Palmeiro probably won't make the Hall of Fame, but he should

Former Oriole Rafael Palmeiro is eligible to have his Hall of Fame credentials voted on this year by the Baseball Writers Association of America, and barring a complete shocker, I'd say it's highly unlikely he's going to receive the 75 percent of the vote necessary for induction. That's too bad, because he deserves to a spot in Cooperstown. So does Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and Roger Clemens. Eventually, I hope they all get in.

I'm not joking. I'm actually quite serious. As people, I don't really care for any of them, particularly Sosa, who remains my least favorite athlete to ever pass through Baltimore. There is plenty of evidence suggesting they lied often. But they were all outstanding baseball players. My personal feelings toward each of them doesn't factor into critical analysis of their careers.

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I believe they all used steroids. I'm under no delusions they were set up by their trainer, or that they took steroids by accident, or they just didn't know any better. I believe they, and countless other players, took them willingly. I believe Palmeiro did too.

In his case, I just happen to have a little more proof because he's still, years later, the biggest "name" dumb enough to fail an official drug test administered by Major League Baseball. The fact that it happened not that long after his finger-wagging, punctuation-referencing performance in front of Congress did more than shred his credibility. It probably shredded any chance he has of getting into the Hall of Fame without buying a ticket. If there is one thing we love in this country, it's catching a hypocrite and punishing him. So Raffy will be punished, at least in part, to make us feel better about our naivete.

The idea that we can pretend, after the fact, that we know who did -- and who did not -- take performance enhancers during their careers is perhaps the biggest fallacy in recent baseball history. Think Palmeiro and Clemens and Sosa and Bonds were the only ones? Of course not. I can't argue that anyone, even Cal Ripken Jr., played his entire career clean. Not with 100 percent certainty.

I may want to believe it about some players more than others, but few sports arguments annoy me more than when someone says "I admire Ken Griffey Jr. a ton, because he obviously was clean during his career." Sorry, but you have no idea if that's true or not. He wasn't bulked up, you say? Well, neither was Floyd Landis when he won the Tour de France. Stop believing every steroid user needs to have muscles like party balloons to prove they were juicing.

Does that mean clean players may be unfairly grouped together with the PED players? Of course. But that's the unfortunate luck of playing baseball in the 1990s. Baseball — whether it was the owners, the general managers, or the players union — didn't care if players used PEDs during that era. And so they did. Perhaps the clean players should have demanded tougher standards at the time. Instead, they kept quiet.

We aren't guarding the integrity of the game by keeping players like Palmeiro out of the Hall of Fame. We aren't showing our children that cheating won't be rewarded. (Any argument that invokes "The children!" should be immediately ignored anyway. If you have to bring up the alleged innocence of kids, you've lost the argument.) Instead, we're attempting to shove everything back in Pandora's Box while plugging our ears with our fingers and screaming "La-la-la-la! I played no role in this!"

Let's stop wasting oxygen and keystrokes on this whole debate over who was clean in this era and who was not. (In the end, it's just a museum anyway. It's not sainthood.) Let's admit that the players, the owners, the media and the fans are all somewhat to blame, and try to start from scratch.

What happened, unfortunately, happened. Those players may have gamed the system, but they also may have been the best players of their era anyway. Anyone testing positive after, say, 2007 when the (extremely flawed) Mitchell Report came out, can be judged more harshly going forward.

There's no point in playing the morality police retroactively, much less judge and jury. If you believe Palmeiro's numbers (3,020 hits, 569 HRs, .288 career average, .885 OPS) don't warrant induction, that's one thing. Go ahead and leave him off the ballot because he was never the best player in the game during his career. Or because he was a DH for too many games.  

But don't keep him out because it makes you feel like you're guarding the integrity of something sacred.

Photo: AP

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