Nobody Elected to HOF: We Deserve It (Revised)

Well, this is it. Kindly pay your piper. Welcome those chickens coming home to roost. Please enjoy your Hall of Fame Day of Reckoning.

The anecdotal accounts – and an invaluable “exit poll” – foresaw that the Baseball Writers Association of America would elect nobody as part of the class of 2013, and though I grieve for Dale Murphy and Craig Biggio and several others, there is a certain poetic justice to it.

We all knew. The players who used, the players who didn’t, the owners who enabled it, we reporters who covered it, we fans who bought tickets and cheered anyway. Some of us didn’t want to admit we knew until they went after Bonds and Clemens, or until Canseco’s book, or until McGwire’s temporal displacement in front of Congress, or until that container of Andro showed up in his locker in ’98.

But we knew.

We saw utility infielders popping opposite field home runs and part time guys slapping 20 homers and superstars hitting drives that would have set distance records in golf. We saw before and after photos of the Cansecos and the Bondses and we suspended our disbelief.

We all deserve nobody going into the Hall this year save for Hank O’Day and Jake Ruppert and Deacon White. Only O’Day – in his post-pitching career as an umpire – and the bespectacled White were ever accused even of myopia, let alone actual PED-use.

I am not casting stones from inside the glass house. I’m guilty, too. It was the day they gave the 1986 A.L. Rookie of the Year award to Canseco (whose moral standing in this mess has gradually gone from last place to about 4th from the top because he alone was utterly, if mercenarily, honest). One of the runners-up told me off-the-record “you do know that Canseco uses those drugs they give to the East German Women Swimmers, right?”

He didn’t even know they were called steroids.

I did what digging I could, and kept an ear to the ground, but how many sources were enough to tell that story?But in 1988, just after Ben Johnson was thrown out of the Seoul Olympics for a positive steroid test, I got a series of four sources – including some of her opponents – who told me that Florence Griffith-Joyner was just as steeped in scandal as was Johnson. I promptly went out and butchered the story. I was trying to write a revelation that should have sounded like “other Olympic runners say this” and included a recitation of the math that she was now breaking records so profoundly and so quickly that if the pace continued, by the year 2188, a runner would actually finish a race before she started it. Instead, I turned it into something that sounded like “I think she’s on them drug things.” She and her crew threatened suit, I retracted the story, and not long after Thomas Boswell of The Washington Post had the same experience with his “Canseco Cocktail” story. As well-meaning as we each were in trying to expose the putrid mess, we both set back its revelation by some (presumably small) degree. I’m sorry.

About two months after she got back from Seoul, Flo-Jo, who had promised to sue me and CBS and Carl Lewis (who had made the same charge at a speech at the University of Pennsylvania, on videotape, and then claimed it was off the record), and who had promised to keep running until she won Gold in her “home” Olympics in Atlanta in 1996, abruptly retired. We never heard from their lawyers again. She died in 1998, more than a year shy of her 40th birthday. For the record, I think she too either didn’t know – or willingly disbelieved – that there was anything more than perseverance to her unprecedented series of record-breaking performances. I think she suddenly found out, which is where the retirement – and the legal silence – came in. But it’s just a guess.

In any event, the next time I tripped over something substantial, I kept it to myself.  A pro sports team orthopedist remarked on the sudden devastating, nearly career-ending, bizarre injury to a star baseball player. He said that there were only three ways to accomplish what the guy had done to himself: a hereditary circulatory problem or the repeated injection of anabolic steroids into the same place in the body or a horrific car accident (“By that I mean,” he told me, “having a car dropped on top of you from about 25 feet.”) Having burned myself on the Flo-Jo thing I was not prepared to repeat the process. And now I knew that there was one baseball star on steroids and maybe another one had just had his career virtually ended by steroids and there were not enough sources to mine and certainly nobody to pool notes with.

