NEW YORK (AP) — Moments after Tim Raines spoke openly about overcoming cocaine abuse, Ivan Rodriguez tried to avoid discussing whether he had used steroids.
Different era. Different drug.
An unavoidable topic when discussing Hall of Famers.
Raines, Rodriguez and Jeff Bagwell sat together for a news conference Thursday, a day after they were elected to baseball’s Hall.
Raines testified before a grand jury investigating drug distribution in 1985. Jose Canseco wrote in a 2005 book that he showed Rodriguez how to inject steroids. And Bagwell has endured speculation about whether he used performance-enhancing drugs, in part because he totaled 30 home runs in three minor league seasons and then hit 449 with Houston from 1991-2005.
Asked whether he used steroids, Rodriguez responded: “Basically what I did was work very, very hard physically and mentally to play 21 years, and I think that is the key to my career.”
In a follow-up question, he was asked if he would address what happened and whether he did or didn’t use.
“No, I didn’t,” he responded.
Pushed whether that meant he didn’t use or he wouldn’t respond, Rodriguez said: “I always played the game the right way.”
With the rise of performance-enhancing drugs in the 1990s and the decline following the start of drug testing with penalties in 2004, Steroids Era players know the legitimacy of their accomplishments is questioned by certain fans and reporters, including the members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America who vote for the Hall.
“Whether you all think me or you think whoever, I mean, we played in the era that we played in and it was fun,” Bagwell told a scrum of reporters after the news conference. “Obviously, things got a little out of control there for a little bit. But fortunately for me that’s not my decision.”
Mark McGwire, 11th on the career home run list with 583, was dropped from the Hall ballot after 10 tries and never got more than 24 percent — less than one-third of the 75 percent needed. Sammy Sosa, eighth with 609 homers, has peaked at 12.5 percent in five appearances.
Some attitudes are changing. Mike Piazza, suspected of using steroids by some, was elected last year. Support for Barry Bonds, the career leader with 762 home runs, has risen from 36.2 percent in 2013 to 53.8 percent this year. Roger Clemens, the most renowned pitcher implicated, has made a similar climb, getting a boost this year following the election of former Commissioner Bud Selig — who presided over the Steroids Era — by a veterans committee.
McGwire admitted using steroids while Clemens denied taking them and Bonds said he never knowingly used. Sosa was linked to PEDs in a New York Times report.
“We are a museum. We do preserve the history of the game,” Hall Chairman Jane Forbes Clark said. “We are telling the story of the Steroid Era just the way we tell the story of any era in baseball, and we tell the story in its simple truth, and that’s how the museum is going to deal with it.”
Only the questions cause discomfort.
“I don’t envy any of this,” Bagwell said. “This ain’t fun, and that’s the problem — is because it becomes not fun. We’re trying to celebrate what guys did.”
Raines reached the major leagues with Montreal in 1979 and two years later had the first of six straight seasons of 70 or more stolen bases. He admitted using $40,000 of cocaine in the first nine months of 1982 and that he slid headfirst so as not to break a cocaine vial tucked into his uniform pants. He entered a rehabilitation program.
“All of a sudden, people, all kind of people are coming at you in so many different ways. I was a young kid, and a lot of times you’re not ready to handle that,” he said. “Once I realized what I was doing, and I knew that it was wrong, I took care of it. I had guys on my team to help me a lot: Andre Dawson, Gary Carter, Ellis Valentine.”
Basking in the elation of reaching the Hall, players joked and told stories.
“I’m one of the guys that always talks to first basemen, kind of get them going,” Raines said of Bagwell. “He’s one of the few guys that never said a word. This is the first time I ever heard his voice.”
Bagwell recalled a distressing moment with Rodriguez during spring training.
“I’m still mad at Pudge because he picked me off in an exhibition game at first base,” he said. “I wasn’t paying attention, and I just don’t think that’s right.”
NOTES: The news conference was held at a hotel one block south of Trump Tower. BBWAA Secretary-Treasurer Jack O’Connell alluded to allegations by the U.S. government that Russia directed hacking to influence last year’s presidential race. “I want to assure our three new Hall of Famers the Russians had nothing to do with their election,” O’Connell said. “The only Vladimir spoken in the room was Guerrero” — who fell 15 votes short of election.