MLB tarnished by Hall of Fame vote, too

One of Major League Baseball’s many obituaries was written during and after the 1994-95 players strike. That labor-management war obliterated nearly a half-season of games and one entire postseason.

Common wisdom, which is not always rooted in superior insight, wrote off the venerable “National Pastime” as a quaint anachronism that successfully had brought on its own demise through greed and its close cousin, stupidity.

Over the ensuing three seasons, attendance – and, just as important, if not more so, TV ratings – plummeted. Even the Red Sox, now proud owners of a record sellout streak (be it real or contrived), saw their attendance tumble in 1996 and 1997.

Then came 1998 and the great home run battle pitting Mark McGwire against Sammy Sosa as they each pursued Roger Maris’ single-season record of 61. The nation was enthralled; attendance throughout baseball rebounded. TV news bulletins interrupted regular programming when McGwire hit No. 62.

The game, common wisdom proclaimed, was saved.

Who knew that 15 years later we would be wondering if the game was resuscitated with an IV pumping steroids?

It is now known as The Steroids Era, and members of the Baseball Writers Association of America who vote for Hall of Fame candidates loudly have acknowledged it as such.

On Wednesday, voting results for 2013 were announced, and none of the candidates received the necessary 75 percent of the writers’ votes. Among the notables: Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, both having seen their otherwise golden legacies splotched by steroid scandals, fell far short.

McGwire and Sosa, their legacies all but in tatters from steroid accusations, didn’t get even a quarter of the votes they needed.

Meanwhile, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and the game’s spinmeisters kept their heads down and had little or nothing to say, though their collective legacy is just as dubious.

Common sense says Major League Baseball’s executive staff must have at least had ample suspicions as The Steroids Era unfolded, certainly enough to act quicker, and more forcefully, than it actually did. History strongly suggests that as abuse of performance-enhancing drugs went on, the game’s leaders averted their gaze toward the bottom line.

In 1991, Commissioner Fay Vincent sent clubs a memo declaring that steroid use was against MLB rules. Between the day that memo went out and the start of the 2005 season, there was no specific, codified penalty for players proven to be using steroids. In 2005, in the wake of the BALCO scandal (the one
exposing Bonds), MLB and the Players Association finally filled that large policy hole.

During the congressional hearings into steroids in baseball, one congressman chided Selig for his “glacial” response as performance-enhancing drug use spread throughout the game, and suggested that Selig should resign.

When Selig retires as commissioner, it would not be surprising to see him voted into the Hall of Fame’s executive wing. It’s doubtful that his plaque will reference The Steroids Era, but his legacy is forever tainted by it.