The New York Yankees recently told Reggie Jackson to shut up. Why? Should the truth be muzzled?
Jackson, now an adviser to the Yankees, was interviewed by Sports Illustrated and, in discussing Alex Rodriguez, said: "I think there are real questions about his numbers. As much as I like him, what he admitted about his [steroid] usage does cloud some of his records."
About the same time Jackson was making such a legitimate observation, NASCAR was suspending A.J. Allmendinger, soccer star Hope Solo was testing positive (although fairly innocently), Lance Armstrong and several associates were taking more heat from the anti-doping folks (not so innocently, perhaps) and the Tour de France was kicking another pro cyclist off the course.
(An aside: I recently wrote a column suggesting cycling might be the dirtiest pro sport. I heard plenty from the local amateur cycling community and almost every writer/caller argued the sport's drug-testing process may be the best and most thorough of them all. That makes some sense considering how many have been caught. So maybe they're not the dirtiest; just the dumbest to think they can get away with it.)
But back to baseball:
What Jackson said about Rodriguez applies to a lot of players, some present, but certainly some past. There are a lot of questions and a lot of clouds.
Take Mark McGwire for example. He hit 583 career home runs, No. 10 all-time, including a then-record 70 in 1998 when his race to the top against Sammy Sosa boosted a sport on the skids back to an immense popularity.
McGwire has been eligible for election to the Hall of Fame since 2007, but because of his use of the muscle enhancer androstendione, which was legal in the eyes of MLB, during his '98 homerfest and a subsequent confession that he used other performance-enhancing substances, he's never come close. The last two years, McGwire has dipped to receiving less than 20 percent of the vote.
It will really get interesting in 2013 as the Hall's eligibility list includes for the first time Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sosa, who finished with 66 home runs in '98, five more than Roger Maris' previous record, and launched 609 during his career.
Bonds grew from beanpole into Bruce Banner's alter ego and became baseball's single-season (73 in 2001) and career home run leader. If you believe Bonds did all that without pharmaceutical assistance, well, that's your right.
Clemens falls in the same murky category. He told Congress he had never indulged and when he was tried for perjury he was not convicted because some jury members felt his ex-personal trainer was not a credible witness. The court of public opinion, including those who vote on Hall entry, may have a contrary view.
Joe Torre, Clemens' former manager with the Yankees and now the executive vice president of operations for MLB, recently endorsed Clemens as a legitimate hall of famer, but admitted, "Unfortunately, the question mark is always going to be there."
Clemens was an 11-time all-star who won 354 games. No pitcher who ever won 300 games, from Cy Young at 511 wins down to Lefty Grove and Early Wynn at 300 on the nose, has ever been denied admission to the Hall of Fame. It's a guaranteed ticket.
Whether Clemens gets his ticket punched will send a message as to whether the Hall of Fame electors, so hard on McGwire to date, might be willing to bend in the future. If not, players who compiled some of the game's gaudiest statistics, maybe even A-Rod someday, will be on the outside looking in at Mr. October.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.