Lines have become blurred on Hall of Fame vote
Becoming famous these days doesn't take much, and questionable behavior, now more than ever, is a profitable means to an end when it leads to your own reality show.
Without millions of viewers, repellent oddballs such as Kim Kardashian and Honey Boo Boo don't get more than 15 minutes. The point is that everyone gets a vote on the ballot of public opinion, and that vote is cast by pushing a button on a TV remote, buying a movie ticket or downloading something on iTunes.
It's a murky concept -- fame -- one without a clear-cut definition or black-and-white boundaries. Trying to choose who is deserving of such recognition can be just as complicated, especially when you're narrowing the list to fit in a Cooperstown gallery.
What used to be haggling over statistics for the BBWAA electorate has morphed into acting as judge and jury for an indeterminate number of players who might or might not have used performance-enhancing drugs during their careers.
We all know the most celebrated cases linking players to PEDs, the ones involving Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro. The next rung on that steroids-era ladder involves those tainted only by association and suspicion, such as Mike Piazza and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Jeff Bagwell.
Then what? Do we have any assurances, clean or otherwise, for the remaining names on this year's list of eligible candidates?
How about for the past 50 years?
No, we don't.
Remember, Major League Baseball started testing for PEDs in 2001, first on a random basis in the minors and then two years later in the majors as part of a "survey" that revealed that a surprising 5 to 7 percent of the 1,438 tests came up positive. Punitive measures followed in 2004.
This is not an excuse for the offenders, just evidence to show that people underestimated how widespread the problem was. MLB continues to fight a multifront battle against the ever-mutating PED technology.
So where does the Hall of Fame draw the line?
Maybe someday the players who test positive for PEDs and serve suspensions will be ineligible for Cooperstown, but it seems highly unlikely. As of now, the BBWAA rules for election merely state that "voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team[s] on which the player played."
Obviously, that still leaves plenty open to interpretation, and both MLB and the Hall of Fame no doubt are relieved to punt the whole tangled mess into the contentious pile of roughly 600 voting members of the BBWAA.
Which is fine. Really.
Here are a couple of things to remember. We're not selecting the next Supreme Court justice. Or even the next Brooklyn borough president. We're picking guys who played baseball very well over a long period of time. Better than nearly all of their contemporaries and at a level that stands up to the best of the past century.
I'm happy to help to do that, and as someone who has covered MLB exclusively since 1995, I think I'm qualified to give an educated opinion on such matters.
Has this year's PED-tinged class made the process more difficult? I'd say yes, to a degree, and there will be tough choices in subsequent years as well.
Manny Ramirez comes up in 2017. A year later, it could be David Ortiz's turn. If Alex Rodriguez retires when his current contract expires, he'll be eligible for Cooperstown in 2022.
Will PED offenders be looked at differently by then? Will the Hall of Fame? Possibly. Perspectives change over time as new information becomes available, and above all else, the Hall is as much a museum -- a shrine to the evolution of baseball -- as it is a place to hang plaques of the sport's individual players.
As for the latter part, we'll see Wednesday what the voters have to say about that and the BBWAA electorate has never appeared more divided than it is over this year's class.
In my mind, there is no right or wrong decision here. It's a judgment call based on how you view one of the most controversial periods in baseball's history and what it means to be in Cooperstown.
Fame, ultimately, is in the eye of the beholder.