It has turned into the most vicious, acrimonious, mud-slinging process in all of sports.
It's the Baseball Hall of Fame voting.
We can't agree on the value of a pitcher's earned-run average, the significance of a slugger's back acne or the significance of "not guilty'' federal court rulings.
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We can't even agree to disagree. We engaged in a heated argument at the Baseball Writers Association of America meeting in December on whether we should even discuss future changes to the Hall of Fame voting process.
We have those who believe the Hall of Fame voting process is fatally flawed.
We have those who believe the voting rules are archaic, limited to a maximum of 10 players.
And please, don't get us started on the performance-enhancing drug issue, which has turned the voting process into a theater of the absurd.
One year ago this week, nobody earned the required 75% of votes from the BBWAA to earn election to the Hall of Fame, turning Cooperstown into a relative ghost town on the final Sunday in July.
Wednesday afternoon, when results of 2013 balloting are announced, it will be dramatically different. Greg Maddux, the greatest pitcher of his generation, will easily earn election to the Hall, and perhaps break Tom Seaver's record of 98.6%. He will be joined by longtime teammate Tom Glavine and slugger Frank Thomas. Houston Astros second baseman Craig Biggio could make it a sweet quartet.
But their elections won't bring clarity to the PED debate, or even civility among fans and media - traditional and emerging - whose rightful scrutiny of the process often crosses into namecalling or passive aggression.
It's become clear that those who have publicly tested positive or confessed to PED use will never get into the Hall of Fame. They may even be permanently off the ballot after this year's election, failing to receive the necessary 5%. Step aside, Rafael Palmeiro (8.8%) and Mark McGwire (16.9%).
For everyone else, it's electoral chaos.
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, the two greatest players of their generation with more MVP and Cy Young awards than anyone in history, have denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs. They were acquitted in federal court on charges of lying about alleged PED use to a grand jury and congressional committee, respectively, though Bonds was convicted of an obstruction charge.
Yet, in their first year eligible, Clemens received just 37.6% of the vote, and Bonds 36.2%.
Sammy Sosa, who hit 609 homers and averaged 58 homers during a historic five-year stretch, received just 12.5% of the vote. He insists he never used performance-enhancing drugs, and the only direct link is a positive test during the 2003 anonymous drug survey, according to the New York Times. He could also find himself off the ballot after this year.
Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell were long suspected of performance-enhancing drug use because of their tremendous muscular physiques and power, while also greatly out-performing the pedigree assigned them by the scouting community.Both have denied any illegal use.
Piazza, a 62nd-round draft pick, since has admitted to the use of androstenedione, a supplement now banned by Major League Baseball and every other major sports league.
Anecdotally? Piazza had back acne - could be a sign of drug use or just a medical condition. Bagwell's right shoulder deteriorated before our eyes.
Last year, there were more voters that believe they were clean than dirty. In his third year year on the ballot, Bagwell received 59.6% of the votes. Piazza debuted at 57.8%. Both figures are far short of the required standard, but high enough to engender hope of eventual election.
If Piazza and Bagwell eventually get into the Hall of Fame, are we rewarding them for being smart enough not to get caught?
If Piazza and Bagwell are snubbed, are we being unfair for questioning their physiques, listening to the innuendo, but having no concrete evidence?
And if we have no evidence on Piazza and Bagwell, what actual proof do we have on Bonds and Clemens? Did any of us ever see Bonds or Clemens injected? Did Bonds or Clemens privately tell any Hall voter that they secretly used?
I believe the drug use rampant in baseball during the steroid era was much greater than anyone can imagine. I saw the deformity of the bodies. The surreal power. The dramatic weight losses and weight gains. The mood swings.
And, yes, the drug secrets that not only their some of their closest friends confidentially revealed, but also their agents, associates and peers.
This is why I take the lonely stance, judging players simply on their performance on the field and their impact on the game.
I vote for the steroid players.
And none of the steroid players on my ballot this year have ever publicly tested positive or admitted to steroid use.
Yes, I'm talking about Bonds, perhaps the greatest player since Babe Ruth, and Clemens, one of the top five power pitchers in baseball history. No one has won more MVP awards than Bonds. No one has won more than Cy Young awards than Clemens.
You see, we have absolutely no idea who was clean and who was dirty during the steroid era, and anyone who tells you they know for sure are lying to your face.
Please, forget the integrity, sportsmanship and character clause involving PEDs. The truth is that general managers and managers loved having steroid users on their team. Those guys were the most disciplined and dedicated players in the clubhouse.
They weren't running around at night. They took pristine care of their bodies. They ate right, slept right, and, man, did they ever spend countless hours in the weight room.
One active general manager and another former GM told USA TODAY Sports that they had direct knowledge of the use of steroids on their own clubs. Yet, the only time they'd get upset is if they signed a player on steroids, and he suddenly stopped using.
The general managers spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the topic.
Simply, it was part of the culture. A distinctive part of the era. The only ones hurt were the players who insist they were clean - only they truly know - and whose Hall of Fame caliber numbers were dwarfed by those who chose to use PEDs.
"For myself, it was just playing the game right,'' says first baseman Fred McGriff, who hit 493 home runs but has never received more than 24% of the vote in four years on the ballot.
"That was the way I was raised. I was raised that steroids were illegal. It was wrong to do that kind of stuff. It's such a mess, but I know it was possible to be clean, and put up great years.''
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McGriff averaged 32 home runs and 102 RBI during his 19-year career.
Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa, whose had admitted steroid users Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco playing on his teams, vehemently denies that he had direct knowledge of any steroid use. Oh, sure, he had suspicions, and reported those to the front office. Yet, just like the writers, no absolute proof.
"For someone to say that I knowingly ignored that,'' La Russa told USA TODAY Sports, "is so full of [bleep]. There was never a guy who played for me, who took an at-bat, who pitched an inning that I knew for a fact that anything was going on. At some point toward the end (of the pre-testing era), you had strong suspicions, and you voiced it, but there was nothing you could do.
"We are not policemen. If you had strong suspicions, you pushed it upstairs. And the people upstairs would push it to MLB from there.''
If Major League Baseball would have really wanted steroids out of the game before testing was implemented in 2003, it would have happened. It would have been a critical issue in labor negotiations. There would have been an outcry and backlash by fans.
The cold-hearted truth is that no one really cared until now, but now we are trying to reverse history, pretending that it bothered our conscience all along.
"It's very disappointing what happened, a black mark in our history,'' La Russa said, "but we had other things that happened during our history, too.
"They are human beings. They're not choirboys. Mistakes are made. There should be a simpler way to deal with that whole era than to say, 'We have stuff on this guy and we don't have stuff on that guy.'"
Maybe the door has already been open. Former major league pitcher - and pitching coach - Tom House has maintained steroid use was widespread in the 1960s and '70s, an era that produced dozens of Hall of Famers.
We'll likely never know the full truth about that period, and those that followed either.
But we sure can analyze performance on the field with our naked eye and research material.