Steroids Era sluggers don’t fare too well this time

Sports Illustrated writer – and former “Sports Talk” guest – Joe Posnanski raised an interesting point in his blog post last night reacting to the Baseball Hall of Fame voting.

Mark McGwire

Will Mark McGwire ever make the Baseball Hall of Fame? I have my doubts. Associated Press

The bulk of the post is in regards to the election of Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar. But in the middle of the post, Posnanski wrote this:

The biggest story on Wednesday, I think, is that the opinion about steroid use seems to be hardening. Rafael Palmeiro, with 3,000 hits and 500 homers, got only 11% of the vote. Mark McGwire’s numbers went down. Kevin Brown actually fell off the ballot. Juan Gonzalez, despite a campaign that featured a full-color brochure, barely stayed on the ballot. All of them have been connected with steroids.

And I think they are the canaries in the coal mine, the ones that are telling us what is coming in two and three and four years. I guess I have believed that, in time, the steroid fury would settle down and that while it might hurt borderline cases, all-time greats like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens would still get in. I’m not sure I think that anymore. I think there was a powerful statement made on Wednesday. I’m not sure a strongly-suspected steroid user can get to 75%, no matter how good he was.

I’ve said plenty on the subject, and I’ll undoubtedly babble about it more over time so I don’t have anything else from a personal perspective to add here. But from a news perspective, well, before the announcement, I talked a bit with Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson. I was curious how the Hall of Fame views the voting and how they view the future. And I have to say the answers surprised me. Jeff said a few things that reiterated that surprising thought in my mind: Right now, from the way everything is pointing, I don’t think Barry Bonds is going to the Hall of Fame. I don’t think Roger Clemens is going to the Hall of Fame. I don’t think Sammy Sosa is going to the Hall of Fame. Not for a long time.

The Hall of Fame election in 2013 will be an interesting one. With Bonds, Clemens and Mike Piazza hitting the ballot, you got some pretty big-time suspected juicers there.

Let’s take a look at McGwire’s five years on the Hall ballot:

  • 2007: 23.5 percent
  • 2008: 23.6 percent
  • 2009: 21.9 percent
  • 2010: 23.7 percent
  • 2011: 19.8 percent

At best, McGwire has been treading water, at least up until this year. But despite there being more voters in 2011 than 2010, his vote total actually dropped from a year ago. That means some voters – for one reason or another – have turned on him. The obvious reason for that is McGwire’s admission that he used performance-enhancing drugs, which happened prior to him taking over as St. Louis Cardinals hitting coach this past year.

And it’s not just McGwire. Rafael Palmeiro is one of only four players in big league history with 3,000 hits and 500 homers, yet the former first baseman – who once failed a drug test – garnered just 11 percent of the vote. Juan Gonzalez received only 5.2 percent of the vote.

I’ve long wondered whether or not these guys will ever get in on the writers’ ballot. I mean, 75 percent of the vote … it can be hard to convince 75 percent of writers that using steroids to reach certain athletic achievements is OK. Look how long it took Blyleven, and as far as we can all tell, he never took performance-enhancing drugs.

Next year’s ballot – headlined by Bernie Williams – should be a bit of a dud. But the 2013 one will be one to watch.

Even in retirement, Bonds is chasing McGwire

If you’ve read any literature at all about Barry Bonds – the book I prefer is “Love Me, Hate Me …” by Jeff Pearlman – then you have read that one of the reasons Bonds started taking steroids was because he was jealous of the attention Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa got for their home run chase in 1998.

“If they want home runs, I’ll give them home runs.”

And home runs he gave. Or home runs he sent, I suppose. Bonds hit more homers in a single season than any other player when he hit 73 in 2001, breaking McGwire’s mark of 70 set just three years before that. Bonds hit more homers in a career – 762 – than any other player.

And this week, Bonds saw the opportunity to deflect some of the attention for the Giants’ run to a World Series berth onto himself when he said he would like to one day be the hitting coach for the Giants.

First thing that bothers me is the fact that the Giants already have a hitting coach in Hensley Meulens. Most people – in good taste – wouldn’t say publicly they want a job that is already occupied. Considering the ways that the Giants organization bent over backwards for Bonds in the past, you wonder how Meulens is feeling right now.

