No mutant hall of fame

Like many baseball fans — in particular that warped subsection of the population who pull for the Chicago Cubs — I have mastered the fine art of keeping my head buried in the sand.

I was an angry teenager in the 1990s when baseball experienced an unprecedented home-run barrage that from any sane point of view was a complete farce, but to those of us with doctorates in Head-in-Sand-Arts, I was fascinated by this trio of mutants who were suddenly able to jack baseballs out of parks at a rate of 60 per season.

Bonds. Sosa. McGwire.

Mutants.

And now the Baseball Hall of Fame has passed judgment on this crew, as well as Roger Clemens, the best pitcher of the past 40 years.

The Hall of Fame is no place for mutants, superhuman creatures created by an evil potion of human growth hormone, synthetic testosterone and something called "the cream and the clear."

I woke Wednesday morning to a series of angry messages from my best friend back home. He was following the Hall of Fame vote results. As more information crept in, his text messages became more enraged.

Rightly so.

There were no tears shed for the likes of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. They are either admitted steroid users or have been implicated to the point that it makes no sense to deny that they didn't dabble in the performance-enhancing arts at some point in their once-legendary careers.

In 1998, the Chicago Cubs were suddenly relevant after more than a decade of notably bad baseball. Until the arrival of Sosa, a stringy doubles hitter who promised a lot of strikeouts and a few stolen bases but not much more, the Cubs had a bleak future, even for the Cubs.

But then, this rangy doubles hitter morphed into the Incredible Hulk and began mashing balls out of Wrigley Field at a record-setting pace.

And then the Cubs received an infusion of pitching in the form of Kerry Wood, Jon Lieber and Kyle Farnsworth. The sun had broken through the clouds above the North Side.

It all revolved around Slammin' Sammy and his bid to out-homer Mark McGwire. The two engaged in a slamfest that kept the nation enthralled for the 1998 season. It helped bring baseball back from the abyss following the 1994-95 lockout.

It was all a lie, perpetrated by the head-in-the-sanders such as myself, who refused to acknowledge the obvious, and the baseball writers who pushed home runs as the only metric by which a player should be judged at that time.

Now, the chickens have come home to roost, and these same baseball writers who spread home-run hype to the masses in the 1990s have made the 180-degree turn to vote Wednesday to block the mutants from the Hall of Fame.

Am I the only one who sees a problem here?

I'm not arguing that cheaters should be admitted to the Hall. They probably shouldn't, at least not on the first ballot.

My issue is that the guardians of the Hall are the same people who rubbed our noses in home runs. To be fair, it was a small set of writers who finally tackled the steroids story in the early 2000s, effectively ending the careers of Clemens and Bonds with expose after expose into the shady world of performance-enhancing drugs.

As a rule, I hate most halls of fame. The concept of enshrinement is a bit creepy to me.

But the fact that the current Hall voters turned up their noses at the entire ballot this year screams petulance.

In doing so, they denied Houston Astros second baseman Craig Biggio a trip to the podium. Why? The dude was the consummate gamer, finishing his career with more than 3,000 hits and nary a drug scandal in his wake.

Is that not good enough? Or was Biggio tainted by the mutants surrounding him on the ballot?

My gauge for Hall of Fame voting is simple. I call it the Free Association Test. Close your eyes and think of the person you're considering for the Hall. What is the first image that pops into your mind?

If I shut my eyes and think of Cal Ripken, the image is of him standing on the field waving to the Baltimore crowd after breaking Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games record. When I shut my eyes and think of Biggio, I see him crouching over the plate, willing to either take a pitch to the shoulder to get on base or popping a double into right center to kill the Cubs.

When I think of the mutants, I imagine them in expensive suits pointing their fingers at congressmen (who had no business wasting their time with baseball scandals in the first place) and wagging their fingers, as if to suggest that they were beyond doubt.

And for a while they were, I suppose. I'm as much to blame for that as anyone.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email cconrad@mailtribune.com.


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