And then the bottle of “andro” showed up in McGwire’s locker. I can remember that week hearing the late baseball writer Leonard Koppett tell me on my show that nobody cared, that it wasn’t cheating, that it was nothing worse than vitamins or maybe, maybe, “greenies.” To his eternal credit, the author and former pitcher Jim Bouton not only disagreed, but got it exactly right. Some day, he says in the interview, baseball will have to reckon with years and years of records that will be artificially inflated, distorted beyond all measure, by the effects of a drug that lets you keep working out when the guys next to you – or before you, chronologically – have to drop the barbell. It was Bouton, after all, who had written in the eternal Ball Four that if a pitcher could take a pill that guaranteed him a) 20 wins and b) that he’d die five years sooner, he would’ve swallowed it before you finished that “b)” part.

So I pushed the Andro story – wrote a piece for Playboy in 1999 in which I picked up both Bouton’s point and the fact that baseball was going to lose the breathless charm of “chasing the home run record.” I pushed that story and every little hint of the truth dropped over the years, by the late Ken Caminiti, by Canseco, by Curt Schilling. But by then, almost nobody cared. I stood atop the right field corner at Fenway at the Home Run Hitting Contest the night before the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway and ooed and ahhed with the rest of you as McGwire hit 650-foot blasts beyond the wall at the other side of the ballpark. And I knew it was mostly the drugs and while I could still preserve enough of my own disbelief to know it wasn’t real, I could see how the results of the PEDs could be as addictive to the fans and the owners’ bottom lines, as the drugs themselves could be the players.

By 2002 I was carrying a printed list of the players I had been told by various sources were “using.” Printed out and folded up inside my scorebook. I’d show it to colleagues and team executives and even other players and get confirmations or denials or additions. But I never even emailed it to, nor copied it for, anybody. With delicious irony, the legal rules protected the rule-breakers.

My conscience is relatively clean. I’ve been yelling about the Emporers’ Clothes for more than fourteen years. Yet it literally still keeps me up at night. Did so last night before today’s announcement. Biggio will probably get in later, and I think the Veterans’ Committee will soon note that Dale Murphy has the same OPS+ as Jim Rice, and was at worst the second or third best hitter of the era that matched his days as a starting player, and the collateral damage to them and the other deserving clean players will be transient. I do think there’s something delicious about the fact that the Baseball Writers have never even been consistent about what merits election to Cooperstown, and this time they all had to figure it out at the most complex moment in voting history, and that because none of them was likely to reach the same conclusion, for everybody who voted Bagwell but not Bonds, there was somebody who voted Bonds but not Bagwell, and none of them got in.

But they all deserve that kind of self-abnegating communal shame. As do we. They did it. We watched it. Those of us who didn’t care, and those of us who cared but couldn’t reveal or stop it, deserve similar if not identical fates.

The path to Steroid Hell was indeed paved with good intentions. And Jim Bouton’s pills. And the drugs that he didn’t know the name of that the guy told me about 26 years ago that they also gave the East German Women Swimmers. And the stuff we saw with our lying eyes and just pretended wasn’t real.






  1. Mary Caruso

    This is one of your best posts to date. I can feel the actual pain in your writing about this most unfortunate circumstance that has tainted the most revered sport in America. To know and be helpless to do anything about it, is like watching a train wreck that you cannot prevent or even look away from. And that’s exactly what we all did. Not look away from a disaster. Some of us were naïve about it all but now that it has been shown, can do nothing. It doesn’t excuse us either.

    I love watching these HOF voters squirming in their seats to try to justify their votes for who should be inducted or not. And they trying to substantiate their choices knowing that the numbers have been ‘pumped’ as well as the athletes themselves were while playing.

    It is a shame this happened to a great pastime. Boys always looking up to these players must be disappointed. In a very direct way, I’m glad that there may not be candidates inducted into the Hall of Fame. This behavior should not be rewarded in any way. But knowing the Hall of Fame has to save face, they may just hold their collective noses and place some of them on the roster. What I’d like to see the HOF do is feature them in the back of the building or put them in a separate annex all by themselves and in their own classification of PED assisted records asterisks abound.

