COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. - Count Ozzie Smith among the baseball immortals willing to accept the collateral damage of his sport's doping mushroom cloud, which has left this weekend's annual induction ceremonies without a living honoree for the first time in 48 years.
Smith, the 58-year-old former shortstop wizard, acknowledged that the broad-brush confusion over accurately identifying the innocent likely cost some worthy players their baseball canonization. (He specifically cited leading vote-getter Craig Biggio, the former Kings Park High and Houston Astros star.)
But now that Ryan Braun has been found to be using artificial brawn, while Alex Rodriguez and other stars are under investigation, Smith accepts the process.
"I'm disappointed," Smith said between a series of appearances here Friday, "that we've gotten to this point where you can't have any inductees in light of things away from the field. But I think the writers spoke very loudly and very clearly that . . . the integrity of the sport is what should always be at the forefront of what we do here.
"That's what this institution's about. Any time the integrity is questioned or compromised, you have a very serious problem. And that's the reason we don't have inductees this year."
Famous for his celebratory back flips when he played -- which, when kidded, he said were done with "no help" from banned substances -- Smith is not leaping to conclusions about the current Biogenesis probe.
"We don't exactly know where it's headed," he said. "But this is probably the impetus for getting the game back where it should be on the field. We're going on 10 years now [with drug issues], and it's going to keep raising its ugly head because we don't chop it off. You know, maybe this is the time that you chop it off and make a point."
Speaking in general terms, Smith said, "You ban the guy for what he did on the baseball field and you ban him for life. I don't know if that's what's going to happen here . . . but I can't think of anybody else who's bet on baseball since that's happened [to Pete Rose]. So maybe that's what's needed to get things back to where they need to be."
Meanwhile, "what the [uncertainty] does, for all of us," Smith said, "is always bring into question, whenever somebody does something extraordinary, is it real or is it not?
"For us in baseball, we've always had an idea of what was real and what wasn't, and these last two years, we really don't know what was real and what wasn't. It's very natural to question it. Because of everybody [who] said they didn't [dope], but they did."
Next year, Smith offered optimistically, "I think we'll probably get back to normal. You'll have some guys who will get inducted who are very deserving. What happened this year is the purists in baseball speaking their mind, very clearly, that they're not happy where baseball is going."