It's amazing that, more than a decade after the release of the Mitchell Report, some of the most heated debates we still have are about performance enhancers, who used and who didn't , and who belongs in the Hall of Fame. It's not generally worth it for me to fight against people who believe that PED users don't belong in the Hall of Fame. That's valid criteria, as far as I'm concerned. While I don't agree with it, if a writer wants to make a distinction between players who can be reasonably suspected, through publicly available evidence, of doping and those who haven't, I'm prepared to live with it.
What has always bothered me is voters who are willing to use rumors and innuendos and backne to make circumstantial cases that maybe a guy like Jeff Bagwell or Mike Piazza conceivably could have used PEDs, and therefore doesn't belong in. Man, that just drives me nuts. Because inherent in those "suspicions" is the notion that players who have never been connected to PEDs are above suspicion.
Players like Ken Griffey Jr. As Junior seems poised to go into the Hall with nearly unanimous support, many voters are falling all over themselves to praise Griffey for "doing it the right way," for playing "natural," and for being "clean" in an era when other players were "dirty."
So, it's at this point that I want to make it abundantly clear: we have no evidence that Ken Griffey Jr. didn't use PEDs. For that matter, we don't have evidence that Greg Maddux or Randy Johnson didn't either. Or Rickey Henderson. Or Nolan Ryan. Or Tony Gwynn. After all, all of these guys played with players named in the PED report or who had tested positive in the past. All of them were active when PEDs were active in the game. All of them had long and distinguished careers that extended long past the point when most players' skills had atrophied to the point where they were no longer in the game. We don't know that Griffey didn't get frustrated with his slow recovery from muscle tears in his 30s and turn to HGH or some other substance in his desperation.
To be clear, this isn't an accusation of any of them. In fact, I find it unlikely that Griffey, or Maddux, or Ryan, etc used PEDs. Far less likely than either Piazza or Bagwell, who I will gladly stump for. It's not to call their accomplishments into question or to suggest they don't deserve to be enshrined in the Hall. It's an acknowledgement that we simply don't know, and no matter how good our testing becomes we won't catch everyone in the game who uses.
Consider the al Jazeera reports this winter that named Ryan Howard and Ryan Zimmerman received a hormone supplement from an Indianapolis anti-aging clinic. Howard and Zimmerman's attorney (they share one) have categorically denied the charges. The Nationals, in particular, have stood behind their player. And again, this isn't an accusation of either man, but it's an acknowledgment that now they have been connected to PEDs, and neither of them have ever tested positive for anything. But before December, would you have pegged either of them as a PED user? Probably not, but now we have to at least contend with the possibility. If the inevitable MLB investigation uncovers evidence that al Jazeera was right, both Zimmerman and Howard will be out for a half season in 2016.
And if they were using banned substances, and we didn't have an inkling, how many other Major Leaguers are currently taking banned substances? The answer is that we don't know. We can't know. We'll never know.
And we've never known. All we've ever had are educated guesses and gut feelings and deeply held prejudices. From David Eckstein to Mike Trout, none of us have any damn idea. Everyone is suspect, and no one is suspect. And it doesn't make sense to take out your frustrations on an entire era of uncertainty on players who have never been publicly connected to PEDs.