NEW YORK -- Frank Thomas was ahead of the curve as a critic of Major League Baseball's steroid culture as a slugging first baseman with the Chicago White Sox in the 1990s. Now that he's on the verge of the Hall of Fame, that attitude hasn't changed.
Thomas, in New York on Thursday for baseball's first-year player draft, called the Biogenesis scandal "embarrassing'' for the game and a "shameful'' episode in baseball history. He said he has spoken with numerous Hall of Famers recently while taking part in a series of charity games, and they're strongly opposed to players with links to performance-enhancing drugs gaining entry to Cooperstown.
"They say, 'Hell, no,'" Thomas said. "They don't want any of these guys in. These are super-superstars in my eyes, and they're serious about it. I would suggest you get around the Johnny Benches, the Ozzie Smiths, the Dave Winfields and Mike Schmidts. Hold court with them and see how they feel. I've talked to them and it was eye-opening.
"I want the game to be where it's supposed to be. Guys have climbed that mountain for a reason, and that's important to me. To hear the Hall of Famers talk, their legacy is important to them. I respect that. That's why I had such feelings for Hank Aaron and those guys coming up, and I wanted to get to the level of the Hall of Fame. When guys take drugs like that, they're not deserving of being on that level."
Hall of Fame voters have already shown a willingness to punish players with PED ties. Seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens received 37.6 percent of the vote in January in his first appearance on the ballot, and Barry Bonds, baseball's career leader with 762 home runs, checked in at 36.2 percent. Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro have both languished below 20 percent -- well short of the 75 percent plurality necessary for induction.
Thomas should receive a much warmer reception when he and former Braves stars Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine are first-timers on the Hall of Fame ballot in December. Thomas is a two-time MVP with a .974 career OPS and 521 home runs, the same number as Ted Williams. He also began speaking out against steroids in the 1990s when other players were hesitant to do so.
PEDs re-emerged as a hot-button issue in baseball this week when ESPN's "Outside the Lines'' reported that MLB is seeking to suspend Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun and other players connected to the Biogenesis of America clinic in Miami. Anthony Bosch, the clinic's founder, has agreed to cooperate with the commissioner's office and provide information that could lead to lengthy suspensions for the players involved.
Thomas said the "astronomical'' amount of money to be made in baseball today encourages some players to take more risks and overrides concerns about the damage that a PED suspension might do to their legacies.
"When I played, guys all said, 'Let's get to the Hall of Fame,'" Thomas said. "Now guys are like, 'Let's do five years and make $150 million, and you're set for life. Who cares?' I think that's the feeling among most of the guys now. It's shameful, what's happened over the last seven, eight years with this whole scandal, but guys continue to try it.
"I played against Barry and Roger and I know they're Hall of Famers, but what they did at the end of their careers is going to hurt them for life, I believe. It's a sad thing, because I know how good those guys were. Barry could have been a 500-500 [home runs and steals] guy before he started doing this stuff. Really, was it necessary? He could have gone down as one of the greatest all-around players of all time, if not the greatest."
In February, commissioner Bud Selig proposed stiffer penalties for players who violate the game's drug agreement. The current system calls for a 50-game suspension for a first offense, followed by 100 games for a second infraction and a lifetime ban for a third. Michael Weiner, executive director of the players' association, has said the union is willing to consider changes to the program starting in 2014.
Thomas thinks the Biogenesis scandal could be a tipping point in MLB's efforts to eradicate performance-enhancing drug use, because it's serious enough to ensure significantly stiffer penalties for future PED violators.
"After this, it's going to stop," he said. "Enough is going to be enough. They'll get to the point where they start banning guys, and that's when it's going to stop."