    It will be interesting to watch the train wreck as it happens. Tomorrow.

  2. Sandy M.M.

    You nailed it, Keith. We’re all culpable if we look the other way when something immoral or illegal is going on right in front of us & we choose to do nothing. You at least tried & I give you credit for that. It’s a shame that we have come to this. To all of those involved in the sport of baseball who turned a blind eye to what was occurring & tried to cover it up, & are upset at what is happening now, it’s simple: you reap what you sow. You share some of the blame. That’s why I admire those people who are brave enough to become whistle-blowers even at the risk of becoming outcasts. It takes a backbone & a lot of guts. For the die-hard baseball fans out there, this has to be very disheartening; not only the HOF issue, but the whole subject of tainted baseball stats (who makes the record books & who doesn’t?). So thank you, Keith, for this posting. Should be eye-opening for a lot of fans. As always, well done.

  3. Emerson Burkett

    Thank you Keith, the previous comment by Sandy was also my first thought; you nailed it. As a Giants Fan I did not want to believe the rumors about Bonds and steroids; I knew that he was a cancer in the clubhouse (just ask Jeff Kent) with all his perks. But, I loved watching those homers. Gradually, I came to look at the evidence (like huge increase in hat size, just one example) and had to admit BONDS CHEATED. Speaking of chickens coming home to roost, The Giants still keep Bonds at arms length. Though, no doubt, the Organization was complicit. Great Diary Keith and THANK YOU again

  4. Jim Eggers

    It looks like the BBWAA got it right, I feel that even though we cannot hold these men to any sort of legal standard, to put them in the HOF is to discredit all the others who did it “clean”. And yes, I know about greenies, the racists, and the philanders who are in.

    • Stu

      This is a good column, but some of these comments…

      Let me get this right…greenies are okay because…why? Ford and Perry and Bunning spitting and scuffing on the ball is okay because…why?

      If greenies allowed guys in the 1960s and 1970s to play more often than they “should have,” why are their career totals somehow exempt from this moral hand-wringing? How many guys did Bunning or Perry or Lew Burdette or Don Sutton get out by throwing illegal pitches…and then joking about it?

      This is nothing but selective morality based on when certain baseball writers grew up. It’s easier to tear down someone else’s childhood heroes than your own, I guess.

  5. Pingback: Nobody Elected to HOF? We Deserve It. | Baseball Nerd « Johnny's Baseball Blog
  6. Aaron C.

    Quick nit: That picture of McGwire and Canseco is from 1997, not 1988. McGwire didn’t sprout the goatee until 1992 and Canseco came back to the A’s for one season in 1997 — minus his ’80s mullet and with an affinity for tanning salons.

  7. patriciaellynpowell

    Kudos, Keith! Ouch, but all we have in this old world is the truth…and it is beautiful, even when it is ugly. Gandhi said that in end, it always WINS! Yipee! Who we are is finally trumping what we do. Yahoo! Who’s on first in hell?

  8. Debra Cebulski

    Keith, what a powerful piece of writing. I don’t know how you could stand being powerless and watching cheater after cheater receive honors and kudos that you knew they didn’t merit. It must have been like acid in your soul. I also feel sorry for the players who didn’t use PEDs and are now tainted because they played in the steroid era.

  9. walt kovacs

    ya…if only everyone had listened to ko

    jeez man…you know that the internets exist and we can check the tapes

    is there anything you wont lie about?

  10. SL Cabbie

    Thus do drugs make fools out of us all, whether we indulge or are merely placed in circumstances where those indulging are present.

    And as noted, it is silly and self-destructive to ask someone if they are using; they can only answer one way, and as my great-grandmother once remarked, “You have no defense against a liar.”

    Well, Lance Armstrong is going to be on Oprah; will she offer him redemption or take him to the woodshed the way she did James Frey? I’m hoping for a victory for honesty myself, but in Armstrong’s case it’s way overdue, and he dishonors the concept with his late-arrival.

