Writers unsure about Clemens and Hall
Mitchell Report casts doubt on future Cooperstown candidates
The road to Cooperstown just got much tougher for Roger Clemens.The Rocket has seven Cy Young Awards and 354 career victories, but he was also prominently mentioned in the Mitchell Report that was released on Thursday, and that's not going over well with some of those who vote for the Hall of Fame. There are more than 500 baseball writers who annually participate in the voting for the Hall of Fame, and it is impossible to survey all of them to see how their views will be impacted by the release of the Mitchell Report. Many are still undecided. But there are enough out there who are opposed to voting for players who are suspected of using steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs to cast serious doubt on any of them being enshrined in the Hall of Fame. "If there is strong evidence that a player cheated, I will not vote for him for the Hall of Fame," said Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. "I don't believe cheaters belong in the Hall of Fame. But before I make a decision on those guys, I want to sit down and take a look at every bit of information. Guys who were mentioned [in the Mitchell Report] took a big hit, but I want to review everything." Bill Madden wrote in the New York Daily News: "I have been on record as saying I won't vote for any of them, and if I'm to be consistent in that stance, that now has to include Clemens." Clemens, through his attorney on Thursday, vehemently denied using performance-enhancing drugs and not everybody is taking a hard-line stance. "The Mitchell Report should prove once and for all that steroid use was rampant for the last 15 years, and it's impossible for the voters to know who was clean and who cheated," said Bob Nightengale of USA Today. "Mostly, it was a level playing field, albeit with cheaters. I will judge players on their performance on the field, and have no qualms about putting Barry Bonds and Rogers Clemens on my Hall of Fame ballot." John Hickey of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer said the Mitchell Report will not impact his vote. "I can say it very simply, you're innocent until proven guilty," Hickey said. "An allegation by one person, even in a formal stylistic situation like this, does not mean anything. I'm talking Clemens and [Andy] Pettitte specifically, and in the back, certainly Bonds, just because you've been accused of something and the preponderance of the evidence is against you, that's still not enough in my book. You are innocent until proven guilty. That's worth standing up for." Others just haven't made up their minds. "I'm doing a lot of soul-searching on this," said Jim Reeves of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "I need to reconsider everything. As a Hall of Fame voter, I need to think about whether I vote for anybody or everybody. It's hard to single out anybody when so many were doing this." But a split electorate does not help any candidate. The Baseball Writers' Association of America is charged with the duty of annually electing players to the Hall of Fame, and to gain induction, a player must receive at least 75 percent of the votes cast. Just ask Ron Santo, Jim Rice, Rich Gossage, Bert Blyleven and others. That's proven to be a high standard even for many worthy candidates who were never associated with performance-enhancing drugs. When trying to reach that level, it's not good to have steroids weighing on voters' minds -- even though some still are uncertain as to which way they will go. "It will certainly enter into my judgment when I consider my ballot," said Ed Price of the Newark Star-Ledger. "I will have to consider how much weight to give the uncorroborated evidence, but cheating should count against a player's qualifications for the Hall of Fame."
Said Jack Magruder, who covers the Diamondbacks for the East Valley (Ari z.) Tribune: "Yes, off the top of my head. [The] answer is that yes, [the Mitchell Report] will impact my vote, just as every other piece of information about Hall of Fame candidates does, but I am not sure to what degree. As time goes on, we will learn more about the so-called 'steroid era' and will be better able to gain perspective on the issue. I am very reluctant to jump to a conclusion this soon after the Report was delivered."There are three players mentioned in the Mitchell Report who are listed on the Hall of Fame ballot that was distributed to members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America at the beginning of December. Mark McGwire is one. He was eligible for the Hall of Fame last year, and that's when BBWAA voters gave their first indication of how they felt about alleged steroids users. Once considered a lock for the Hall of Fame, McGwire received just 23.5 percent of the votes. "I did not vote for Mark McGwire last year, and won't this year," MSNBC's Tony DeMarco said. "The same will hold true for Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro and others, and now you can add Roger Clemens to the list. Just because we are finding out that more and more players were indeed users, that doesn't make it any more justifiable in my mind. The argument that 'so many other players were doing it, too,' just doesn't carry any weight with me. It still was wrong." Chuck Knoblauch and David Justice are up for the Hall of Fame for the first time this year, but they're also in the Mitchell Report. Others have time on their side. A player must wait at least five years after his career is over before he can be included on the Hall of Fame ballot. If Bonds and Clemens never play again, they won't go on the ballot until after the 2012 season for induction in summer 2013. Some voters, as ESPN's Peter Gammons and Tim Kurkjian said on "SportsCenter" on Friday morning, prefer to wait. "I think I've been pretty consistent in saying that there's no real point in making decisions before you have to," said Paul Hagen of the Philadelphia Daily News. "Especially five or more years before you have to. I will say that if anybody still had any doubts, the Mitchell Report makes it clear how widespread the use of steroids was. So instead of judging players on whether or not they used performance-enhancing substances, I think the focus now shifts to measuring their performance within the context of the steroid era." There is also the suspicion that the Mitchell Report still didn't give the full picture on just who was using steroids and who wasn't. "If you didn't buy your steroids from Kirk Radomski or BALCO, then there's a good chance you didn't get caught," said Danny Knobler, who covers the Tigers for Booth Newspapers. "Obviously, there are a lot ways to buy steroids. Is it fair to eliminate the guys who bought steroids from the guy that the feds caught and George Mitchell had access to and you can't eliminate other players who bought steroids from other players?"
There are many different points of view among the voters but the bottom line is this: Getting 75 percent of the vote is a difficult thing to do under normal circumstances, and it's not good to have any taint or suspicion if you desire permanent residence in Cooperstown.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.