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Originally published Sunday, July 26, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Larry Stone

Steroids cloud looming over "baseball heaven"

I've attended two Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in Cooperstown, N. Y., and consider them two of my ultimate baseball weekends ever. I saw Goose Gossage and...

Seattle Times baseball reporter

I've attended two Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in Cooperstown, N.Y., and consider them two of my ultimate baseball weekends ever.

I saw Goose Gossage and Dick Williams go in last year (where the main attraction for me was Dave Niehaus receiving the Ford Frick Award for broadcasting excellence), and I was there in 2004, when Paul Molitor and Dennis Eckersley were inducted.

I was just hobnobbing, gawking and, oh, yeah, reporting. I can only imagine what it would be like to be part of the ceremony.

Niehaus knows. It was precisely one year ago that Niehaus was up on the podium to accept the Frick Award.

Today, Tony Kubek gets the broadcasting honor, while Jim Rice, Rickey Henderson and Joe Gordon will be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

"Believe me, I'm thinking about it," Niehaus told me in Detroit last week. "I'm really going to miss it. I know what the Kubeks are going through. He's been in World Series and things like that, but I doubt if he's been through anything quite like this. It hits you between the eyes."

Niehaus calls it "baseball heaven," and I'd agree. And yet there's trouble in paradise. Voting for the Hall of Fame, which used to be one of the unbridled joys of a baseball writer's life — confounding, yes, but always exhilarating — has become an impossible task in the steroids era.

There are no cut-and-dry answers, and it's only going to get more difficult as more steroids suspects appear on the ballot. Mark McGwire was the first one, and he hasn't come close to election in three years. His support has gone from 23.5 percent in 2007 to 23.6 percent in '08 to 21.9 percent in the most recent election — far below the necessary 75 percent.

Rafael Palmeiro will be on the 2011 ballot, and then it all will come to an inglorious head in 2013, when Hall of Fame voters (10-year members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America) are faced with a ballot that includes Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa.

I think my head will explode. The troubling issues for me are twofold. First, we don't really know definitively who used and who didn't use. What if the BBWAA votes in a player we think is free of steroids taint, and then his name is leaked as one of the 103 players that failed the steroids screening in 2003? Who's to say, for that matter, we haven't already unwittingly voted in a steroids user?

The other knotty issue for me is that baseball has allowed the statistics from the steroids era to count. They're in the record books. They're official, whether you like it or not.

Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew, understandably, doesn't like it. He has watched himself drop from No. 5 on the all-time home-run list when he retired with 573 after the 1975 season, to 10th. He has been passed by McGwire, Bonds, Sosa and Ken Griffey Jr., and will be surpassed any day by Alex Rodriguez. Only Griffey from that list has never been linked to steroids.

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"As far as I'm concerned, Hank Aaron is the all-time home-run champ, and Roger Maris should still have the [season] record at 61, but Barry Bonds is the name you see in the record book," Killebrew told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune's Patrick Reusse last week.

According to Reusse, "The great slugger of the Twins paused again and said: 'You wonder if it's worth it to have a record book?' "

For the record, I voted for McGwire, and I'm leaning toward voting for Bonds and the rest. As I've explained before, I've chosen — for the time being, at least — to view this whole mess as the way baseball was played in the late 1980s, 1990s and into the 2000s, for better or worse. I respectfully decline to be the steroids police. But I'm constantly re-evaluating that stance, and it's subject to change. Bill James recently opined that all the steroids suspects will eventually get in the Hall of Fame, because he envisions a future in which everyone will be taking advantage of steroids' ability to, in essence, keep you young.

"If you look into the future 40 or 50 years, I think it is quite likely that every citizen will routinely take anti-aging pills every day," he writes in The Bill James Gold Mine 2009. "How, then, are those people of the future — who are taking steroids every day — going to look back on baseball players who used steroids? They're going to look back on them as pioneers. They're going to look back at it and say 'So what?' "

In the interim, we're facing a Hall of Fame without the all-time hits leader (Pete Rose); the season and career home-run leader (Bonds); the No. 1 candidate to surpass Bonds' 762 homers (Rodriguez); the only person to hit 60 homers in three seasons and one of six players with 600 or more homers (Sosa); the man who broke Roger Maris' coveted record and who ranks eighth on the all-time home-run list (McGwire); one of four players to have 3,000 hits and 500 homers (Palmeiro; the others are Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray); another likely member of the 600-homer club (Manny Ramirez); and the pitcher with the most Cy Young Awards and No. 9 on the career wins list with 354 (Clemens).

That list is subject to growth as new revelations emerge. I go back to James, who wrote that even if he's wrong about widespread steroids use in society, "Eventually, some players who have been associated with steroids are going to get into the Hall of Fame.

"This is no longer at issue. One cannot keep Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, A-Rod, Manny Ramirez, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and all of the others out of the Hall of Fame forever. Some of them have to get in. If nothing else, somebody will eventually get in and then acknowledge that he used steroids.

"Once some players who have been associated with steroids are in the Hall of Fame, the argument against the others will become unsustainable."

In the meantime, I'm going to watch the Hall of Fame induction ceremony today, enjoy the speeches, and not think about steroids.

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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About Larry Stone

Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.
lstone@seattletimes.com

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