Doping Era Could Change MLB Hall Of Fame Entrants

Baseball Hall of Fame voters will come face-to-face with the doping era this year. Major figures in steroid scandals including Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa will be on the ballot for the first time. Melissa Block talks with Mike Pesca about the slate of candidates announced on Wednesday.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. Three of the biggest names from Major League Baseball's steroid era are on this year's Hall of Fame ballot. Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds are all first-time nominees. Their achievements are legendary, but are also tainted by the players' links to performance enhancing drugs and that could sour potential votes.

NPR's Mike Pesca joins me now to talk about their chances. So Mike, will the accomplishments of Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds be enough for voters to overlook the steroid issue?

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: The direct answer is - I don't think it will be. I think if you look at precedents and I think if you look at how voters regard other people who've been linked to PEDs - we'll just use the shorthand steroids - those guys, those other players don't get in. And you want to talk about the three who are on the ballot now, they absolutely deserve to be in based on their on-field exploits. Sammy Sosa had 609 homers, he is one of eight players with over 600 homers and he's the least accomplished of the three. Because Bonds won seven MVP awards, the most ever. And Clemens won seven Cy Young awards, given to the best pitcher in baseball. They deserve to be in based on what they did on the field but there is evidence or thoughts that they did steroids.

And to go through them rather quickly - Sammy Sosa, there was - very often thought that he didn't give good answers when asked about steroid use, especially before Congress, sort of forgetting how to speak English at one point. And then there was a league report that he failed a drug test in 2003. Roger Clemens case went to trial and he won that trial but people still look at the evidence that was presented at trial and it really matters what the opinion of the sports writers is. And then, Barry Bonds was found guilty of a procedural charge. But remember, Bonds never really denied taking steroids, he denied that the stuff he was rubbing on his skin was steroids, and it was a performance enhancing drug, in fact.

BLOCK: Mike, you mentioned the sports writers and it's the Baseball Writers Association of America that votes on who will join the Hall of Fame. What are the criteria that they use to figure that out?

PESCA: It's vague. It's purposefully vague. I'll read the clause: voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the teams on which the player played.

You know, if you look at other players - Mark McGwire made huge contributions, you could check the list because he had almost 600 homeruns. He's not getting close to the Hall of Fame, he only got 23 percent of the vote the first time he was up and he got less than 20 percent of the vote the last time, last year that he was eligible. You need 75 percent to get in.

It's just important to note that if public sentiment is against these players getting in, and it is, then the players won't get in because the Hall of Fame is a very sentimental place. It's necessarily so, it wants to be that. And that all argues for the three we're talking about being voted into the hall.

BLOCK: Okay, well, I'm looking, Mike, at the ballot. Thirty-seven nominees, including Clemens, Sosa and Bonds. So, if they don't get in, who do you think might?

PESCA: So, there's Craig Biggio, who played for the Houston Astros, total of over 3,000 hits in his career. Usually good enough to get into the Hall, eventually. There's Mike Piazza, one of the greatest hitting catchers of all time. Curt Schilling, he had great post-season success as a pitcher. But the odd thing is, there are certainly players in the Hall of Fame, and there will be players in the Hall of Fame, who used performance enhancing drugs during their career, we just don't know who they are.

So, some guys get caught up and they're named in the Mitchell Report, or their supplier was unlucky enough to get nabbed and some guys skate free. And it's all up to the judgment of sports writers, pegged because they know a lot about baseball, to make moral judgments on certain players. It's very odd but it's why Bonds, Sosa and Clemens won't be invited to Cooperstown anytime soon.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Mike Pesca talking about the latest nominees for baseball's Hall of Fame. Mike, thanks.

PESCA: You're welcome.

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