Fauber: PED cloud hangs over baseball Hall of Fame

The newest class of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame was announced on Wednesday, and three very worthy players in Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas were elected to baseball’s most prestigious club. Another very worthy player, Craig Biggio, fell a crushing two votes short of the required 75-percent approval.

Biggio’s failure to reach the Hall of Fame in his second year of eligibility may or may not be considered an injustice to the former Astros second baseman — and catcher, and centerfielder — who ended his career with over 3,000 hits, depending on how you feel about the current voting process. But the reality is the HOF voting has a much bigger problem than the current rule that limits voters to selecting a maximum of 10 players that they deem worthy of the Hall of Fame each year.

I’m talking of course about the way the issue of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball is affecting the entire HOF election process. I know this subject has been talked about over and over again, but this issue isn’t going away any time soon, so settle in for the long haul.

The most recent HOF election taught us a few things about the voting process and the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, one of those being that the BBWAA is coming down even harder on suspected steroid users, although the association’s stance on the matter remains largely divided.

Many writers have publicly spoken out about their reasons for including suspected steroid users on their Hall of Fame ballots, but the fight to induct into the Hall those players whose numbers might be tainted may very well be a losing battle. The group of candidates on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot that are under suspicion of having used PEDs — Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Palmeiro, Sosa, Bagwell, Piazza and others — largely saw their number of votes received decline from the previous year. And the ballot is only going to get more crowded as the years go on.

Piazza was a rare exception among the suspected PED users, as his vote total actually increased from 57.8 percent last year (his first on the ballot) to 62.2 percent this year. But it is clear that the suspicion that he used PEDs — as small as that suspicion may be — has impacted his Hall of Fame status among voters. How else can you explain why the greatest offensive catcher of all time may yet still be a few more years from claiming his rightful place in Cooperstown, if he does get there at all? (And don’t point to Piazza’s below-average impact behind the plate, Frank Thomas spent half his career at designated hitter and was a terrible defensive first basemen.)

Palmeiro — one of the few members of the 500-homer, 3,000-hit club — has forever fallen off the ballot after receiving just 4.4 percent of votes, and it’s almost certain that Bonds, Clemens, McGwire and Sosa never come close to their own Hall of Fame elections.

All of this PED-fueled finger pointing is ruining the Hall of Fame, and the sad reality is that some of the greatest baseball players of all time are going to be left out of Cooperstown because of it.

I don’t condone cheating, and I hate what the Steriod Era has done to baseball. But are we supposed to ignore two decades worth of baseball and banish it from the history books? And based on what, suspicions that some of the game’s greatest players may or may not have used illegal substances to get ahead during a time when many were juicing up while the league itself turned a blind eye?

It will never be 100-percent clear which players used steroids and which players didn’t, and any attempt to delineate between the two factions is a wasted effort that isn’t fair to the players, the game or the fans. The only way for the BBWAA to fairly elect members to the Hall is to dump the steroid question altogether and eliminate the speculation.

We need to stop pretending that baseball’s Hall of Fame is some holy church — you can find a number of character flaws in some of baseball’s most revered figures.

The Hall of Fame is a baseball museum, and its job is to tell the story of the sport. To exclude some of the greatest players to ever step foot on a baseball diamond would be the ultimate crime against baseball.

Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD