I'm calling for a steroid-confession amnesty in Major League Baseball. Right here. Right now. Certainly before any more perjury trials or tearful statements to the media on courthouse steps.
Here's how the amnesty would work:
Any player who used performance-enhancing drugs during the sleazy pretest days would receive a temporary free pass. They would have a one-time-only chance to come clean. They could do this without fear of being prosecuted or punished by anyone or -- and here is a key part -- without it damaging their Hall of Fame chances.
The whole business would be tricky. It would take coordination from MLB, from the players union, from Cooperstown and from the Baseball Writers Association of America. But it would accomplish a few important things:
1. It would allow a definitive assessment of the so-called steroid era for baseball historians and fans alike, eliminating the flailing guesswork and tortured speculation about what really happened.
2. It would allow us to finally move on from that era, rather than have it recycled again and again as stories about former steroid cheaters leak out in dribs and drabs.
3. It would make voting for the Hall of Fame a helluva lot easier.
The subject comes up again because of Roger Clemens. Earlier this week, he stood on those aforementioned courthouse steps after being acquitted of lying to Congress and seemed to think that the verdict proved he was a steroid
We know better. Don't we? From testimony in Clemens' trial as well as other testimony -- in the Barry Bonds perjury trial, in the Mitchell Report and in various investigations over the years -- we can logically conclude that for those 10 to 20 years beginning in roughly 1990, there were no steroid innocents in baseball.
Clemens' lawyers did a masterful job of defending their client. They poked enough holes in the government's case to create reasonable doubt. But even if you believe Clemens' personal trainer gave PED injections to Clemens' wife and two of his teammates but not to Clemens himself (which was his actual contention), that's still a lot of non-innocence at work.
The testimony has been specific in some cases, vague in others. But it has given us clues about what the steroid era was like. Players juiced. Or they didn't juice but knew teammates who did. Or at the very least, they heard clubhouse talk about how to obtain the stuff if they wanted it. Some obtained. Some abstained. We still don't know for certain how many fell in each category.
So we have to guess. That stinks. Clemens spent a fortune to gain his positive verdict in the hopes it would increase his Cooperstown chances. So now the issue lands in the laps of Hall voters. That would include my lap. And I can tell you, my lap is damn weary of dealing with it. There's no official guidance from Cooperstown on how to deal with the steroids factor when voting. So each of us has to make up his or her own policy.
My policy on Clemens is the same policy I've had on Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro. It is the same stance I'll take when the next Hall of Fame ballot lands in my mailbox this December. The ballot will not just include Clemens' name. It will include others linked to steroid use such as Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mike Piazza.
I won't be voting for any of them this time. However, I will not rule out voting for them at some point during the 15-year window in which candidates are eligible.
When people hear of my stance, they ask a very reasonable question: "How can you say that (fill in name here) doesn't belong this time but might in the future? That makes no sense."
And my pointed answer amounts to one word: "Context."
Let's start with the fact that using steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs was indeed cheating. And that it perverted the game. Just check the current home run statistics compared with those from 15 years ago. Check the stats of pitchers who admitted using the stuff, compared with their stats before or after that era.
The trouble is, we still have no idea exactly how many players were cheating when all of this happened. Was it 15 percent of major leaguers? Was it as many as 50 percent or even higher? Was it more hitters than pitchers? Were steroids or human growth hormone more prevalent? What about that cream and clear junk?
The Hall of Fame voting procedure was set up years ago, long before any of these issues arose. But the 15-year eligibility window is a brilliant system. For unless there's a steroid-confession amnesty, I need every one of those 15 years for Clemens, Bonds and all the rest.
In 15 years, we still might not know everything. But we will know more. (The Bonds trial alone, in which players spoke about how they smuggled in steroids from Mexico or received injections in convenience store parking lots at spring training, was an eye opener.) And why would anyone vote without having as much information as possible? If we discover in 15 years that 90 percent of the players were using steroids, however, that might change my mind about everything. If all players were competing on equally rotten ground, then why make PED use a factor at all in the voting?
A confession amnesty, however, is the better solution -- combined with the stipulation that Hall voting henceforth should not be affected by a players' PED use. But until then, count me as a withheld vote. I'm waiting for the entire truth. And I can wait at least 14 more years for it.
Contact Mark Purdy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 408-920-5092.