Baseball faces its latest and perhaps ultimate day of reckoning on the Steroids Era today.
After years of wondering how the sport would handle the legacy of some of its greatest and most tainted players, today’s Hall of Fame announcement should provide answers — if not clarity.
The two most significant names eligible for induction for the first time are Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. There is a very real chance, however, that neither will be in upstate New York this summer.
Bonds and Clemens aren’t the first to be put to the test. Mark McGwire, who first broke Roger Maris’ single-season home run record, has fallen well short since appearing on the ballot. Last year, McGwire received just 19.5 percent of the vote and Rafael Palmeiro got just 12.6. That also spells bad news for Sammy Sosa and his 609 homers.
But Bonds and Clemens were almost mythical figures, with Bonds slugging his way to seven MVP awards, Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record and McGwire’s single-season record, and Clemens capturing seven Cy Young awards. Whatever natural talent they had has been overshadowed by their association with performance-enhancing drugs and could well leave them out of Cooperstown.
And they’re hardly the only ones.
Among the other first-timers are former Mets catcher Mike Piazza and pitcher Curt Schilling. Even though neither failed a test, they may be hurt by assumptions and association.
Not surprisingly, that bothers Piazza’s father, Vince.
“I always thought in this country, it was innocent until proven guilty,” the elder Piazza said by phone yesterday. “I don’t understand it.”
He’s not the only one.
The voters, members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, have been wrestling with what to do with this group of players for years and resolution has been difficult to come by.
Perhaps the uncertainty over what to do with suspected players will help another newcomer, Craig Biggio, or others who have come up short in the past, such as Jack Morris and Dale Murphy. Morris, now in his 14th year on the ballot, got 66.7 percent of the vote a year ago. Murphy is up for the last time.
The possibility that no one gets the necessary 75 percent of votes is real and could conceivably start a trend.
“What are they going to do when [Tom] Glavine and [John] Smoltz come up?” Piazza’s father said. “What about Chipper Jones? Are they going to keep them all out?”
That remains to be seen.
Piazza’s former manager with the Mets is firm in his belief the catcher belongs in Cooperstown.
“The Hall of Fame is for [the] best players of the era,” Bobby Valentine said. “And all I know is that Mike was the best there was. He deserves to be there.”
Valentine admitted to being “worn out trying to figure out who did and who didn’t do anything” and said he would be inclined to vote for Bonds and Clemens, as well.
He may be in the minority in that opinion.
Despite Bonds’ 73 home runs in 2001 and 762 total homers overall and Clemens’ 354 victories, they’re just as much remembered for standing trial and they are among the faces of the era.
“Mike knows it’s out of his hands,” Vince Piazza said. “There’s nothing he can do except hope for the best. And if he doesn’t get in [today], maybe next year will be different. They can’t keep them all out forever.”