BASEBALL WAS my first love affair, before girls,'56 Chevys, Paris, the fair Patsy Anne, children and Mendocino. I enjoy other sports, but baseball always will be the game closest to my heart.

Thus it was with a sad heart Tuesday that I mailed my Baseball Writers' Association of America card back to Jack O'Connell, secretary-treasurer of the organization.

I picked Tuesday after considerable thought, because Aug.15 is my father's birthday. Dad instilled my love for baseball as a boy by taking me to Pacific Coast League games in San Francisco and Oakland in the late 1940s.

My father isn't alive, so I couldn't discuss with him the painful decision I've made, which is to remove myself permanently from voting on the Baseball Hall of Fame. Dad let me be my own man, so I hope he would approve.

Electing members to Cooperstown, my responsibility for better than 20 years, has meant more to me than electing presidents. I've been involved with baseball longer, thus I felt my Hall of Fame vote made more of a difference.

It doesn't any more because I no longer recognize the game I grew up with, idolizing Stan Musial and remembering significant moments — Jackie Robinson's educating baseball about civil rights, and Babe Ruth's dying.

Baseball was cleaner back then, with a sense of purity that has been lost over these past two decades with the cancellation of the 1994 World Series and the arrival of steroids.


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Both of these factors tainted the game, and I can't get them out of my head, or forgive the damage they've done. However, it's steroids and BALCO, first and foremost, that made me, reluctantly, turn in my BBWAAfrom Sports 1

card.

For I cannot in good conscience vote potential members into Cooperstown not knowing if they've cheated. If it were in my power, and if I had proof that someone cheated, I would kick him out of the game on first offense and preclude him from ever entering Cooperstown.

To some of you, this will sound extreme, but the only way to clean up the game is to sweep away its dirt.

Steroids give cheaters a decided advantage, from pumping up their bodies to faster recovery time from fatigue to unfairly inflated records. And baseball's records matter the most.

But because I don't have that power, the last thing I want on my conscience is that I might possibly vote a cheater into that prestigious shrine located in a quaint, tiny upstate New York hamlet.

I wouldn't vote for Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa, no matter when they started cheating. Cheaters are cheaters. Even if I couldn't prove they cheated, and the proof is pretty conclusive, I couldn't vote for them not knowing the truth.

But it's not just these three pathetic characters I'm concerned with; there may be other steroids abusers we don't know about whom might be coming up for election, or whom I've already voted into Cooperstown.

That's my dilemma: Have I already given a cheater his place among baseball's immortals, alongside Stan the Man, who was the embodiment of playing the game correctly and with decency?

I'm not speaking of only hitters. Perhaps there are pitchers who've used the "juice." And I'm not referring to Gaylord Perry, whom I voted into Cooperstown for two reasons: I don't know how often he used the spitball, and there are spitballers in Cooperstown from a time when the pitch was legal.

But steroids haven't ever been legal, and for a while they weren't illegal either, not until their terrible blight on the game was discovered in a Burlingame laboratory run by a despicable cad.

This whole thing weighs heavily on my mind, and I don't want the unwanted responsibility of bringing further disrespect to the game I cherished. I'm not trying to make a blanket statement by my action. This is a personal decision, nothing more.

Maybe, though, I can love the game better. It's worth a try. I only know that when I dropped my BBWAA card in the mail slot, I immediately felt 80 pounds lighter, just like Jose Canseco 25 years ago.

Dave Newhouse can be reached at (510) 208-6466 or by e-mail at dnewhouse@angnewspapers.com.