Marcos Bretón

My Baseball Hall of Fame ballot is packed with steroid ‘cheaters’ and I’m done caring if you hate it

Marcos Breton’s ballot.
Marcos Breton’s ballot. The Sacramento Bee

Being a voter for the Baseball Hall of Fame is like having a “kick me” sticker on your back every January. Once the voting results are announced, as they will be Wednesday, you will be kicked often and from all directions.

You’ll be called an idiot no matter how you address the one issue that makes Hall of Fame voting controversial: performance-enhancing drugs.

Before this year, most Hall of Fame voters have punished steroid “cheaters” by leaving them off their ballots. That has meant the exclusion of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, who are statistically two of the all-time greats but were prosecuted by federal authorities for alleged use of steroids.

Both beat the feds in court yet lose each January to Hall of Fame voters penalizing them even though baseball never did.

I’ve voted for both the past four years, not because I doubted they used performance-enhancing drugs. I believe they did. But I also believe Bonds and Clemens were all-time great players with or without PEDs.

Is that a slippery slope? Of course it is. But so is every argument for keeping them out. If we’ve learned anything the last four years, since Steroid Era players first became eligible for the Hall of Fame, it’s this:

It’s probably easy for people to look at Alex Rodriguez and say, ‘I’m not voting for him.’ Now, is it because he did steroids or (because) he’s just one of those guys that people really didn’t like?

Tom Glavine, Hall of Fame pitcher, to ESPN

The steroid debate isn’t a debate at all. It’s a disagreement with no right or wrong answers, only firmly held beliefs sure to be trashed on Twitter.

Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated represents an opposing view to mine that many voters hold.

“As time passes and as veteran writers prefer the path of least resistance, which is to just pretend it didn’t exist or lazily decide ‘everybody was doing it,’ the disgrace of the era ebbs,” Verducci wrote last week.

So I’m lazy? Intellectually dishonest? Cowardly? Anti-PED voters would likely suggest that about my 2017 ballot, which contained votes for these 10 players: Jeff Bagwell, Bonds, Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Edgar Martinez, Ivan Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Tim Raines, Trevor Hoffman and Mike Mussina.

Call it the “I don’t give a damn anymore about being slammed on social media” vote.

With all due respect to opposing views, I simply don’t agree with cherry picking between “dirty” players and “clean” players for a few simple reasons.

We don’t know how many players used performance-enhancing drugs during the 1990s and early 2000s, before baseball began testing players for PEDs.

We don’t know enough about how PEDs affect performance. In a story detailing why he won’t vote for cheaters, Verducci tells the compelling story of Dan Naulty, a former Twins and Yankees pitcher.

Naulty was the only one in his group of fellow minor leaguers in the early 1990s to reach the bigs and, to his credit, Naulty acknowledges the role of PEDs in his ascension.

But here is where the PED argument falters in the context of the Hall of Fame. Naulty pitched parts of four seasons in the late 1990s, compiling a 5-5 record with a 4.54 ERA.

Why didn’t PEDs elevate him to superstar status? Neifi Perez, a former Giants infielder, was suspended for PEDs. Was he a superstar? How about Marlon Byrd, also a recent Giant? Or Edinson Volquez of the Reds?

The point is two-fold: Many players have used PEDs, but few amassed careers that would make them Hall of Fame-eligible.

Hall of Fame voting is supposed to be about enshrining players who are Hall of Fame-eligible. But instead, it’s been about trying to separate “dirty” players from clean ones without really knowing for certain.

My vote isn’t a denial of the Steroid Era. On the contrary, it’s an acknowledgment of the Steroid Era. There is growing anecdotal evidence the men now on the ballot were simply the best of an era when no one knew for sure who was and wasn’t using.

“We knew guys were doing it. But it wasn’t like (Braves teammate) Greg Maddux and I were on the mound saying, ‘This guy is cheating – he did steroids.’ We were just on the mound trying to figure out how to get guys out,” Tom Glavine, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014, told ESPN. “I don’t know how to say this without sounding a little bit bad, but it was such a part of what was going on we didn’t really worry about it …

The steroid debate isn’t a debate at all. It’s a disagreement with no right or wrong answers, only firmly held beliefs sure to be trashed on Twitter.

“It’s probably easy for people to look at Alex Rodriguez and say, ‘I’m not voting for him.’ Now, is it because he did steroids or (because) he’s just one of those guys that people really didn’t like?”

Exactly. Bonds, Clemens, Sosa and others tainted by the Steroid Era were cast as villains in the public domain. I covered Bonds at the height of steroid speculation in the early 2000s and yes, he really could be hard to be around.

I collaborated with Sosa on his autobiography in 2000. The man clearly is flawed in many ways, but he was a remarkable talent.

Bonds was the best hitter I ever saw. Clemens was one of the best pitchers of all time, if not the best.

None of the players on my ballot had his numbers invalidated by baseball authorities. They are candidates in good standing, unlike Pete Rose, who was banned from baseball for life for betting on the game.

And that’s an important distinction: Unlike gambling, there is no rule that says PED use shall result in a lifetime ban unless a player flunks three tests. Even then, players can apply for reinstatement.

No one on my ballot was banned from baseball, so I voted for the 10 best players. That includes Ramirez, who failed PED tests during his career. Ramirez served his penalties but is still a Hall of Fame talent.

Some still will likely slam my 2017 ballot, but it was liberating to just vote for the best talent.

And as a bonus, my ballot crowded out Curt Schilling, the Twitter troll.

Schilling wasn’t a victim of his conservative politics on my ballot. He was a victim of steroid politics and a ballot crowded with other flawed men who were better than he was. As it should be.

Marcos Breton: 916-321-1096, @MarcosBreton

Baseball Hall of Fame

Class of 2017 announcement

Wednesday: 3 p.m.

TV: MLBN

Ballot: 34 former MLB players

Favorites: Trevor Hoffman (1), Jeff Bagwell (6), Tim Raines (9)

(#)-Years on ballot

Votes needed: 75 percent by members of Baseball Writers Association of America

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