Chicago writers to discuss steroids, Hall of Fame

Jun 24, 2009 - 12:11 AM By NANCY ARMOUR AP National Writer

CHICAGO(AP) -- The Chicago chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America is taking up the thorny question of what to do with "Steroid Era" players and the Hall of Fame.

The writers plan to meet Friday to discuss whether there should be any guidelines for voting in light of the drug scandal that has tainted baseball over the last dozen years. Six of the top 20 career home run hitters have been linked to performance-enhancing drugs, including Sammy Sosa, who spent most of his career with the Chicago Cubs.

The New York Times reported last week that Sosa was one of 104 players who tested positive in baseball's anonymous 2003 survey. That followed Alex Rodriguez's admission in February that he'd used steroids, and Manny Ramirez's 50-game suspension last month for violating baseball's drug policy.

"We're going to spend the next decade or so voting for guys who have been implicated or rumored" in steroid scandals, said Paul Sullivan, the Cubs beat writer for the Chicago Tribune and president of Chicago BBWAA chapter.

"We're debating it in press boxes anyway, so it's a good idea we all get together and discuss it," Sullivan said Tuesday. "We're just going to see what people have to say about it."

Neither the national BBWAA nor the Hall of Fame had heard about the Chicago chapter's plan to meet, and any decisions the chapter makes would not be binding. But representatives from the BBWAA and the Hall said they would look at any recommendations.

"We've been pleased with (the BBWAA's) capabilities to interpret the criteria presented and to elect accordingly," said Brad Horn, Hall spokesman. "They've had that privilege for a long time, and they've done a very good job."

Hall of Fame voting is open to writers who have been BBWAA members for 10 consecutive years. The only listed criteria are a player's "record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played."

As more and more players once thought to be locks for the Hall have been implicated in the steroids mess, writers have struggled - sometimes publicly - with their votes. One California writer even said in 2006 that he'd turned in his card so he wouldn't have to vote on cheaters. Some have suggested there be a separate wing in the Hall of Fame for drug cheats.

Following the Times' report on Sosa, the Tribune asked its Hall of Fame voters whether they would vote for the slugger. Six said no, one said yes, one said he wasn't sure.

"The 'yes' vote has changed to a question mark, to an I-don't-know-what-to-do-about-the-entire-era vote," Dave Van Dyck wrote. "Thank goodness we have four or five years to clear the air on what was done by whom. Maybe. Allegedly."

It's that kind of uncertainty that prompted Sun-Times columnist Rick Telander to ask the Chicago chapter if it could discuss the issue during this weekend's Cubs-White Sox series at U.S. Cellular Field.

"The guidelines used to be so simple: stats, longevity and star power. It's all been trumped by performance-enhancing drug use and drug use suspicion," Telander said Tuesday. "Part of me says it's not fair we have to make these determinations, but we do."

Even Hall of Famers themselves struggle with the issue.

Ryne Sandberg, who was elected in 2005, said Tuesday he had been "blinded" to alleged doping by Sosa, a fellow Cub. Now that Sosa has been implicated, however, Sandberg said Sosa doesn't deserve a spot in the Hall of Fame.

"They use the word integrity in describing a Hall of Famer, in the logo of the Hall of Fame," Sandberg told ESPN Radio 1000 in Chicago, "and I think there are going to be quite a few players that are not going to get in."

Sullivan said he is not in favor of guidelines personally, fearing it would raise too many other questions. Cocaine was a problem in the 1980s, would the guidelines extend to those players? Dave Parker, one of the players implicated in the Pittsburgh drug trials, is currently on the Hall of Fame ballot. He received 81 votes this year.

But the idea is worth discussing, Sullivan said.

"It's possible we can't come to any decision. That's quite possible," Telander said. "But I'd sure like to try."

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