AS JUICERS ARE REJECTED AGAIN, NEVER FORGET: MLB OWNERS WERE COMPLICIT
Via a redesigned voting committee, the lords of baseball tried to sell an agenda — cleansing themselves by blocking Barry Bonds and the steroids mob from the Hall of Fame — when they, too, were guilty
It was the baseball owners, remember, who played complicit roles in the Steroids Era. The juicers removed their pants and injected. The greedy old farts — enabled by one of their own, commissioner Bud Selig — looked the other way and counted higher revenues and attendance figures. Infamy has lumped everyone together as partners in scandal, the co-scammers who cheapened the Great American Home Run and bastardized the sport as it began a long descent into cultural nichedom.
So understand what an oddballish Sunday vote in San Diego was really about. The owners used their self-appointed 16-person panel, known as the Contemporary Baseball Era committee, to once again block Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Rafael Palmeiro from Cooperstown induction. Unsatisfied that the Baseball Writers Association of America rejected the PED violators in Hall of Fame balloting for 10 straight years, the owners needed their own pound of flesh — one last chance to cleanse and detach themselves from the cheaters, though the collective odor remains wicked.
If this was an exercise in spinning, it only reminded us how the owners try to manipulate public perception against the players — usually during labor impasses such as last winter’s 99-day lockout. Don’t let them toy with you. They were as guilty as the cheaters back in the ’90s and early aughts, and, hard as they try, they can’t revise truth all these years later. In giving Bonds, Clemens and Palmeiro “less than four votes” each — which could mean zero, when 12 were needed for selection — an electorate oozing of corporate influence punished the very juicers who weren’t stopped by the owners. They also distanced themselves from the political fireball, Curt Schilling, who managed only seven votes due to his provocative history of tweets and comments about Muslims and transgender people, among others.
There is an ugly word for this.
To be clear, I’ve never veered from my original stance that no steroids user belongs in the Hall. But much as I enjoy sending a purpose pitch to a younger wave of voting writers, who recklessly strive to forgive the juicers and pardon the era, it’s impossible to ignore how the owners contrived this latest whitewashing exercise. The committee members were appointed this year by the Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors, which includes too many power people who can tilt a process: MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt, soon-to-be-ex-Angels owner Arte Moreno, former MLB president and Blue Jays executive Paul Beeston, Diamondbacks managing general partner Ken Kendrick and — last but never least — White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf. That’s a wide load of influence, and they’re applying clout to have the final word on Hall induction.
In this case, the message is cold and cutting to Bonds, Clemens, Palmeiro and other steroids sinners, such as Alex Rodriguez, who are hoping for future induction. Guess what, boys? They’re not letting any of you into the Hall, so maybe it’s time to try pickleball or some other hobby. Take Reinsdorf. To make sure his hands are seen as clean, though he once signed a steroids-riddled Jose Canseco to a late-season roster, he made sure two anti-PED members of his Sox stable — Hall of Fame slugger Frank Thomas, executive vice president Ken Williams — had committee seats. Conflicts of interest were everywhere in what only can be called a farce, from voter Chipper Jones bowing from the proceedings because he was “sick” to Hall president Josh Rawitch making the evening’s only announcement via a prepared statement — live on the MLB Network — from a studio set at the Winter Meetings.
The news: Fred McGriff, a unanimous choice, was the only player selected by a committee that considered eight candidates. This, too, was symbolic. Though he played much of his 19-year career during the Steroids Era, hitting 493 homers, the Crime Dog never was suspected of PED sins. Asked if all-time homer leader Bonds (762) belongs in the Hall, McGriff said, via Zoom, “Honestly, right now, I’m going to just enjoy this evening.”
We’ll never know how committee members voted in a private process that protects them from backlash. But it’s safe to say at least 13 of 16 — among a group of former players, current executives and media professionals — did not want the juicers. Thomas, who once slammed steroids users but now stars in TV ads for supplements, surely voted no. Ryne Sandberg ripped an ex-teammate, PED suspect Sammy Sosa, during his Hall induction speech. Greg Maddux has been critical of the steroids crowd. The question becomes: Who, if anyone, actually voted for Bonds, Clemens and Palmeiro? For that matter, did Theo Epstein vote for or against Schilling, a vital acquisition and postseason god — the Bloody Sock lives forever — when they broke Boston’s Bambino curse together? I would vote for Schilling, simply because his free-speech transgressions never impacted a ballgame the way steroids do.
The very presence of a redesigned Contemporary Era committee, once known as the Veterans Committee, is an insult to our intelligence. It smacks of cronyism, taking care of one’s favorite baseball people, as Reinsdorf has done in politically pushing through Harold Baines and Tony La Russa. At least the committee couldn’t be used against Pete Rose, who wasn’t considered because he’s on the sport’s ineligible list. Manfred and the owners wouldn’t want to be exposed for more hypocrisy. Rose continues to serve a lifetime ban for betting on baseball, a crime that looks less egregious with every casino deal cut by Manfred amid America’s legal gambling boom.
Now 81, Rose recently sent an emotional letter to Manfred. “I am writing today for three reasons,” he wrote. “First, because at my age I want to be 100% sure that you understand how much I mean it when I say that I’m sorry. Second, to ask for your forgiveness. And third, because I still think every day about what it would mean to be considered for the Hall of Fame.”
The commissioner’s response, through the media: “I believe that when you bet on baseball from Major League Baseball’s perspective, you belong on the permanently ineligible list. When I dealt with the issue the last time he applied for reinstatement, I made clear that I didn’t think the function of that baseball list was the same as the eligibility criteria for the Hall of Fame. That remains my position. I think it’s a conversation that really belong on the Hall of Fame board. I’m on that board, it’s just not appropriate for me to get in front (of those talks).”
Then, Manfred excused himself to take a phone call from DraftKings.
Or was it FanDuel? Or BetMGM? Or one of the sportsbooks installed at several major-league ballparks, including hallowed Wrigley Field? Has it occurred to the owners that a scandal involving players and gamblers could be as nearby as a betting app in the stands? Shouldn’t the White Sox, for instance, be concerned about another Black Sox disgrace?
But at least this time, the baseball establishment has made the right call on juicers and Cooperstown. Even if there never would have been juicers, or nearly as many, without the blind-eye cooperation of the conspiring lords. They fooled us once. This time, we see right through them.
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.