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Voters reject baseball's steroid era

  • Article by: TYLER KEPNER
  • New York Times
  • January 9, 2013 - 10:52 PM

In the most resounding referendum yet on the legacy of steroids in baseball, voters for the Hall of Fame emphatically rejected the candidacies of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens in balloting results announced Wednesday.

Bonds and Clemens, among the game's most decorated players, fell far short of the necessary 75 percent of votes in their first year on the ballot. Bonds, the career home-run leader, received 36.2 percent, while Clemens, who won a record seven Cy Young Awards, got 37.6 percent. For the first time since 1996, and only the second time in four decades, the baseball writers elected no one to the Hall.

It was not only a sharp rebuke to those two stars, but an apparent condemnation of the steroids-tainted period in which they played the game.

"I'm not surprised we had a shutout today," said Jeff Idelson, the Hall of Fame's president. "I wish we had an electee, but I'm not surprised given how volatile this era has been. It takes time for history to sort itself out."

For a sport whose links to performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) have forced it to endure congressional hearings, public apologies, tell-all books and federal trials, Wednesday offered a particularly profound moment. Writers decreed that two of baseball's greatest players would not be recognized with the game's highest honor, at least for now and perhaps forever.

The Hall of Fame will have its annual induction ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y., this summer. But the three who will be honored -- umpire Hank O'Day, owner Jacob Ruppert and barehanded catcher Deacon White -- all died in the 1930s and were voted in by the veterans' committee in December rather than through the more prestigious route of being selected by the members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA).

As a result, it will be the first time since 1960 that the induction ceremony will include no new, living honorees, underscoring the lingering damage that the issue of drugs is inflicting on the sport.

Every player on the 2013 ballot was active in the years before steroid testing, which began, with penalties, in 2004. Some have escaped suspicion, like the top two finishers in this election: Craig Biggio, who amassed 3,060 hits, debuted on the ballot at 68.2 percent, followed by former Twins pitcher Jack Morris, who got 67.7 percent in his 14th year as a candidate.

Others, such as former New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza and former Houston first baseman Jeff Bagwell, were muscle-bound sluggers in an era when many such players used steroids. They are viewed skeptically by some but never have been formally linked to performance enhancers, and both got more votes than Bonds and Clemens -- 59.6 percent for Bagwell and 57.8 percent for Piazza, who was also on the ballot for the first time.

Sosa, others falter

Other players who have admitted or were suspected of using steroids fared worse. Mark McGwire, who has admitted his use of performance-enhancers, received just 16.9 percent support, the lowest figure in his seven years on the ballot. Rafael Palmeiro, who tested positive in 2005, dropped to 8.8 percent, the lowest result in his three-year candidacy. And Sammy Sosa, who was reported by the New York Times to have tested positive in 2003, debuted on the ballot with just 12.5 percent.

Bonds, baseball's only seven-time Most Valuable Player, hit 762 home runs, including a record 73 in 2001. He was indicted on charges he lied to a grand jury in 2003 when he denied using PEDs. But a jury two years ago failed to reach a verdict on three counts he made false statements and convicted him on one obstruction of justice count, finding he gave an evasive answer.

Clemens, the only seven-time Cy Young Award winner, is third in career strikeouts (4,672) and ninth in victories (354). He was acquitted last year on one count of obstruction of Congress, three counts of making false statements to Congress and two counts of perjury, all stemming from his denials of drug use.

"To those who did take the time to look at the facts," Clemens said, "we very much appreciate it. ... After what has been written and said over the last few years I'm not overly surprised."

Bonds did not immediately comment but lamented in an interview with MLB.com in November that "it's tough when you have so many people out there who don't want to turn the page and want to be angry at you forever."

The voters are writers who have been members of the BBWAA for 10 consecutive years at any point. They can list up to 10 players on their ballot and are instructed to consider the integrity, sportsmanship and character of candidates, as well as their playing record.

Nevertheless, the Hall has long included any number of inductees with character issues, including, in particular, blatant acts of racism.

Candidates can stay on the writers' ballot for 15 years, as long as they maintain at least 5 percent of the vote. That at least bodes well from some of the steroid-era players like Biggio with no known association with PEDs .

MLB.com's Hal Bodley said Biggio and others paid the price for so many other players using PEDs.

"They got caught in the undertow of the steroids thing," he said.

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