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TELANDER’S COUNTERPOINT: I refuse to condone the MLB cheating frenzy

CHICAGO - AUGUST 3:  Right fielder Sammy Sos#21 Chicago Cubs blows kisses dugout after hitting game-winning two-run homer seventh

CHICAGO - AUGUST 3: Right fielder Sammy Sosa #21 of the Chicago Cubs blows kisses in the dugout after hitting a game-winning two-run homer in the seventh inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the MLB game at Wrigley Field on August 3, 2003 in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs defeated the Diamondbacks 2-1 after a three hour, fourteen minute rain delay at the start of the game. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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It used to be easy, voting for the Hall of Fame. And I didn’t take it too seriously.

With or without my vote, the best players would get in. They always did.

Even if the snootiness of some voters (didn’t our mind’s eye see them as pot-bellied, suspender-wearing, cigar-puffing high priests of the Church of Baseball, probably from New York) prevented unanimous sweeps — not Honus Wagner, not Willie Mays, not Henry Aaron, not Babe Ruth — the best always got in.

Always.

There were and will ever be arguments at the fringes — Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Harold Baines, etc. But no truly great player who has been on the ballot — thereby excluding gambler Pete Rose — is not in the Hall of Fame.

So for years I casually watched and lightly abetted the parade: Steve Carlton, George Brett, Wade Boggs, Rickey Henderson, Ryne Sandberg. All greats. All easy votes.

And then baseball caved in.

The Steroid Era, which didn’t suddenly begin with Jose Canseco’s massive biceps but had been building quietly for decades, abruptly reared up like a dragon from hell.

Come on down to the carnival! was the screech. See baseball covers turn to flame! See old pitchers throw 98 miles an hour! See strongmen ring the gongs 500 feet from home plate! No drug tests! Lots of lying! And — best of all — commissioner Bud Selig doesn’t care!

I never had a player in any sport admit to using drugs. And certainly not in baseball. That would be to admit to cheating. Please, make no mistake about that. Even before drug tests, players knew it was cheating.

Steroids and HGH and their kin help every user in specific ways. But they help some players way more than others. The argument that ‘‘everyone was doing it’’ is specious and irrelevant.

Everyone cheats on his taxes, so that makes it OK?

Let me give you a lesson that hit this voter close to home. Recently I got a speeding ticket while racing to O’Hare to catch a plane. I was going pretty fast. A whole lot of cars were going fast, too. But the cop pulled me over, not them. My plea? Guilty as hell. In this world, we act as individuals, not crowds.

So I will not vote for Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa or Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds or Rafael Palmeiro. Not now. Not ever.

They have Hall stats. But they were cheaters. Individuals. And I won’t have their stains on my hands. My children and their children will know where I stood. If, in time, I’m perceived as a fool, so be it.

The parade of cheaters to come is long and profound. Those players and baseball administrators and managers and GMs who dug the long ball brought me, unbidden, into their dark web. Yet, I don’t have to remain there.

I all but begged the Baseball Writers’ Association of America at a meeting a few years ago to come up with a standard for handling drug cheats and suspected drug cheats. A marker in the sand. An asterisk. An acknowledgment that something had developed in modern times that made it impossible for any voter who did not have subpoena power to know the truth.

The motion got close but was shot down.

The Hall of Fame ballot tells us to consider each candidate’s ‘‘integrity, sportsmanship, character’’ as well as his skills and record.

This year I voted for Don Mattingly, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Lee Smith and Alan Trammell.

I think they were clean.

God, I hope so.



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