvements in training and nutrition! Past superstars didn't look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Musial, Banks, Clemente, Aaron and Mays didn't look like that. Babe Ruth sure didn't look like that!

And neither do today's baseball players!

The ballplayers of that era literally powered baseball to new heights. The 1998 home run duel between the Cardinals' Mark McGwire and the Cubs' Sammy Sosa brought fans back to the game they had deserted after baseball went on strike in 1994 and cancelled the World Series. McGwire hit 70 home runs, overtaking Roger Maris' mark of 61. Sosa followed with 66 homers.

I remember when Cardinals Broadcaster Jack Buck proudly announced, "Number 70! How much more can you give us, Big Mac? Number 70!"

Then, the Giant's giant, Barry Bonds, broke McGwire's record by hitting 73 homers in 2001. In 2002, Bonds hit his 600th career home run, less than a year and a half after hitting his 500th. I was at Milwaukee's Miller Park on Sept. 23, 2006 when Bonds surpassed Henry Aaron's National League career record of 733 home runs. Bonds took over as the all-time home run leader from Aaron when he hit his 756th homer in 2007.

Yet, when the Baseball Writers Association of America submitted their ballots for what players would be inducted into the Hall of Fame this year, neither Bonds or McGwire or Sosa came close to getting 40 percent of the vote. Neither did Roger Clemens and his 354 wins and 4,672 strikeouts. Neither did former Peoria Chief Rafael Palmeiro and his 569 career home runs and 3,020 base hits.

Three players, former Peoria Chief Greg Maddux, his Atlanta teammate Tom Glavine and the White Sox's Frank Thomas made it to the Hall in their first year of eligibility. Last year, with Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Sosa and Palmerio on the ballot, no player received the necessary 75 percent to enter the Hall of Fame.

None.

Not one.

Palmerio is now off of future Hall of Fame ballots because he received less than 5 percent of the vote this year.

What Congress and the courts couldn't do, what Major League Baseball and the Players Union wouldn't do, has apparently fallen on the BBWAA to be judge, jury and executioner. The writers have made it clear: They will punish players who have been linked to performance enhancing drugs or PEDs by not voting for them for baseball's Hall of Fame.

The Steroids Era is again rearing its ugly head. Now, it's tainting the voting of the Hall of Fame. While I agree with the idea of omitting those who have been known to have taken PEDs, some writers have taken their responsibilities to the extreme.

MLB.com's Ken Gurnick voted only for pitcher Jack Morris. He said he did not vote for any other player because they played in the steroid era and that it was unclear who did or didn't use PEDs.

In an article on The Sporting News' website, Gurnick was quoted as saying:

"It's not a personal thing. It's an indictment of an era."

"The players' union fought drug testing and did nothing to stop rampant PED use in the 1990s and early 2000s," he said."I don't feel like I can vote for any of the players from that era."

Gurnick indicated he will not cast votes in any future Hall of Fame elections so as not to deny votes to Mariano Rivera or other candidates.

ESPN's Dan Le Batard went further, but for a different reason. LeBatard felt that the voting process for the Hall of Fame had become "sanctimonious." He decided to speak up against those writers who were sending back blank ballots in protest to having players on the ballot linked to PEDs. LeBatard's form of protest was to turn his ballot over to Deadspin, a sports information website, and let its readers vote on his ballot.

According to USA Today, Le Batard's reasoning was "I don't like how they do business over there at the Hall of Fame, where they're sitting there and they're being sanctimonious and they're keeping all the steroid guys out.''

As a result, the BBWAA took LeBatard's vote away for good.

For the record, here's how Deadspin voted: Jeff Bagwell. Craig Biggio, Bonds, Clemens, Maddux, Edgar Martinez, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling and Frank Thomas.

Both Bagwell and Piazza have been suspected of but have not been linked to PED use.

Biggio has not, although he and his 3,060 hits barely missed getting into the Hall by just two votes (74.8%). He was the top vote getter in 2013, getting just 68.2% of the vote.

Players like Bagwell and Piazza, both of whom have Hall of Fame credentials, will most likely be kept out due to guilt by association. So far, nothing has linked them to PED use. Piazza has reportedly denied steroid use in his new autobiography, "Long Shot", due out on Feb. 12. But we've become jaded. In his Jan. 11 article on NBC Sports' Hardball Talk website, Craig Calcaterra said that "Some people speculated that the release date, coming after the Hall of Fame announcement, was arranged so that Piazza could say scandalous things in his book, safe with the knowledge that he was, as reason would have had it, already elected to the Hall."

Baseball fans have heard the Brewers' Ryan Braun emphatically deny PED use only to eventually admit that he made "a huge mistake" when slapped with a 65 game suspension.

Now, we have Alex Rodriguez, who while on the record in several interviews denied any PED use, was suspended for the 2014 season and postseason. Much like Bonds, Clemens and Palmerio, A-Rod has likely ruined his career and his chance to get into the Hall of Fame.

Fifteen or so years later, the Steroid Era continues to stink up the game of baseball and it will for many years. I was as excited as anybody to see Mark McGwire beat Roger Maris' single season home run record. I was just as saddened when he couldn't answer questions in a congressional hearing "without jeopardizing friends, family and myself."

I rooted for Barry Bonds when he was a Pittsburgh Pirate. I rooted for Rafael Palmerio when he was a Texas Ranger. I was proud to see Sammy Sosa wear number 21 in honor of Roberto Clemente. I was excited to see a Roger Clemens-Nolan Ryan pitching duel.

When Bonds broke Henry Aaron's National League career record of 733 home runs, it was among signs and catcalls berating Barry of steroid use. There was no fanfare. Just polite applause from polite Brewer fans.

When Bonds was chasing Aaron's all-time home run record, the celebration was subdued at best. Many still consider Aaron to still be the legitimate home run leader in Major League Baseball.

When Bonds returned to Pittsburgh in a Giants uniform, he was greeted by a sign from a Pirates fan who had not seen a winning season since 1992, which was Bonds' last year as a Pirate.

The sign read, "The Pirates. Steroids free since 1993."

I kept hearing the word "comeuppance" while watching the W.C.Fields version of "David Copperfield" on Turner Classic Movies. It's a Dickensian sort of word that was used to describe the fate of the sycophant, Uriah Heep. Heep was ruined when his plan to blackmail Mr. Wickfield was discovered by Mr. Micawber (Fields).

One sad part of the Steroid Era is that without PEDs, it is largely believed that Bonds, Clemens and A-Rod would've easily been first ballot inductees into Baseball's Hall of Fame. They didn't need to take PEDs to enhance their already exceptional skills. They may eventually be inducted, should time heal baseball's needle wounds and should the Hall of Fame's Veteran's Committee look at stats and stats alone.

But the saddest part would be to not vote for a player based solely on innuendo. Players should be presumed innocent until proven guilty. But they won't be.

Cheating and lying. Hearsay, speculation and gossip. The Steroids Era has even tarnished the plaques in Baseball's Hall of Fame.

About the Author
Donn Frizzi is a well-traveled man, if you consider Pennsylvania to southern Indiana to Texas and finally Peoria to be the definition of well traveled. But in each of his stops he gained certain insights that make him who he is — including a Pirates and Rangers fan who must travel to St. Louis to watch quality baseball without buying a plane ticket. Poetic justice, perhaps? A talented writer, Donn also can make a good point by putting pencil to paper and drawing with satirical splendor. We’re hoping to persuade him to grace our website with an occasional toon, as well.