COOPERSTOWN, NY. -- The age of innocence is over this weekend in Cooperstown.
Andre Dawson may represent the last Hall of Fame class not tainted by the steroid era.
Beginning next year, perhaps for another quarter-century, there will be players on the Hall of Fame ballot either proven to have used or implicated by steroids.
Next year, it is Rafael Palmeiro and Juan Gonzalez who are on the ballot. They certainly have Hall of Fame numbers, but Palmeiro tested positive for steroids his final year and Gonzalez's name surfaced in former Senator George Mitchell's report on performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. He was also accused of using steroids by Rangers owner Tom Hicks.
Then, in 2013, comes the Mount Rushmore class featuring some of the greatest players in the game, but many implicated or accused of steroid use. Barry Bonds was the focal point of the BALCO case. Roger Clemens is being accused of steroid use by his former trainer, Brian McNamee. Sammy Sosa tested positive in 2003 according to Sports Illustrated, but those tests have remained anonymous. Mike Piazza has been accused of steroid use, but only by New York newspaper reports, and not publicly by teammates.
The Baseball Writers Association of America voters will have to vote with their conscience, believing that no steroid users should be in the Hall of Fame, or letting everyone in based solely on their numbers. Who really knows who was clean, and who wasn't? Once players are in, they're in forever.
Yet, unless an unknown steroid user has already been inducted into the Hall of Fame, this may be the last Hall of Fame class that won't be tainted.
Jim Rice, who was enshrined in Cooperstown last year with Rickey Henderson, says that no steroid user belongs in the Hall of Fame.
"You can almost look at the same thing as Pete Rose," Rice said last year. "I think if they did something wrong to enhance the game of baseball or go against the game of baseball, they shouldn't be in. That's just me."
Hank Aaron, baseball's all-time home-run king for 33 years until his record was broken by Barry Bonds in 2007, fears that Hall of Famers may boycott the induction ceremony if players liked to performance-enhancing drugs are voted into the Hall of Fame. He says he has no choice but to welcome them in, only with an asterisk.
"Do you put these guys in,'' Aaron told USA TODAY last year, "and do you put names with an asterisk beside the name, "Hey, they did it, but here's why?' To be safe, that's the only way I can see how you can do it.
"I don't see how, and I've played the game long enough to know that it is impossible for players to hit 70-something home runs. It just don't happen. It just do not happen, I think that's one reason why people's eyes started opening up and said, how can this guy do this?
"Somewhere on the plaque, or beside his name, and say, "Hey, 73 home runs, da, da, da, he was accused of.' That's the only way you can do it.''
Hall of Famer Goose Gossage says he would be among those who would boycott the induction ceremony.
"I think if you cheated, you shouldn't be allowed in,'' Gossage said last summer. "I wouldn't come. I'd boycott, or whatever you want to call it.''
Stay tuned. Once Dawson is enshrined, summers in Cooperstown could be rather interesting.