The Baseball Hall of Fame was established before I was born. Baseball writers in the 1930s selected the first enshrinees.
Those men (no women wrote baseball back then) established the standards. They decided what constitutes a truly "immortal" baseball player and honored the chosen few with plaques in the shrine erected in Cooperstown, N.Y. Those who followed don't appear to have strayed far from the original blueprint.
By the time I became a voter 31 years ago the standards seemed to be well established. I tried to base my vote on the those standards. I studied the roster of players already in the Hall of Fame and looked for players on the ballot who I thought were comparable.
Okay, it wasn't quite as easy as I just made it seem, but it was much easier than the issues faced by voters this year:
Steroids and perhaps other performance-enhancing drugs.
There, I wrote it out loud. Just once. From now on I'm just going to call them "PEDs."
This is an issue that hasn't come up before - at least not the way it will come up this year.
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, statistically two of the greatest baseball players in history, are on the ballot. So is Sammy Sosa, whose lifetime statistics are clearly Hall of Fame-worthy.
If PEDs weren't an issue today's conjecture would focus on whether or not Bonds and/or Clemens might be the first to go into the Hall with a unanimous vote. As players they were that good.
But that's not the conjecture at all. The conjecture is that once the ballots have been counted they will be well short of the votes needed for enshrinement.
That's because PEDs are an issue - a very big issue. All three have been identified with PEDs. Bonds and Clemens have even stood trial in federal court after being charged with lying about their use of PEDs.
In Bonds' case, the government's key witness chose to go to jail himself rather than testify at the trial. The case against Clemens collapsed when a former teammate changed his story and said on the witness stand he might have "misremembered" the facts.
But the baseball Hall of Fame vote is not a court of law and legal standards do not apply. The standards will be what every voter thinks they ought to be.
There's no blueprint from the past on this issue. This generation of voters is the one that has to come to grips with PED use and perhaps establish the precedent for those who will come behind us.
I, for one, decided years ago that I will not vote for any player who I believe has knowingly and continuously used PEDs. Because of that I have already withheld my vote from Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro. I will not vote for them this year either. Neither will I vote for Bonds, Clemens or Sosa. It remains to be seen, of course, how many of my fellow voters share my views.
Some of them have told me they think I'm wrong, and have advanced some interesting arguments for enshrinement.
None of the three has ever admitted to the use of PEDs and none ever failed a drug test.
I acknowledge the evidence against all three are hearsay and circumstantial. But I think it's substantial. Remember, baseball didn't get serious about administering drug tests until Congress started looking over its shoulder. These players didn't deal with serious tests until late in their careers.
They were Hall of Fame players even before they started using PEDs.
Pete Rose was a Hall of Fame player before he started betting on baseball. Joe Jackson was a Hall of Fame player before he accepted a bribe to dump the 1919 World Series. I believe certain acts disqualify players from consideration and it doesn't matter when they committed them.
There are plenty of rogues in the Hall of Fame. Why should we get picky now?
Certainly. There are notorious racists and drunkards in the Hall of Fame. There are two players who were arrested for drug trafficking, all of which I agree was deplorable behavior. But these people were legitimately great ball players. Anyone using PEDs is breaking the law, taking a tremendous health risk and cheating. All of their achievements are suspect. They should not be rewarded with the highest individual honor the game can bestow.
Why should we penalize a few players for doing what everybody was doing when they played?
I'm sure plenty of players used PEDs and weren't caught, but you can't convince me that everybody did it. If I believed that I would have mailed in a blank ballot.
I didn't mail in a blank ballot. That's because Curt Schilling, Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell are all on the ballot for the first time and all, in my opinion, deserve serious consideration, They may not get it because Bonds, Clemens and Sosa are sucking all the oxygen from this year's debate and other players could be overlooked.
I expect Fred McGriff, Tim Raines, Lee Smith and Jack Morris - players I've been supporting for years - will again come up short, but I can assure they'll all have at least one vote.
That's all I can do.
- Hall of Fame voter Jay Dunn is a Trentonian sports copy editor.
(I cast votes for Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Fred McGriff, Jack Morris, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Lee Smith, Alan Trammell, and Bernie Williams.)