The announcement this week that yet another baseball player tested positive for a banned substance shouldn't be terribly surprising, even for those who have proclaimed the steroid era over. Neither was the reaction from Philadelphia rookie infielder Freddy Galvis, who expressed bewilderment that he could have possibly come up dirty.
"I cannot understand how even this tiny particle of a banned substance got into my body," said Galvis, who was suspended 50 games by Major League Baseball the other day. "I have not and never would knowingly use anything illegal to enhance my performance."
Sounds familiar, doesn't it?
There's a long list of players tied to steroid use who want us to believe someone spiked their coffee, gave them tainted sunflower seeds, or injected them with a bad vitamin B-12 shot. The few who have confessed — Alex Rodriguez comes to mind — did so only because they were cornered and had little choice.
The problem we'll always have judging the steroid era is that — aside from a wave of positive tests — the evidence against many players was largely circumstantial. Heads got bigger, home runs went farther, and careers were extended well past historical averages.
Suspicious, sure. For prosecutors it was enough to bring two of the biggest names in baseball — Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens — into court on charges they lied when questioned about the use of performance enhancing drugs. Bonds almost walked and Clemens did, though neither verdict really settled the underlying question of whether they were juiced when they played.
Baseball purists would like a bit more clarity. In a game built on statistics and records, both players hold gaudy marks that would otherwise guarantee their selection to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. Some of those statistics and records — Bonds' all-time career home run mark, in particular — have been widely discredited. But if numbers alone are the prime criteria for entrance to the hall, they're in.
Members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, who hold the keys to Cooperstown, are a discerning bunch, for the most part. Fooled for a long time by players who turned to modern chemistry to make the game look like child's play, they're done playing the dupes who glorify them without question.
They've already pretty much decided Mark McGwire won't get in the Hall of Fame. Neither will Rafael Palmeiro, whose positive steroid test put his 569 career home runs in a different light.
The balloting gets a lot tougher come December for veteran members of the BBWAA. That's when Bonds, Clemens and Sammy Sosa are eligible for the first time in what will be a closely watched referendum of the steroid era.
Bonds is a convicted felon, so my guess is he won't get a first-ballot nomination, despite his 762 career home runs. Sosa, according to a New York Times report, tested positive in 2003 for steroids, and his numbers are so freakish (66 one year; 63 the next) he may never be allowed in.
But what do you do with Clemens? How do you make a judgment call on a player who swears he never used steroids or HGH, even if his wife admits she did?
The statistics show he was the greatest pitcher of his time, and one of the greatest of all time. He won seven Cy Young Awards, two more than anyone else, and was dominating batters into his mid-40s, when pitchers before him had long lost their fastballs. Just as important, a few days ago a jury wasted little time in finding him innocent on charges he lied to Congress about using steroids and HGH.
That doesn't mean he didn't use steroids or HGH. Trainer Brian McNamee claims he injected him often, and former teammate Andy Pettitte testified Clemens told him during a workout in Texas that he had used HGH, though he later backed off that claim. There was certainly enough circumstantial evidence introduced in the trial to raise more than just a little suspicion, even if the jury decided against convicting him of lying.
I'm a member of the BBWAA, though I don't have a Hall of Fame vote. If I did, I'd be leaving a lot of names unchecked this year.
Bonds and Sosa, for sure. Probably Mike Piazza, too, because his career blossomed in the steroid era and his numbers fell off precipitously after the first round of testing began.
Coincidental? Maybe. Unfair? Possibly. Unfortunately, everyone who played the last 25 years and posted big numbers has to be judged under the same cloud.
That includes Clemens, who correctly predicted in his 2008 testimony before Congress: "No matter what we discuss here today, I am never going to have my name restored." The trial may have given him some vindication, but he won't find many believers among fans who have listened to player after player deny using steroids, even when they're caught by testing.
If nothing else, the wounds inflicted on baseball by steroids are just too raw to induct anyone even remotely suspicious right now. We didn't rush to judgment on their steroid use, and there's no need to rush to induct any of this year's class. Why not allow a few years to go by to properly digest their role in it and see if any new evidence turns up to make the decision more clear cut?
Indeed, there may come a time in the not-so-distant future when Clemens is welcomed into the Hall of Fame, no strings attached.
That time is not now.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg