By Murray Chass

December 26, 2013

The Hall of Fame ballot sits on my desk, just to the left of my computer. Of the 36 names on it, three have the boxes next to their names marked with an X: Jack Morris, of course; Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine. A fourth box, the one next to Frank Thomas, may also get an X upon further review.Baseball HOF Logo 225

The boxes next to these 10 names will not get an X: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Eric Gagne, Paul Lo Duca, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa.

These non-exes won’t get my vote because they were proved to have cheated, admitted they cheated or are strongly suspected of having cheated. I have not voted for any player in those categories and am not prepared to start doing so now.

Fans of these players and even non-fan observers will ask how I can consider someone a cheat if he has never tested positive. I have two answers:

  1. Some of them might have used steroids before baseball began testing for performance-enhancing substances and stopped before the tests could catch them.
  2. If I’m wrong on any particular player, so be it, but I’d rather err on the side of caution. I wouldn’t want to learn two or three years after the fact that I had helped elect a cheater. Anyway my one vote won’t keep anyone out of the Hall.

This is an admittedly difficult task the baseball writers have, and each writer has to decide his own way of dealing with the issue of steroids. Question us if you’d like, but it won’t make you right and us wrong.

Now as far as questioning Hall of Fame voters goes, I am questioning the 16 voters who unanimously elected Tony La Russa and Joe Torre to the Hall. They created a double standard with their vote.

A reader made the point succinctly:

“So why do the players get penalized in Hall of Fame voting, but the managers, who either knew or should have known, become unanimous selections?”

Good question.

According to Bill Madden of the New York Daily News, about whose coverage of that vote you can read more about in the next column, “Almost to a man, the Hall of Fame players have condemned the alleged steroids cheats….” Yet six Hall of Fame players were on the 16-man expansion era committee, and all six voted for La Russa and Torre, electing them with Bobby Cox. “Three class-act managers with impeccable credentials,” Madden called them.

Look more closely at those credentials, though, and you’ll find that La Russa and Torre managed teams that won championships with significant contributions from steroid cheats.

La Russa and Torre might not have used steroids themselves, but they benefited from players who did. Why should those players be penalized but the managers they helped are rewarded?

Jose Canseco could be called the godfather of baseball steroids or the Johnny Appleseed of steroids in baseball. Make him the poster boy of baseball steroids if you’d like. He was all of those. La Russa knew that Canseco used steroids, which, of course, were banned in baseball and illegal in the country.

After Canseco’s book “Juiced” was published in 2005, the report said, La Russa told a television program that after he got a new contract with Oakland, when La Russa was the A’s manager, Canseco “would laugh about the time that other guys were spending [in the gym] and how he didn’t have to, because he was, he was doing the other ‘helper.’ He was having help in a different way. You know, the easy way.”

La Russa wasn’t so forthcoming about Mark McGwire. Canseco wrote in his book that he injected McGwire with steroids, but when McGwire was scheduled to appear before a Congressional committee probing steroids in baseball in 2005, La Russa was his staunchest defender.

He continued to support McGwire after he repeatedly told the committee, “I’m not here to talk about the past.” But the manager was probably the only person in baseball who didn’t think or acknowledge that McGwire’s answer was a de facto admission of guilt.

HOF LaRussa Cox Torre 225When McGwire went to work as a St. Louis coach with La Russa and admitted his use, the manager made a comment that was greeted mostly with skepticism.

“I didn’t know anything,” La Russa said of McGwire’s drug use. “Mark and I never confronted it, and he never told me until this morning.”

Even if La Russa’s statement was truthful, it says little for him that with all of the steroids talk that swirled around McGwire he didn’t question his old friend before hiring him. It defies logic.

But the whole issue of steroids and what La Russa knew and when he knew it reduces La Russa’s otherwise “class-act” standing and serves as Exhibit A in the argument against his election to the Hall of Fame.

Exhibit B is Torre’s status. He managed so many steroids suspects with the New York Yankees his success with them has to be reconsidered.

Guilt by association? Not at all.

I am not suggesting that Torre or La Russa had anything to do with steroids. But to repeat the point made earlier they benefited from their players’ use of performance-enhancing drugs, and their success should be tempered by that contribution.

Torre had Alex Rodriguez (two most valuable awards in Torre’s last three seasons, Roger Clemens (Cy Young award), Andy Pettitte, Jason Giambi, Chuck Knoblauch, Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown, Mike Stanton, Jason Grimsley, David Justice, Glenallen Hill, Denny Neagle, Todd Williams, and Canseco.

Not all of these players contributed to championships and some spent little time with Torre, but the Yankees collected Mitchell report names like kids collect baseball cards, or at least used to collect them. From their number came helpful hitters and pitchers, helpful to Torre’s victory total in his Yankees’ years, which were far more productive than the years Torre spent elsewhere.

Payroll was an even bigger factor in Torre’s success, but I’m talking about steroids, not money, and how managers like Torre and La Russa benefitedu from their players’ steroid use while the players pay a steep price.

Should Torre and La Russa have known about their steroids’ users? I always liked Chuck Tanner when he was managing in the 1970s and ‘80s, but I was very disappointed when he testified in one of the Pittsburgh cocaine trials in 1985 and told the jury he knew nothing about cocaine being distributed in the clubhouse. He was in his office before games, he testified, and didn’t see what players were doing in their part of the clubhouse. Some of them were getting cocaine deliveries from the Pirate Parrot, the team mascot, and Tanner either knew it or should have known it.

A manager is responsible for knowing what goes on in his clubhouse and not bury himself in his office so he doesn’t know.

As Sparky Anderson, a legitimate Hall of Fame manager, said, “Ninety percent of the people sitting in the stands can make the same moves I do. My job is managing the clubhouse.”

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