By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns
The thaw is happening.
By the time Alex Rodriguez becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame in five years, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and all the rest of the convicted and suspected stars of baseball’s “Steroids Era” will have plaques hanging on the hallowed walls of Cooperstown. By then, the Yankees’ own PED villain will have no trouble gaining entrance his first year, which statistically, though not morally, he deserves.
The proof lies not in the 54.1 percent of the vote Clemens received, or the 53.8 percent Bonds got, though it is true that both represent big jumps from their respective 2016 totals of 45.2 and 44.3. This is not to underrate the numbers’ significance, since the hard-liners determined to keep out the cheaters are now relegated to the minority.
But the real proof came in this year’s election of catcher Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez.
Despite some heavy suspicions of steroids use, mostly from PED convict Jose Canseco’s book “Juiced,” 76 percent of the voters decided that Pudge’s 311 homers, 1,332 RBI, 2,844 hits, and .296 BA over a 21-year career entitled him to first-ballot honors.
They appeared more than happy to overlook Canseco’s published claim that the A’s slugger personally injected the catcher with steroids, even though that 2005 accusation was never backed up by a failed drug test. Yet, when questioned in later years about baseball having a positive test on him, Rodriguez’ answer never rose to an outright denial.
“God only knows,” he said.
That’s a lot more cryptic than the direct denials Mets catcher Mike Piazza gave before his 2016 election. Yet, it took only a case of bad back acne, a symptom of steroids use, and a bunch of whispers to keep him out his first three years on the ballot.
Jeff Bagwell, this year’s leading vote-getter, also had a steroids cloud over his head. But that, too, mattered little to the 86.2 percent of the voters who checked his name.
Whether by attrition or a change in attitude, it is obvious that baseball’s voting body has tired of the Steroids Era. With younger voters taking the spots of some of the old guard, the statistics mean more than unproven accusations. But if that is so, then it won’t be long before they forgive the truly guilty like Bonds and Clemens.
Once that happens, the path to Cooperstown will be smooth sailing for A-Rod and his 696 homers.
The ice is surely melting. It could break entirely for Bonds and Clemens by 2018. By then, a new stipulation in the voting rules that makes all ballots public will be a year old. Many balloters have already come out from the secret shield, revealing their votes and rationale on social media and columns. But plenty of others continue to enjoy the benefits of the theoretical secret ballot.
It will be interesting to see how some of the more militant but silent ones react to the scrutiny. Some may believe the added attention and potential criticism from the more liberal sector just isn’t worth the aggravation.
Up goes the white flag.
Bonds? Check. Clemens? Check.
A-Rod? First-ballot check.
This space has long maintained that the steroids era players needed to be recognized somehow, be it by starting a second wing, identifying them as an offender on their plaque, or by ignoring their transgressions completely.
However the Hall wanted to handle it was fine, but overlooking that era’s greats could only continue for so long. Eventually, they would have to be recognized, and no less legitimately as the Today’s Game Era committee honored former commissioner Bud Selig, who oversaw and profited by the Steroids Era.
It looks like the last option will be the one.
It won’t be long before Bonds and Clemens get in. By the time A-Rod becomes eligible, he’ll be just another first-ballot guy.
The climate change, already accelerating, will be complete.
The Ice Age will be a thing of the past.
Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino