The steroid era has provided baseball writers with nearly endless fodder for speculation and rumination. But it has also handed them a huge problem: with so many players under suspicion, who are the writers supposed to vote into the Hall of Fame? Chicago Sun Times senior sports reporter Rick Telander recently proposed that the Baseball Writers of America Association develop guidelines on how to vote on players suspected of using steroids. The plan was narrowly defeated in a BBWAA vote. Ken Davidoff, national baseball columnist for Newsday, says he opposed the idea, though believes that writers shouldn't have Hall of Fame voting privileges in the first place.
That's What You Get With People Like That On Cruises Like This
MIKE PESCA: Baseball writers with ten years’ experience who are members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, or BBWAA, decide who gets into the Hall of Fame. But now that we're living in the steroid era, the normal yardstick for Hall of Fame worthiness, which is statistics, that’s basically useless. And early indications are that baseball writers will exclude those players who took performance-enhancing drugs, PEDs. Mark McGwire, who by every statistical measure was a shoo-in for the Hall, got only 23.5 percent of the vote - 75 gets you in. 23.5. The only explanation is that writers were punishing him for using PEDs. It is important to point out that some of the PEDs he used were perfectly legal when he used them, and it’s also important to point out that McGwire was never charged or convicted with using any drugs and he never admitted to them. So, if you’re a writer, how do you make the evaluation about who deserves to get into the Hall? Rick Telander, of the Chicago Sun-Times, suggested that baseball writers form a committee to try to get some kind of consensus on how to deal with the issue. Ken Davidoff of Newsday is a BBWAA member who voted against Rick’s proposal. Ken’s side won. And I want to welcome both those guys to On the Media.
KEN DAVIDOFF: How you doing?
RICK TELANDER: Thanks for having me.
MIKE PESCA: So, Rick, let's start with you. First of all, take us through the process. Do you get to make a speech when you make a proposal to the other baseball writers, and if so, what did you say? [LAUGHS]
RICK TELANDER: I basically just stood up at the table where I was sitting and just kind of made my proposal. The elephant in the room is the steroid era. I've watched this thing develop. I was not happy with the way Bud Selig and baseball dealt with it all, not happy with the way Donald Fehr and the union dealt with it, not happy with the way the players dealt with it and I thought maybe I'd talk to some Hall of Fame people. And I said, could we just talk about if there’s any possible guidelines that we, the writers, could use amongst ourselves – again, none of this stuff binding or anything like that – just something to identify and help us in this kind of moral quagmire that we're all in?
MIKE PESCA: And, Ken, did you know that Rick was going to make this proposal? What did you think when he made it to the national meeting?
KEN DAVIDOFF: I spoke out against it. I thought, obviously well-intentioned, the idea of a committee was elevating the topic of illegal PEDs to a level where it didn't belong. I mean, Rick just mentioned the elephant in the room. Baseball, just like any institution, has been dealing with elephants for its entire history, whether it’s segregation prior to 1947, whether it’s the pitcher’s ERA, if you will, whether it’s, you know, expansion, the evolution of the designated hitter, the evolution of the closer, evolution of new statistics. And to me, illegal PEDs just belong in that barrel. If, if we take the emotion out of it, which I said at our meeting, it’s just another factor to consider, and I don't think it merits the sort of discussion that Rick was proposing.
MIKE PESCA: I don't know if there was any back and forth then, but here on this show there can be. Rick, what would you say to Ken’s counter-argument?
RICK TELANDER: Well, I understand that baseball has always changed. The mound has been raised, lowered, dead ball, you know, live ball. None of those things were anything that I had any control over, nor any vote on. And I think with performance-enhancing drugs, quite often I'll get the argument, well, you know, guys used amphetamines for years and years and years, and that - you know, that’s true. The thing about performance-enhancing drugs, they actually change who and what you are.
MIKE PESCA: Ken, if the sports writers have passed judgment, to use Mark McGwire as a test case, that strongly-suspected steroid use is a disqualifier, is the criteria that we cannot allow someone into the Hall of Fame who there is good evidence that used steroids, or is the criteria better put - we cannot allow someone who used steroids into the Hall of Fame? You know, we all know the names of guys who've been more than strongly rumored but less than demonstrated to have used steroids. What do you do with those guys? Should you just leave it to every writer to make his own decision?
KEN DAVIDOFF: Yeah, I, I think so. And the standard I have used for the last three years was like in a civil court case, preponderance of evidence. And I think I have an idea of who you’re referring to with rumors. We need something better than just bulging muscles. You know, and I think in McGwire’s case there is more than that. Whether that’s enough is up to every individual writer.
MIKE PESCA: In 2003 there was a list of 104 players who tested positive for steroid use. Sammy Sosa, it was just reported by The New York Times, was on that list. Alex Rodriguez has owned up being on that list. Who knows, in ten years that list may become public.
It may become public after some names on that list were put in the Hall of Fame. Now, when that happens, will it be good enough for the writers to say, because I didn't know at the time, I can't be faulted for voting these guys in the Hall of Fame? Rick?
RICK TELANDER: Baseball’s a sport in which statistics are more relevant and more part of the joy of the game than they are for any other sport, and so if those numbers are odd or tainted, I don't know what we'd do. Is rumor enough? Is innuendo enough? Do we only punish the players who steroids really worked for? So I would like to have some consistency, up to the most drastic thing – you never vote for anybody who’s even a suspicion of steroids, or some form of amnesty. Let's not try to judge the amount of steroids you used, what type, how long you used it. Is Andy Pettitte in the same category with Roger Clemens? I don't know. This is a mess, and I'm just for brainstorming a little more on it.
MIKE PESCA: This all brings up maybe a bigger point. Should writers be in this position to be playing St. Peter at the Pearly Gates? [KEN LAUGHS] Ken, I take it you enjoy the vote. Is that the right thing for sports writers to be doing, and does the steroid era call any of that into question?
KEN DAVIDOFF: Well, yes, I enjoy it, and, no, I don't think we should be doing it. So, I - yes, I'm a gigantic -
[LAUGHTER] - I'm a gigantic hypocrite. It draws readers to our newspaper, it draws eyeballs to my blog. But if you’re gonna ask me directly should we be doing this, I say no. There’s no doubt we've put ourselves in a position where we're making the news and then reporting on the news, interviewing each other. I do think in my professional lifetime I don't think I'll be voting for the Hall of Fame any longer. I think they'll have changed the process.
MIKE PESCA: Okay. Thanks, both of you guys.
RICK TELANDER: Okay.
KEN DAVIDOFF: Thank you.
MIKE PESCA: That was Rick Telander, sports columnist for The Chicago Sun-Times, and Ken Davidoff, Newsday’s national baseball writer.