Ripken discusses steroid era
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Cal Ripken Jr. declined to take any cuts on Tuesday at Mark McGwire, the former slugger who is on the 2007 Hall of Fame ballot for the first time along with Ripken and Tony Gwynn. But the shortstop known as the "Iron Man" did take a few whacks at steroid use in baseball.
"I understand the interest," Ripken said after a press conference to promote a turf product at this year's Winter Meetings. "I understand the debate that's going on right now. I personally don't want to be drawn into that. I don't feel comfortable judging anyone in that particular case. I'm not qualified. [But] if you start to look at that one, you can see the trend that's happening. Then you start looking at everybody else.
"I tend to look at it from a much broader view. I think we were all very disappointed that steroids came flying out into the game of baseball. The integrity of the game was in question. I honestly believe that history will judge us all, in some way. If you believe and you're content with the truth coming out, then whether your Judgment Day is now or 50 years from now it doesn't matter."
Judgment Day for McGwire will come on Jan. 9, the day the results of this year's election are announced. The induction ceremony is slated for July 29 in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Gwynn and Ripken should not be an issue. Their names must appear on 75 percent of the ballots to be elected. But McGwire is another story. Since the day in 1998 when androstenedione was discovered in his locker at old Busch Stadium in St. Louis, he has been under suspicion of using performance-enhancing drugs.
McGwire and Sammy Sosa spent that summer chasing Roger Maris' single-season home run record. In the end, McGwire became the first person in Major League history to reach 70. Sosa hit 66, his first of three seasons hitting 60 or more for the Chicago Cubs.
At the time, andro was a supplement that could be legally purchased over the counter. Even though a host of steroids were banned in the U.S. from purchase without a prescription, the drugs weren't illegal in baseball and there was no formal testing (without cause) until the 2003 season. Under the current drug policy, andro, as well almost all forms of steroids, are banned from use at the big-league level.
Even so, when McGwire was subpoenaed along with a number of other current and retired players to testify at a Congressional hearing in 2005, he declined to discuss the matter both personally and globally.
On the day last month when the current Hall of Fame ballot was released, The Associated Press published a report that included a poll of some voting BBWAA members. The AP came to the conclusion that only 25 percent of those eligible would vote for McGwire, many citing his performance in front of the Congress as the reason.
Ripken is the antithesis of McGwire, whose career ended in 2001 because of a knee injury. Ripken was considered to be Mr. Clean without even a trace of the steroids controversy when he quit for good at the end of that same season.
All living former players must have been retired for five years before his name can appear on the ballot, a moment Ripken has been waiting to savor.
"The Hall of Fame run should be a celebration of a player's career -- that whole moment," Ripken said. "I look forward to that. If it happens with me, it would be a celebration."
A shortstop and third baseman, Ripken toiled his entire 21-year career for the Baltimore Orioles, playing in a record 2,632 consecutive games from May 30, 1982, to Sept. 20, 1998, thus shattering the mark of 2,130 once held by New York Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig.
But Ripken said he wasn't really aware of the burgeoning steroid problem during the years he was setting that record.
"I think a smarter player would have suspicions when you look around and see some of the different people coming back from the offseason a lot bigger than they [had been]," Ripken said. "Sometimes, I shook my head because I built a gym in my house and worked really hard and my physical body couldn't make those sorts of gains.
"[But] you could feel good about the work you put in and you could apply it to your season. I guess ignorance is a good thing. I realize that steroids are an issue in other sports and we can't be exempt from it. In no way did I know that it was as big as it's starting to show it was."
Ripken praised the Players Association, who in tandem with the owners, have developed a tough series of penalties in a drug policy that has been re-negotiated twice since its inception. And he knows the next few weeks, at least, are going to be filled with questions about who did what and when.
"There was a good reaction on the side of Major League Baseball and the Players Association to restore the integrity of the game," Ripken said. "I'm very happy it's moving in that direction. It didn't turn out to be an ugly scene. It didn't turn out to be a work stoppage, which usually hurts the game of baseball.
"I think in some ways, it's sad that that cloud was over baseball. I believe, certainly, the story will come out in time. I know it's going to be an issue. We're trying to figure out how long it's going to be an issue. The debate's going to happen all the way until the announcement of the [results of the] balloting."