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Joe Morgan to Hall of Fame voters: 'Steroid users don't belong here'

The Baseball Hall of Fame announced its 2018 ballot on Monday and the guess is that it's going to be arriving on my doorstep today. But when I opened my email this morning, the plot just got quite a bit thicker.

Sitting in the inbox was a 1,074-word missive from Hall of Fame vice chairman Joe Morgan, the former great second baseman of Cincinnati's Big Red Machine and a 1990 Hall inductee. Given the Hall's longtime reticence to address the elephant in the room, the core message was a stunner.

Keep the steroid guys out.

Morgan acknowledged he wasn't intending to speak for every living member but said, "I do know how many of the Hall of Famers feel."

"The more we Hall of Famers talk about this – and we talk about it a lot – we realize we can no longer sit silent," Morgan wrote. "Many of us have come to think that silence will be considered complicity. Or that fans might think we are OK if the standards of election to the Hall of Fame are relaxed, at least relaxed enough for steroid users to enter and become members of the most sacred place in Baseball. We don’t want fans ever to think that.

"We hope the day never comes when known steroid users are voted into the Hall of Fame. They cheated. Steroid users don’t belong here.

"Players who failed drug tests, admitted using steroids, or were identified as users in Major League Baseball’s investigation into steroid abuse, known as the Mitchell Report, should not get in. Those are the three criteria that many of the players and I think are right."

What to do with players known or suspected to have used performance enhancers is easily the No. 1 challenge for members of the Baseball Writers Association of America when they get a Hall ballot. I got my first one last year and it's a brutal call.

Morgan's letter is clearly in response to the growing candidacy of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, both of whom moved over 50 percent last year. It's a strike against Manny Ramirez, who got 23.8 percent of the vote and doesn't appear likely to ever get voted in by the writers. It's his statement on Alex Rodriguez when A-Rod's time on the ballot comes. Maybe it's in response to the inductions over the last two years of Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez, all of whom have been subject to steroid rumors.

Last year's induction of former commissioner Bud Selig, who was clearly complicit in the entire steroid era, really made things difficult for the writers. I was one of many who believed if the Hall was going to induct Selig that we probably needed to consider voting for Bonds and Clemens, so I did.

I wasn't alone. Longtime San Francisco Chronicle writer Susan Slusser, the first female president of the BBWAA, famously tweeted, "senseless to keep steroid guys out when the enablers are in Hall of Fame. I now will hold my nose and vote for players I believe cheated."

Remember, of course, that the writers didn't elect Selig. He was chosen by the Today's Game committee, a subset of electors who can tackle players bypassed by the writers or other contributors. The writers only elect former players. All other personalities such as managers, owners, umpires, MLB officials or much-discussed former players union leader Marvin Miller are elected by various Eras committees formed and refined over the years.

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Morgan's email is historically significant because of his position on the Hall board. He has grown to be a major player of influence, the key ex-players liaison to Hall chairman Jane Forbes Clark. The Hall has never made any sort of statement on the Steroid Era, sitting back on the only instructions the writers get: "Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played."

Morgan's email went far beyond that.

"I care about how good a player was or what kind of numbers he put up," Morgan said. "But if a player did steroids, his integrity is suspect; he lacks sportsmanship; his character is flawed; and, whatever contribution he made to his team is now dwarfed by his selfishness."

Morgan also sent a message that longtime Hall members are prepared to stop coming back to Cooperstown each summer if steroid users get elected. Imagine the scene if Bonds or Clemens were giving their speech with no one on stage behind them?

Wrote Morgan, without reference to any individual by name: "By cheating, they put up huge numbers, and they made great players who didn’t cheat look smaller by comparison, taking away from their achievements and consideration for the Hall of Fame. That’s not right. And that’s why I, and other Hall of Famers, feel so strongly about this.

"It’s gotten to the point where Hall of Famers are saying that if steroid users get in, they’ll no longer come to Cooperstown for Induction Ceremonies or other events. Some feel they can’t share a stage with players who did steroids. The cheating that tainted an era now risks tainting the Hall of Fame too.

"The Hall of Fame means too much to us to ever see that happen. If steroid users get in, it will divide and diminish the Hall, something we couldn’t bear."

What about players of other times whose character may be suspect? The Hall certainly has racists and philanderers on its rolls. Former drug users, too. Morgan's era was likely full of amphetamine users. Tim Raines got elected last year after being very public about his use of cocaine.

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Morgan seemed to understand that point.

"The Hall of Fame has always had its share of colorful characters, some of whom broke or bent society’s rules in their era," he said. "By today’s standards, some might not have gotten in. Times change and society improves. What once was accepted no longer is. But steroid users don’t belong here. What they did shouldn’t be accepted. Times shouldn’t change for the worse."

There's a lot of food for thought in Morgan's email. A good amount of hypocrisy, too. But while the Steroid Era has always been a gray area to voters,  it may not be anymore.  The Hall itself has spoken for the first time, whether that was Morgan's intention or not. It's up to us as voters to decide how much of the message to hear.

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