Cheaters don't deserve a Hall pass

The name of the man who hit more home runs than any player in baseball history appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time this year.

So did the name of the man who struck out more hitters than all but two pitchers in the history of the game and won more games than all but nine.

In addition, three other sluggers -- one of whom is a member of the exclusive 600-plus home run club, another who obliterated the single-season home run record that had stood for 37 years and the third a more prodigious long-ball hitter by the numbers than Reggie Jackson, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig -- also had their shot at attaining that most coveted of baseball prizes, a ticket to Cooperstown.

I did not vote for any of them. Nor will I ever.

A Hall of Fame vote is a large responsibility, and induction an honor that should be reserved for only the best and brightest the game has to offer.

It's not something I take lightly nor give out easily.

Which is why I did not vote for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire or Rafael Palmeiro. And why, down the road, I will not be voting for Manny Ramirez or Alex Rodriguez or Andy Pettitte.

My reasons for this are several, and not at all personal. I covered Clemens as a Yankee and found him OK to deal with, had numerous chats with Sosa in the opposing clubhouse at Shea Stadium and had at least one memorable, and quite pleasant, conversation with Bonds when the Giants came to Flushing a few years ago. I've never met McGwire or Palmeiro.

But over the past decade in which I have had the privilege -- and responsibility -- of being a Hall of Fame voter, I have taken the time to read the Baseball Writers' Association of America election rules and familiarize myself with the criteria for election.

And no matter how I try to justify it, none of those gentlemen can get past rule No. 5, which reads as follows: "Voting shall be based on the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played."

It is indisputable that all five of them have the record and the ability to warrant induction, and all made meaningful contributions to their teams.

It is just as indisputable that the methods by which they attained those records are in clear violation of the integrity, sportsmanship and character portion of that sentence.

Steroid or HGH use is cheating, plain and simple. And by definition, cheaters lack integrity, sportsmanship and character. Strike one, strike two, strike three.

There is compelling evidence that all five of those players were cheaters for a good portion of their careers and that their numbers were artificially inflated by it. (At least McGwire had the integrity to eventually own up to it, but that doesn't change the fact that he did it and benefited from it.)

By cheating, they were able to leapfrog players such as Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Frank Robinson, Harmon Killebrew, Roger Maris and Reggie Jackson, but by no means eclipse them.

In fact, it is just the opposite. That Bonds needed steroids to barely overtake Aaron only elevates Aaron's accomplishment. And the fact that McGwire and Sosa needed chemical help to topple, after 37 years, the 61-home run barrier only reminds you how great Maris was that season.

And I don't blame Robinson or Jackson one bit for being disdainful of the juicers; when both retired, Robinson was No. 4 on the all-time home run list, Jackson No. 6. Now, they are Nos. 9 and 13, respectively, and five of the players ahead of Jackson are known steroid users.

I've heard all the justifications and all the apologies: Everyone was doing it. It wasn't against the rules. They were all Hall of Fame players anyway. Steroids don't help you hit a baseball or throw strikes. And if you're going to punish juicers, what about guys who used greenies or scuffed the ball or threw a spitter? I laugh at (almost) all of them.

Let's take them one by one.

Everyone was doing it: Just because "everyone" is breaking the rules doesn't mean you don't penalize those who get caught. And ask Derek Jeter if "everyone" was doing it.

It wasn't against the rules: The rules of baseball, that is. Or, more accurately, it wasn't specifically prohibited in the CBA. Well, neither is murder. In the United States, steroids are classified as controlled substances, and possessing or using them without a prescription for a specific medical condition is a federal crime. And baseball had very compelling reasons to want to look the other way on steroids following the work stoppage of 1995. Believe me, if I could come up with an equivalent method of punishing Bud Selig for his role in allowing steroids to take over the game, I would certainly exercise it.

They would have been Hall of Famers anyway: This, to me, makes their decision to juice up sadder and all the more incriminating. Yeah, they probably would have been. But now, they never will be.

Bonds, for instance, was clearly a Hall of Famer pre-1998, when the most home runs he had ever hit in a season was 46, and that was five years earlier. His decision to 'roid up seems to have been solely motivated by ego and vanity: Reportedly, it was killing him that McGwire, a much lesser player, was now being hailed as baseball's home run king. So for that bit of self-indulgence, he threw away an entire legacy.

Clemens, on the other hand, might have done it simply because at age 33, his career seemed to have run out of steam. By that point, he was basically Dwight Gooden. And then, suddenly, he became Cy Young.

McGwire might have done it to overcome chronic injuries. I can't speculate why Sosa or Palmeiro did it, but I can tell you this: In every one of those cases, I can't trust the final numbers they put up. And if I can't trust the numbers, I can't vote for the player.

Steroids don't help ... : This one is so laughable it doesn't warrant a response.

What about other cheaters?: This one is problematic. I have an easy out on Whitey Ford and Gaylord Perry and whoever was greenied to the gills in a previous generation. I wasn't around to vote for them and can't right previous wrongs. And there is something different about cheating with steroids, because it is the only form of cheating I know of that requires other players to jeopardize their own health to keep up.

So who did I vote for?

Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza and Curt Schilling.

I know what you're going to say. Piazza?

And I have, of course, heard all the rumors, and even have some suspicions myself.

But he never to my knowledge failed a drug test, was not mentioned in the Mitchell Report and as yet has no Brian McNamee or Jason Grimsley coming forward with compelling evidence to the contrary. I don't consider rumors or my own suspicions sufficient to negate Piazza's career numbers, which -- absent of any hard and believable allegation -- I must assume are legitimate. If in the future, such information comes to light -- and if Piazza is not elected this year -- I will change my vote.

You can argue that I should have voted for Jack Morris (I have in the past but wasn't feeling it this year) or Tim Raines or Edgar Martinez, and if your argument is persuasive enough, I might listen.

But on those five, and any more to come, I will not budge.

The damage baseball has already done to itself, and its legacy, by allowing its greatest players to be eclipsed and its most important records to be cheapened and co-opted by drug users can't be undone by me or any other Hall of Fame voter.

But I will not compound that sin by rewarding those guys with a plaque in Cooperstown.