Secondly, I still don’t like the idea of Bonds or any other known – and let’s face it, it’s pretty much known by now – steroid user being allowed back into the game like this. If you think they should be in the Hall of Fame, then fine. I could stomach that, although I would disagree with their inclusion. But I don’t think they should be allowed back on the field.

McGwire became hitting coach of the St. Louis Cardinals prior to this season. Do you think Bonds saw some of the attention McGwire got for receiving that job and wanted it for himself? That would be strange, since I’m guessing McGwire would have preferred to not be in the spotlight if given the option.

Shortly after the Black Sox Scandal in the 1919 World Series, it became obvious that gambling and the throwing of games was widespread throughout baseball. A man by the name of Kennesaw Mountain Landis was tabbed as commissioner and given the responsibility of cleaning up the game.

He sent a message to those cheaters by banning eight Chicago White Sox players from baseball for life. And I don’t know for certain since I wasn’t born for about another 60 years after that, but to my knowledge gambling wasn’t a big problem again, at least until Pete Rose came along.

About a decade ago, steroid use in baseball was pretty widespread. After years of ignoring the problem, MLB commissioner Bud Selig stepped up his testing program, but nobody has ever been banned for it. And the players’ union accepts a lot of the blame, too, for getting in the way of harsher penalties.

What’s done is done, though. I don’t want to get into the steroid use in baseball other than to say I don’t think these guys should be wearing big league uniforms again. They cheated the game in order to profit from it, just like the players in the 1919 scandal did.

It would serve Selig well to send a message, just as his predecessor did.

Gumbel implicates Bagwell, Nomar

I used to subscribe to the HBO family of networks when Curb Your Enthusiasm was on, but I dropped the package shortly after the show’s season wrapped up a couple months ago.

Another show I watched frequently on HBO was "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel." I’m not a huge fan of Gumbel, but Frank DeFord and Co. often would report on very interesting stories. I specifically remember DeFord’s piece on former Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell, who is dying from cancer.

Well, I found this morning through a series of linksthis post by David Barron of the Houston Chronicle. He saw the newest episode of the series, and in it Gumbel uses his "final word" to call out those who used steroids or who have been believed to have used.

The typical cast of characters is called out by Gumbel, including Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa.

Gumbel hopes the players learn what went wrong with Mark McGwire‘s admission of steroid use, should any of them opt to come clean.

But toward the end, he says:

"In closing, guys, please feel free to share this letter with Bagwell, Nomar, Pudge and all those others who went from hitting homers to power outages overnight. Tell ‘em fans are ready to accept what happened. Tell ‘em we’re ready to move on. Tell ‘em that most of us get it…even if they, like you, still don’t."

Pudge would be Ivan Rodriguez, and that’s no big surprise. But Jeff Bagwell and Nomar Garciaparra? What does Gumbel know about them?

Would I be surprised if either used? No, of course not. I doubt many players who used steroids would surprise me anymore.

But I’m reluctant to throw out accusations like that. To my knowledge, there’s never been any evidence of either Jeff Bagwell or Nomar Garciaparra having used steroids. I can’t recall any accusations or any mentions in the Mitchell Report.

It seems Bagwell’s power numbers were pretty consistent before his final season, when he was plagued by injuries at the age of 37 and never played again. But is that enough to suggest he used?

And isn’t Garciaparra just an example of another player who can’t stay on the field? Should every player who is banged up year-in and year-out be accused of juicing?

The short answer is "no."

Does Maris belong in the Hall of Fame?

One thing is for sure: The Mark McGwire steroid admission has ignited a decades-old debate in the Fargo-Moorhead area. Does Roger Maris – of Fargo – belong in Baseball’s Hall of Fame?

Many arguments can be made for it. For starters, Maris is the single-season home run king in Major League Baseball among players whose careers weren’t swallowed up by the "Steroid Era." Secondly, he won back-to-back MVP awards. And finally, he helped three teams (1961 and ’62 Yankees and the 1967 Cardinals) to World Series titles.

The hardware is there for Maris. No doubt about that.

One columnist in St. Louis says more noise should be made for Maris rather than people uniting against McGwire. That’s also a worthwhile argument.

Personally, I don’t think Maris belongs, at least not moreso than some other players who have been left out. Like Dale Murphy, he’s got back-to-back MVPs, but I’m not sure if his best lasted long enough to fit the typical profile of a Hall of Famer.

We could all argue until we’re blue in the face about whether or not Maris belongs. The numbers can basically be twisted to make the argument either way. Same for Murphy. Same for Tim Raines, Bert Blyleven and Jack Morris.

What’s important is that Maris is remembered. So what if he doesn’t get in the Hall of Fame?

McGwire’s admission has unquestionably led to more people admiring what Maris did during his career. McGwire talked about how tough it was to stay on the field. You think? Why are Lou Gehrig‘s and Cal Ripken‘s consecutive games streaks such a big deal? It’s tough to play 162 games, let alone be successful.

Yet in one magical year in 1961, Maris hit more homers than any player that came before him. And that number "61" is probably more than any player that came after him who didn’t have a little bit of help. We may never know for sure on that last part.

But the fact that people are talking about him again and recognizing his accomplishment, that should be the most important thing.

Jack Clark speaks out against steroid users

Found an interesting post today from Yahoo’s Big League Stew blog.

Former St. Louis Cardinals player Jack Clark spoke pretty candidly regarding steroid users, calling all users "creeps."

Clark and fellow ex-Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire, who admitted earlier this week to having used steroids, will be together at the Cardinals’ Winter Warmup this weekend.

"I’m not even going to say hello to him," Clark told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "I’m not going to shake his hand."

But this set of quotes was my favorite:

"A-Rod: Fake, phony," Clark said. "Rafael Palmeiro: Fake, a phony.

"[Roger] Clemens, [Barry] Bonds: Fakes. Phonies. They don’t deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. They should all be in the Hall of Shame. They can afford to build it. They’ve all got so much money."

Is the Steroid Era over?

Are we still in the Steroid Era?

It’s a popular question these days, brought to light once again by Monday’s announcement from Mark McGwire confirming what baseball fans already believed. For most baseball fans, it wasn’t if McGwire used steroids, but only whether or not he’d "come clean."

Steroids in baseball is a polarizing topic. That’s not because some think it’s OK, but rather many fans are just tired of hearing about it or being reminded of it.

But there’s plenty of interest. My last two appearances on the "Sports Talk" radio show – weekdays from 1-2 p.m. on 970-AM WDAY – are proof of that. We’ve never gotten as many calls on our relatively new show as we did Tuesday, at least not while I’ve been on the air.

I don’t think baseball has completely emerged from the Steroid Era, but I think, at the very least, steroid use isn’t as rampant as it was. Funny how drug testing has a tendency to do that. Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig only has himself to blame for some of the problems of the past couple decade. Why else is he so adamant in saying the Steroid Era is over?

Take a look at the MVP winners from 1996-2005:

AMERICAN LEAGUE
1996, 1998: Juan Gonzalez
– He was mentioned in Jose Canseco’s book "Juiced." He was also named in the Mitchell Report following a 2001 incident, but denies ever using steroids.

1997: Ken Griffey Jr.

1999: Ivan Rodriguez – He was also mentioned in "Juiced." Once, when asked whether he was among those who failed the 2003 random tests that was to remain anonymous, he said, "Only God knows." Not exactly a strong denial. I recall him showing up for spring training in either 2003 or 2004 having lost like 20 or 30 pounds. Let’s be clear: Has never tested positive steroids as far as anyone knows.

2000: Jason Giambi – Admitted to using steroids. Mentioned in the Mitchell Report.

2001: Ichiro Suzuki

2002: Miguel Tejada - Named in the Mitchell Report. Pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about performance-enhancing drug use and received a one-year probation.

2003, 2005: Alex Rodriguez - Admitted to having used steroids from 2001-03.

2004: Vladimir Guerrero

NATIONAL LEAGUE

1996: Ken Caminiti - Admitted to using steroids. Died from a drug overdose in 2004 at the age of 41.

1997: Larry Walker

1998: Sammy Sosa  – The New York Times reported that he failed a drug test in 2003.

1999: Chipper Jones

2000: Jeff Kent

2001-04: Barry Bonds - Reportedly admitted to using "the cream" and "the clear" during a grand jury testimony in 2003. Reportedly failed a drug test in November of 2000 according to indictment papers.

2005: Albert Pujols

There you have it. Of the 20 MVPs won during that 10-year span, 12 of them were won by players who either admitted to using steroids, failed drug tests, or appeared in the Mitchell Report, and that’s not including Pudge Rodriguez.

So while I believe the Steroid Era is over, baseball is hardly out of "the clear" just yet.

TWINS INTERESTED IN DOUG DAVIS

There was a report Wednesday night that the Twins are among four teams interested in left-handed starting pitcher Doug Davis, who is a free agent.

The Twins reportedly offered free-agent pitcher Jarrod Washburn a contract in the past couple of weeks, so they may not be done adding to this team just yet.

Davis represents another pitcher, like Washburn, who is a veteran, yet not much better than the options the Twins already have. And Davis, unlike Washburn, has put up his largely mediocre numbers in the National League.

Davis has kept his ERA in the 4s the last few years and has been pretty durable outside of missing time when he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2008. But his WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) has been at least 1.50 the last four years, meaning he puts A LOT of baserunners on. And a trip to the American League, where he’d deal with the designated hitter rather than a pitcher batting, would not help matters.

McGwire comes clean, but also rids himself of responsibility

Finally, Mark McGwire talked about the past.

A lot of baseball fans, especially ones my age, have been waiting for this moment since 1998. I was a teenager at the time, caught up in McGwire and Sammy Sosa‘s home run chase of Roger Maris‘ single-season record of 61.

McGwire shattered the record by hitting 70, but I was too naive at the time to realize something was amiss. To me, McGwire seemed a larger than life figure. Truth is, he was.

Once considered one of the game’s all-time great sluggers, McGwire was reduced to tears when discussing his steroid use from 1990-1998. The feelings of guilt seemed genuine. I don’t doubt that.

But what does irk me is this feeling he has that the "Steroid Era" caught him.

I have no doubt in my mind that there was a time, probably around 2000, when steroid use was prevalant. Maybe it is true that over half of all big leaguers were juicing at the time. That’s what former NL MVP Ken Caminiti said in 2002 when he admitted to using steroids during the mid-1990s.

But in 1990, I doubt it was prevalant. Maybe I continue to be naive. But the way players looked in 1990 and the way they looked in 2000 could not have been more different.

In some ways, McGwire ushered in the "Steroid Era" back then. He and teammate Jose Canseco led the Oakland Athletics to three straight American League pennants from 1988-1990, and now both are admitted users.

And to hear McGwire say he could hit 70 homers in a season had he not been on steroids, c’mon! Really! Do you really believe that?

I’ve been waiting for McGwire to talk about the past, and it was nice to hear him do so. I do think each admission helps the game move past that era. But I don’t want to hear how a player didn’t juice to improve performance, or that he could hit 70 homers without them.

“Cloud of suspicion” dominated the decade

Good riddance, decade of the steroid.

Hopefully, a day comes when I don’t look back on the 10-year stretch from 2000-09 as the decade of the steroid. But there remains a gray area between what was accomplished on the field and what we can believe to be true of those who accomplished it.

Was it real? Do we care if it was?

I’ve always thought the essence of sports is that fans should be able to see athletes doing things were all capable of doing had we put our minds and bodies to it while we were younger.

That belief came under attack this past decade, since I’m guessing the majority of sports fans would say they’re not willing to shave years off their lives to improve on the field of play. Of course, if many of these fans were in the position that pro athletes are in, with millions of dollars on the line, they’d probably change their tune.

The "cloud of suspicion" seems to hang above many of the great athletes of today, most notably in baseball, but not exclusively to it. There were even whispers of Tiger Woods when it came to light he was connected to a doctor who’d been tied to performance-enhancing drug use.

Also this decade, we saw the four major sports teams in this market continue to chase but not secure a championship. It’s now been 18 years since a major pro sports team in Minnesota won a title, quite a feat for a market with teams in all four leagues.

For the Minnesota Vikings, their chase for an elusive Super Bowl title continues. In the past decade, the death of Korey Stringer and the "Love Boat" scandal rocked the team.

But their story for the decade remains incomplete. Despite recent struggles, Brett Favre is leading an 11-win Vikings team into an NFC playoff field full of teams not playing their best football.

The Minnesota Timberwolves finally had their breakthrough this decade, as for the first time in franchise history the team advanced past the first round of the NBA playoffs and reached the conference finals in 2003-04. The Wolves have yet to play in another playoff series.

Kevin Garnett rose to superstardom during the decade for the Wolves, winning an NBA MVP award. His trade to the Boston Celtics may have given the Wolves some young talent, but it also stripped the franchise of its identity. One look at the crowds during a TV broadcast proves that.

Garnett won his title in Boston, and famously said, "This is for everybody in ‘Sota." FAST FORWARD to 50-second mark

The decade also saw the return of the NHL to Minnesota in 2000, as the Wild saw the puck drop for the first time.

It has not been a noteworthy decade on the ice for the Wild, though I contend their unlikely run to the Western Conference finals in 2002-03 remains the most exciting playoff run a team from the state went on during the decade.

For the Twins, they found a formula this decade of how to do a lot while spending a little. While they may not have won a World Series, their five AL Central division titles can’t be overlooked. During the 1990s, that was a feat hard to imagine.

The Twins produced such stars as Johan Santana, Torii Hunter, Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer during the decade. Fans in the Upper Midwest played host to a Cy Young winner and multiple AL MVP winners.

Some may bicker that if the team spent a bit more, they could better position themselves to contend for a championship. Can’t argue with that. But this is a franchise that year-in and year-out contends in its division.

It’s been quite a revival for the franchise during the decade. The Twins were nearly contracted at the start of the decade, and by the end of it they’d secured a new outdoor stadium set to open next season.

But the biggest story for regional sports fans was the death of Kirby Puckett, who died one day after suffering a stroke in 2006.

Puckett, whose baseball career was cut short when he developed glaucoma in one of his eyes, saw his image struggle in the public eye following his retirement. He was arrested in 2002 and charged with groping a woman in a bathroom. The following year, Sports Illustrated had an unflattering story under the headline, "The Rise and Fall of Kirby Puckett," which documented some of his off-the-field troubles.

In his later years, he disappeared completely from the public. His death remains for myself and others as one of those moments that you remember exactly where you were when you heard the news.

Don’t expect release of 2003 steroid list

Last week, the New York Times reported that David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez failed drug tests as part of performance-enhancing drug testing in 2003.

It’s not the first time names have been leaked from that 2003 testing, which was random testing with its results not being released to the public. The drawn-out leaking of names has been the bruise that just won’t go away for the game of baseball.

Recently, Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen and former all-time home run king Hank Aaron have both said they think all 104 names on the list of players failing the 2003 test should be released to the public to put an end to their sport’s suffering.

But I think all can agree that there’s no way that’s going to happen.

Is it good for the game to have those results released? Yeah. Is it good for the media? Of course.

But for the players involved and the union that represents them, it’s not. If you’re a guy whose name is among the 104, you absolutely would rather take your chances hoping your name isn’t leaked to the NY Times or another newspaper, especially if you were an also-ran big leaguer and not a star.

And really, while I think it’s good for the game to get those names out, baseball – or more specifically, those running it – helped create this mess.

Baseball’s history is rife with cheating. The 1919 Black Sox. Gaylord Perry. Pete Rose. Joe Niekro. If you give players a chance to cheat, you can guarantee many of them well.

Competitiveness can bring out the best in anyone. But it can bring out the worst, too.

The players are to blame for their choices. But that’s not to say that Major League Baseball didn’t make a little coin from the steroid era. Let’s remember MLB did little to curb steroid use until the government gave it a push in the right direction.

That’s left baseball mopping up the steroid mess. And fans are left holding the bucket.

Another baseball star violates drug policy. Is this news anymore?

In another blow to Major League Baseball, Los Angeles Dodgers star Manny Ramirez has been suspended 50 games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

In a statement by MLB, Ramirez acknowledged his mistake, saying a doctor prescribed him for a medication, not a steroid, for a health issue.

We can debate whether or not Ramirez’s excuse is fact or not. Who really knows?

The real question is: How big of news is it when baseball stars violate the substance abuse policy?

Earlier this year it was the Alex Rodriguez revelations about his past steroid use. And now Ramirez.

Do fans just assume that everyone is juicing now? Does it even matter?

I know there will be a few comments saying it doesn’t, but anytime a star is suspended for almost a third of the season, it’s got to be news on some level.

What does everyone think?