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Feeling good about saying no to McGwire


I've changed my mind on something. I want you to know that.

I'm peering at this year's Hall of Fame ballot from the Baseball Writers' Association of America, of which I am a member. About a week remains before I have to fax in my ballot, but I'm working out a moral issue here and now, and this involves changing my mind.

In years past, I never considered whether a player used performance-enhancing drugs when I voted. I voted merely on performance and career statistics. I felt, with some justification, I am not a court of law and have no right to ban people. I also felt, and this was my key argument, many players who took PEDs, who cheated, never got caught, so it's unfair to penalize the few who did get caught by denying them entrance to the Hall.

I acted on that position on several ballots but I always felt bad about what I did. It felt like I was condoning cheating, at the very least looking the other way. It never is good to feel bad.

During the last few months, I played a mental game with myself. I imagined how my conscience would feel if I voted "no" on a known PED user. My conscience felt great. I began to walk around conflict-free. It was good to look in the mirror and tell myself I was back to being a sincere, ethical, well-meaning voter as opposed to a moral weakling who would let things slide.

This means I won't be voting for Mark McGwire this year, although I voted for him previously. I like McGwire and I wish him well in life. I just won't vote for him. He admitted using PEDs and that disqualifies him on my ballot. I feel good writing that. I feel good not voting for him.

I won't vote for Rafael Palmeiro, who's on the ballot for the first time. He was caught cheating dead to rights. He lied to Congress when he said he never used PEDs "period." A friend of mine told me, "Maybe he meant to say semi-colon."

I compare PED users to murderers — of course, it's not the same thing. But please follow my reasoning. Lots of murderers never get caught. Yet society has no trouble punishing murders who get arrested and convicted. It's not like a defense lawyer walks into court and says, "Thousands of murderers get away with their crimes, so you should let my client, who wiped out an entire family, go free in the interest of fair play."

That would be absurd. It also is absurd to let McGwire or Palmeiro into the Hall just because we don't have the goods on somebody else. We have the goods on McGwire and Palmeiro.

Hall of Fame voters will be facing many moral dilemmas in the next few years. The current bunch of potential Hall of Famers was filled with drug cheaters, people who artificially inflated their numbers with performance-drug help, people who put pressure on all other ballplayers to cheat. Some of them we'll never know about. The ones we know about we must punish with exclusion from Hall of Fame.

Other sports have dealt appropriately with performance-drug cheaters. If offenders are caught their numbers disappear from the record books and they must return their medals. Keeping cheaters away from the Hall of Fame is how baseball can punish.

I am making a black-and-white case for my position. I wish it were that simple. Juan Gonzalez appears on the ballot for the first time. He was a terrific player. He has been linked to PEDs but nothing ever has been proved beyond a doubt. What does a voter do?

A voter asks if Gonzalez qualifies on his numbers? I say probably not on the first ballot, at least. I will study his statistics more in the next few days. A voter also asks if there is an open-and-shut PED case against Gonzalez. No, there isn't. If there is no open-and-shut case, I'd probably vote for a guy if he's statistically worthy. So, I need to decide about Gonzalez.

Barry Bonds presents another kind of problem when he becomes eligible. He admitted taking "the clear" but says he didn't know it was "the clear." Baloney. In my gut I believe he knowingly cheated. And you do, too.

But there exists the pre-steroid argument with this guy. He should qualify for the Hall because he was Hall-worthy before he took PEDs. This is a powerful argument, which I don't like. Cheating is cheating. When a guy cheated is not relevant. The fact that he cheated is relevant. The way I feel now, I will not vote for a cheater like Bonds when his name appears.

One other thing — after 15 years, the veterans committee of the Hall can vote in players. It happens all the time. I am inclined to be harsh with PED cheaters because I know they get a second chance before a jury of their peer group. It will be interesting to see how veteran players feel about guys like McGwire and Palmeiro, if it comes to that. I imagine the veterans will be harder on them than I am.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com