Don’t exclude steroid users from Hall

At some point in most discussions concerning the impact that the steroid era will have on voting for the Hall of Fame, the point will be raised that the game’s all-time hit leader, Pete Rose, is ineligible for the Hall of Fame because of his lifetime suspension for betting on the game.

The assumption is that were it not for the ban, Rose would be in the Hall of Fame.

In the indignation over Rose’s exclusion, rarely is there discussion about his use of amphetamines throughout his playing career, and rarely is there any pall cast over what impact the amphetamines had on his accomplishments.

There is a strong feeling among some that amphetamines actually enhance performances over a broader base than steroids.

What it all underscores is that, over time, athletes in any sport are always looking for ways to gain an edge on the competition. When one advantage becomes commonplace or is outlawed, the search intensifies for a newer and better aid.

With the advancements in science over time, the methods for gaining that edge have become more sophisticated, which makes it more difficult to detect the usage.

As a result, in evaluating greatness of athletes — in baseball and other sports — it is always wiser to evaluate who were the elite of their era and not try to draw firm statistical comparisons from one era to another, because the conditions change so drastically.

That’s why to blindly eliminate anyone even suspected of using steroids from Hall of Fame consideration is inconsistent from previous evaluations.

Paul Molitor and Ferguson Jenkins were inducted, and rightfully so, despite being tied to cocaine. Orlando Cepeda was inducted even though he was convicted of possession of cannabis.

That said, neither Mark McGwire nor Rafael Palmeiro, the two best-known steroid-era candidates on the ballot, made it into my top 10 this year. That could change. A player, after all, can be on the ballot for as many as 15 years, and it is incumbent to reevaluate each candidate’s validity annually.

Evaluations can change. It happened for me with Bert Blyleven several years ago, and considering Blyleven came within five votes of enshrinement last year and figures to be inducted in this, his 15th and final year of eligibility, it’s apparent it has happened for other voters with Blyleven, too.

It also has occurred with the general voting populace in regards to relievers. The last three pitchers voted in by the writers have been relievers. That could create a new support for the likes of Lee Smith and John Franco.

McGwire was a prodigious home run hitter, ranking 10th all time with 583, but the Hall of Fame is for complete players, who were multifaceted in how they impacted a game. A marginal defensive player, McGwire had only 1,626 hits. Only two position players elected to the Hall of Fame by the veteran members of the Baseball Writers Association had fewer big-league hits, Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella, and both had belated big-league debuts because of segregation.

Palmeiro, meanwhile, compiled an impressive statistical resume but went over the line when under oath he not only lied to Congress about his own steroid usage but berated any players who were suspected of usage. As a player, Palmeiro was proof numbers don’t tell an entire story. He was never the best player on any team he played for and was considered one of the most selfish players of his era.

The toughest decision this year is Edgar Martinez. A marvelous human being and a .312 career hitter, Martinez appeared in the field in only 592 of his 2,055 big-league games. He was so tied to the role of DH that the annual award for the best DH is named in his honor. But given that a DH is solely able to contribute offensively, it seems that he must have overwhelming career offensive numbers.

With that in mind, here are the names that filled the 10 spots on my 2011 ballot, which is due Dec. 31:

Roberto Alomar — The question isn’t whether he belongs in the Hall of Fame. The question is whether he is the best second baseman ever. Alomar was a 10-time Gold Glove winner, 12-time All-Star and four-time Silver Slugger.

Jeff Bagwell — Career .297 hitter to go with power that even the old Astrodome couldn’t negate and was even a threat on the bases. NL Rookie of the Year in 1991 and MVP in 1994.

Bert Blyleven — Final year on ballot. Never should have had to wait this long. To go with 287 career wins, there are 60 shutouts, 3,701 strikeouts and a 3.31 ERA.

John Franco — All-time leader in saves for a left-hander, fourth-highest total (424) overall. Four-time All-Star in 21-year career. Third all-time with 1,119 games, all in relief.

Barry Larkin — What more could he have done? First shortstop to join 30-30 club, 12-time All-Star, three Gold Gloves, nine Silver Sluggers and the 1995 NL MVP. Also won 1993 Roberto Clemente and 1994 Lou Gehrig Memorial Awards for his contributions to society.

Jack Morris — A five-time All-Star who was Opening Day starter in 14 of his 18 big-league seasons. More than 254-186 record, he was generally considered the "big-game pitcher" of his era. Led AL pitchers in wins, complete games, starts and innings in the 1980s.

Tim Raines — Not the prototypical left fielder, and probably could have played center field, but came up when Andre Dawson was entrenched in center with Montreal. Raines impacted a game with his speed, both offensively and defensively.

Lee Smith — Biggest knock on Smith is that he pitched for eight teams in 18 seasons. He was, however, a seven-time All-Star who led his league in saves four times and earned 30-plus saves in 10 seasons. Smith retired as game’s all-time saves leader and still is No. 3 on list.

Alan Trammell — Didn’t do back flips (like Ozzie Smith) and wasn’t oversized for position (like Cal Ripken Jr.), but he was a middle-of-the-lineup middle infielder on a World Series winner and grew into role of being a leader. Six-time All-Star won four Gold Gloves.

Larry Walker — This is about the sum of all parts. No overwhelming career numbers, but add it all together and he was a run producer with excellent baserunning abilities. He also ranked among the elite right fielders in the game. Such a sleek athlete that he made the difficult look easy.