  11. Pingback: It’s Cooperstown, Not Olympus « The Timid Souls
  12. whitaker

    Sorry, Keith, but this is a crock. Leave the steroid shrouded guys aside. Biggio, Raines and Trammell are qualified without question, and Morris is a borderline case. If the writers get this so obviously wrong, they are grotesquely unqualified, and it has nothing to do with who behaved badly or was or wasn’t a good journalist or a good caretaker of the game during the Steroid Era.

  13. JaniceG

    Beautiful, heartfelt column. I am one of those people who think that personal behavior *outside the game* shouldn’t go against you at the HoF but game-related behavior should certainly be a factor. If you had an unfair advantage because you were using drugs, then your records should indeed be suspect. Wish there was better drug testing so the guys who have chosen not to use ‘roids have a fair shot.

  14. dpshane

    This is a great blog KO. My major problems with the whole steroid-era discussions are two-fold. First, it appears that the players have taken the brunt of the criticism for the steroid era. Now, I am not saying that they shouldn’t take a large amount of blame. What I am saying is that the owners, the broadcasters, the reporters and all profited from the excitement that was generated by the artificial feats of the era. Second, what really bothers me is how some of the reporters, those who either ignored the problem or failed to take any action to further investigate, now cast their self-righteous indignation at not only those who were largely proven to have taken PED’s, but also towards those where only rumors exist.

    • Fin Alyn

      And I should believe Tom House why? Nobody had a clue about steroids until the 1976 East German Women’s Swim Team. Hate to break it to you Walt, but those were innocent and naive times. It doesn’t surprise me at all that KO didn’t hear anything about steroids until that day because until the late 80’s nobody was even thinking about steroids in baseball, so nobody was looking for them.

  15. rolandtrotter

    No one getting elected into the hall speaks more about the fickle nature of the writers than their newly found sense of Justice and doing the right thing by baseball. The same writers who chose not to elect McGwire were blindly defending him during his playing day. I don’t think McGwire should get in, but I would feel much better if it weren’t the same writers who enabled their negative behavior in the 90’s

  16. dieb42

    Hi Keith,
    as this story seems to go on, i wondered if besides all this harder punishment talk something like the south-african truth commissions would be a good way out.
    Give the players a way out, get as much info/truth about this era as possible and maybe even make a separate section in the hof that handles this era, because truly it was not only money but also fame that made players corrupt their game. (sorry for bad english).
    By the way I miss your show.

  17. emhardiman

    They reached for a pill instead of the stars, neither the Hall of Fame nor the record books should accommodate chemically drenched players or achievements. Right now the HOF stands for something special, the immutable immortality of greatness, if these juice frauds get in it will stand for nothing…what would the Best Actress Oscar be worth after Paris Hilton won because they used CGI animation & another actress to actually speak the lines?

  18. Steve Ubelhoer

    Please, please, please do NOT blame the fans in the mess, and assume we knew. I did not have access to *any* of the information you relayed, did not have the advantage of seeing these players up close, and often would see nothing more than 3-4 seconds of a highlight on ESPN. I can’t stand when reporters – who had information and sat on it – try to implicate fans too because “well, you could *obviuosly* tell.” I enjoyed the HR race, and had no idea it was the result of steroids. Now, knowing what I know, I feel like I was cheated and am mad at everyone involved – players (far and away the most), owners, and the media. But generations of baseball fans were the victims, and please don’t EVER lose sight of that!

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  20. mikevelferis

    I did what digging I could, and kept an ear to the ground, but how many sources were enough to tell that story?But in 1988, just after Ben Johnson was thrown out of the Seoul Olympics for a positive steroid test, I got a series of four sources – including some of her opponents – who told me that Florence Griffith-Joyner was just as steeped in scandal as was Johnson. I promptly went out and butchered the web design.

  21. Adam Waldner

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  22. Margy Rugh

    We all knew.There is indeed a long and rich tradition of non violent actions which highlight injustices (or perceived injustices) and sometimes play a role in redressing them. royal jelly

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