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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Sorry, Morgan, can’t keep steroid users out of Hall of Fame

Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are on the ballot and eventually will get in.

Hall of Famer Joe Morgan doesn't want

Hall of Famer Joe Morgan doesn't want any steroid users joining him in Cooperstown. Photo Credit: AP / Mike Groll

With all due respect to Joe Morgan, and the Lords of Coopers town who endorsed his “Just Say No to Drugs” campaign launched by Tuesday’s email, here’s a two-word letter from this Hall of Fame voter.

Too late.

Everyone had the chance to stop this runaway PED train a long time ago, or at least prevent it from reaching baseball’s sacred ground in upstate New York. The Commissioner’s Office, the Players’ Association, the Hall of Fame itself. All three entities share responsibility for the unenviable spot they’re in now, and that’s waiting for the next generation of BBWAA voters to usher in the greatest players of the Steroid Era.

Maybe with earlier drug testing, stricter penalties, or even clear anti-PED specific language in the voting parameters, Cooperstown could have avoided the brewing apocalypse as detailed by Morgan, the former Reds’ great enshrined with the Class of ’90. But that’s probably wishful thinking.

Instead, the people that govern the sport — including Hall of Famers Bud Selig and Tony La Russa — let all this snowball for more than a decade, and now here we are, only a few years away from Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds potentially sitting alongside Derek Jeter on Induction Sunday. Morgan didn’t mention any names, but everyone knows who he’s talking about. Unfortunately for him and his fellow PED crusaders — a group also unidentified in the email — the BBWAA electorate likely won’t be swayed from eventually giving Clemens and Bonds the required 75 percent, despite Morgan’s pleas.

Last year was the fifth on the ballot for those players, with Clemens getting 54.1 percent of the vote and Bonds earning 53.8 percent. In the past 25 years, only two candidates have surpassed 50 percent of the vote at any point and failed to reach Cooperstown: Jack Morris and Lee Smith. Clemens and Bonds, who started at 37.6 percent and 36.2 respectively, still have five more years to get their plaques, with the momentum of younger, more progressive-minded BBWAA voters behind them.

I’ve had both on my ballot since they first appeared in 2013, and will again this year, regardless of Morgan’s fears. I certainly respect his opinion, but stumping to exclude members from his same MLB fraternity — and some who were never punished during their playing days — is not a good look for Morgan or the Hall of Fame, which has started to tighten its grip on the process in recent years and may feel compelled to intervene again.

“We hope the day never comes when known steroid users are voted into the Hall of Fame,” Morgan wrote in Tuesday’s email. “They cheated. Steroid users don’t belong here.

“Players who failed drug tests, admitted using steroids, or were identified as users in Major League Baseball’s investigation into steroid abuse, known as the Mitchell Report, should not get in. Those are the three criteria that many of the players and I think are right.”

First and foremost, there’s a very high percentage chance the Hall of Fame already has a few steroid users up on the wall, and definitely dozens that ingested amphetamines, another performance-enhancing drug commonly distributed in clubhouses before it was outlawed in 2005. While Morgan admits there are “shades of gray” with this issue, that doesn’t begin to describe just how thorny this whole process has become.

If Alex Rodriguez and others named in the Biogenesis scandal could play for years without ever testing positive — only to be busted because of a paper trail leading back to the lab — how can we assume anybody is above suspicion? That’s the climate baseball has created, and there’s no going back from that now, even as the Hall of Fame piggybacks on Morgan to further this agenda. You can’t unring the bell.

“Our role was to support our Hall of Famers who feel strongly enough about this issue that they wanted to speak out,” Jon Shestakofsky, the Hall’s VP of communications, wrote in an email. “They took the lead and asked us to help by providing the administrative resources to help get their message out.”

But Cooperstown shouldn’t rely on Morgan’s help. If the Hall, or Major League Baseball for that matter, doesn’t want certain players enshrined by the BBWAA, remove them from the ballot. Or change the system entirely. Otherwise, if they’re on that sheet of paper that arrives in the mail every November, we’re considering those players eligible, and will vote accordingly.

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