Column: Rodriguez’s Hall of Fame honor shows fault of PED argument

By Kevin Sherrington - The Dallas Morning News

Straight up: On his record between the lines, Pudge Rodriguez deserved to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. All the numbers say so. So do experts. Joe Torre, pretty good baseball man, called Pudge the greatest catcher he ever saw. Even the man he overlooked, Johnny Bench, said Pudge’s case was a no-brainer.

Only two obstacles could have kept the greatest Ranger ever from getting into the Hall:

Voters who won’t include anyone in their first year of eligibility, a rusted-out argument with a hole in it you could drive a parade through.

Or those who believe — or even suspected — that Pudge used PEDs.

Neither case should have been enough to deny Rodriguez, but, alas, that’s what you get when you put something to a vote with an electorate as cantankerous as this one. Also one of the reasons I rescinded my privilege a couple of years ago, when officials attempted to winnow the field to a manageable 400 or so.

Speaking strictly for myself, and after long deliberation, I’ve finally come to the conclusion that journalists shouldn’t make news if possible. We report, we investigate, we offer opinions. I don’t mind writing that someone shouldn’t be a Hall of Famer, but blocking the door is another matter entirely.

Yes, I’m a voting member of the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, a group that assembles in Waco once a year to considers candidates from this great state’s illustrious history. You can’t beat the witty repartee. Or the box lunches.

For the most part, though, our charge is to excavate a field of candidates lost to history and deserve to be honored.

What we don’t do: Dream up ways to keep people out of Waco.

Other than the baseball old-timers who make the “first-ballot” argument, the case against Pudge rested on an allegation in Jose Canseco’s book; Pudge’s statement that “only God knows” whether he used PEDs; and, of all things, his sudden weight loss one spring.

Tom Verducci, one of the nation’s most respected baseball writers, told our Evan Grant that the evidence above justified Pudge’s absence from his ballot. Never mind that he included Jeff Bagwell, also a suspect, if never named by anyone. In Pudge’s case, Verducci likened it to a civil trial, requiring only a preponderance of evidence. Canseco’s allegations, he said, swayed his vote.

Let’s put aside Canseco’s veracity and examine how we frame the argument against Pudge. This was no civil trial. No one’s paying reparations. This was, in effect, a criminal trial, basing admission to the Hall of Fame on guilt or innocence that requires evidence far more substantial.

Frankly, I don’t think the case against Pudge would hold up in any court, civil or criminal. And that’s just one of the problems.

Readers used to criticize sportswriters regularly because we didn’t single out obvious PED users. Besides the fact that we weren’t inclined to ask players to pee in a cup, we weren’t qualified to judge. It’s one thing when Barry Bonds’ hat size grows a couple sizes. But until he failed a test, who suspected Rafael Palmeiro, of the Joe Average build?

Also, does it matter how long he used? What if it’s Andy Pettitte, who said he used PEDs once, while rehabbing from injury? What if the accused, like Bonds, had HOF credentials before he blew up into the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man?

Doesn’t matter, you say. They’re cheaters, right? A few Hall of Famers agree.

Here’s what I’d ask them: Did you use “greenies” to get up for games? Did you scuff the ball? Did you doctor it some other way?

“Gamesmanship,” is what players invariably call it. Not cheating. Semantics, in other words.

Other than the fact that baseball’s greatest records were shredded by men on PEDs, the greatest sins of the era were the influence on generations of youth to do the same, and the fact that it forced so many players to use them simply to stay employed, let alone keep up.

Baseball served its penance for the Steroids Era, and rightfully so. But it doesn’t mean we write it off, either.

Because all we know for sure is a handful of players who used PEDs. To deny the rest based on suspicions is the cruelest remedy yet.

Even if guilty, the worst that can be said is that they cheated, and baseball has winked at the habit throughout its history.

And what if they’re not guilty at all? What if they played magnificently and by the rules, only to be denied by the margin of a half-dozen voters who went with evidence carrying far less weight than a player’s numbers? What if it were you?

Fortunately for Pudge Rodriguez, he won’t have to live with such a verdict. Only God knows if he used PEDs. But even an idiot like me knows a Hall of Famer when he sees one.


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By Kevin Sherrington

The Dallas Morning News