I wish the Hall of Fame gave voters better instructions about the steroid era. Right now, it doesn't happen. Voters are left to guess and handle the choice in their own way. My choice is this: I'm not voting for any of the steroid social club -- or whatever you want to call the group that includes Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa -- until I have as complete a picture as possible of the Major League Baseball landscape during that time period.
Right now, I don't. You don't. Nobody does. Information has dribbled out in various court trials and biographical books. But we still don't know the full story. Fortunately, the Hall of Fame voting process allows for us to be patient and wait for the full story. Many people don't understand how it works. This isn't a one-time-only election. Candidates are eligible over a 15-year window. So just because I'm not voting for someone now, it doesn't mean I will never vote for him. I simply want to be as informed a voter as possible. What's wrong with that?
Over the next 10 years or so, we are going to become much more informed about the steroid era, as players retire and own up to the truth or are forced to testify in court. An example: I don't think I am naive about this stuff. But when I sat through every minute of the Barry Bonds perjury trial, it really opened my eyes about how pervasive the steroid culture was 10 to 20 years ago. Player after player was called to the witness stand. Randy Velarde, who played for the Oakland A's in 1999 and 2000, spoke about his spring training routine of meeting Gary Anderson (Bonds' personal trainer) in parking lots at convenience stores in Phoenix so that Anderson could inject Velarde with human growth hormone. Former Athletics star Jason Giambi explained how easily he obtained HGH and other substances. Marvin Benard, the former Giant, testified about how he brought a cheaper form of steroids from Mexico to Scottsdale one spring but was told by Anderson he needed to upgrade and use better performance enhancers. Meanwhile, Bonds maintained his stance that he did indeed use the "cream" and "clear" but was unaware they were performance enhancers.
After filling my notebook with these stories, I started to wonder: "Was everybody using this stuff back then? Was it almost required?" Speaking with other former players, I don't believe that was the case. But I still don't have a handle on whether the steroid-using players in MLB during that era constituted 20 percent of the population or 40 percent or 75 percent. If it was 75 percent and steroid-using pitchers were throwing to steroid-using batters who hit balls to steroid-using outfielders who ran down the line drives . . . well, then it obviously changes the way I'd judge every player in that era. Maybe it was more of an equal playing field than I thought.
But we still don't know for sure. I have advocated an amnesty proclamation from MLB and Cooperstown. For a one-year period, former players would have the ability to tell the truth about their steroid use with no punishment or ramifications from baseball or the Hall of Fame. That way, voters would be able to make better judgments and make their selections without any angst. Historians would be able to paint a truthful portrait of that era. And then we could move on. The catch would be, if players did not come clean during that amnesty period but their steroid use came to light later in a court trial or other proceeding, they would be forever ineligible for Cooperstown.
Until such an amnesty happens, however, I will just have to keep guessing along with so many others. My decision not to vote for Bonds or Clemens or Sosa (or any other steroid-implicated players) has nothing to do with their personalities or the way they treated me on a professional basis. I've voted for other players who weren't always media-friendly, such as Steve Carlton and Jim Rice. It's all about their performance for me. Throughout the year, I make a point of seeking advice on my vote from people I respect -- former players, managers, baseball scouts -- and then submit my ballot.
Those who say Bonds was a Hall of Famer before he started using steroids are also missing the point. In the first place, how do we know for certain when he started, or what else he might have been using before steroids, until he opens up to tell the unvarnished truth? How many of his home runs and stats were affected by the stuff? What about all the pitchers' stats that Bonds affected while posting his almost super-human achievements? Would some of those pitchers have better numbers and be better Cooperstown candidates themselves if not for the steroid-pumped batters they had to face? You can't elect -- or not elect -- Bonds in a vacuum and put him in a special category.
Over the next 10 or 15 years, I expect to find greater clarity with my choice. But this time? I'm abstaining on all those guys, as I have in the past with Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro and the rest of the steroid social club. If that makes me wishy-washy, I'll accept the label. I just want to be as fair as possible. I'm glad the process allows me to do so.