The Baseball Hall of Fame ballot came in the mail this week.
It won't take long to send back.
Tony Gwynn? Check.
Cal Ripken Jr.? Check.
Andre Dawson? Check. (He should have made it years ago.)
Mark McGwire? Absolutely not.
Not this year. Not next year. Not ever.
The same is true of Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro. There never will be a check mark beside their names on at least one ballot. Like McGwire, they should get to keep their records. McGwire his 70 home runs in 1998. Bonds his 73 home runs in 2001 and his 734 career home runs. Sosa his three seasons with at least 60 home runs. Palmeiro his 3,020 hits and 569 home runs. They played the game, didn't they? They are a part of baseball history. We can't pretend they didn't exist.
But we don't have to recognize them with the sport's greatest individual honor.
Not after it has been proven beyond reasonable doubt that they cheated the game by using illegal performance-enhancing steroids.
The tough Hall of Fame decision will involve Roger Clemens. There long have been whispers that he was a steroids user, but little definitive proof. Before his death little more than a year ago, former Steelers guard Steve Courson -- a former user and expert on steroids -- communicated with Post-Gazette columnist Bob Smizik and said he believed Clemens used steroids. Just last summer, Clemens' name came up in the Jason Grimsley steroids investigation. Clemens always has denied using steroids.
The voters won't have to decide on Clemens for at least five years. If there really is bad stuff in his closet, it's nice to think it will come out before he is eligible for the Hall of Fame.
But McGwire, Bonds, Sosa and Palmeiro are easy calls even though they all have denied knowingly using steroids.
Bonds has admitted to unwittingly using substances that were later alleged to be steroids. Right. Like he would ever put anything in his body without knowing exactly what it was.
Sosa, hiding behind a language barrier that really doesn't exist for him, issued a non-denial denial about his steroids use at the congressional hearings in the spring of 2005. After that lame performance, can you honestly say he left you with even a trace of reasonable doubt about his guilt?
Palmeiro already has been convicted of cheating. Only a few months after his dramatic appearance at those same congressional hearings, when he famously wagged his finger, looked his inquisitors in the eye and denied under oath ever using steroids, he tested positive and was suspended by baseball.
McGwire's testimony at the hearings was even more pitiful. "I'm not here to talk about the past," he kept whispering, near tears, looking a lot less fearsome than he did as one of baseball's all-time great sluggers.
By saying nothing about his steroids use under oath, McGwire said everything.
How could anyone vote for him for the Hall of Fame when there is a specific character clause in the balloting instructions?
Apparently, a lot of voters agree. Surveys indicate McGwire will not get the 75 percent of the votes necessary for election this year. Let's hear it for sanity prevailing.
What's disturbing is that at least a portion of those same voters will vote for McGwire next year.
They will make their point against his steroids use by denying him enshrinement as a first-ballot inductee, then vote to allow him in next year. That's outrageous. McGwire is either a Hall of Famer or he isn't. The voters are either against his cheating or they're not. It can't be just a one-year deal.
McGwire -- like Pete Rose, who violated baseball's No. 1 rule by betting on the games -- would bring shame to the Hall of Fame.
Of course, McGwire loyalists will argue there are other cheaters enshrined. Pitchers Gaylord Perry and Don Sutton were known to have doctored baseballs. But steroids are different, at least in my mind. For one thing, doctoring balls long has been accepted as gamesmanship in baseball just as stealing signs and allowing the infield grass to grow tall. That was clear as recently as the past World Series when St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa didn't make a big stink about Detroit starter Kenny Rogers getting caught with what appeared to be pine tar on his pitching hand early in Game 2.
For another thing, steroids are against the law unless prescribed by a physician. It doesn't matter that baseball didn't ban steroids until late in the 2002 season. McGwire and the others could have committed a crime with their usage.
Putting any of 'em in the Hall of Fame hardly seems right.
Correction/Clarification: (Published Dec. 7, 2006) San Francisco Giants outfielder Barry Bonds has said he unwittingly used substances that were later alleged to be steroids. This column on Baseball Hall of Fame voting as originally published Dec. 3, 2007 was imprecise in its description of Mr. Bonds' statements.
Ron Cook can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1525.