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 Goose Gossage waited a long time to get into the Hall of Fame.
Even so, it would have been easy to write off his election as just another reminder that late is better than never - until Gossage decided to speak his mind.
``I don't think this steroid thing is over by any means,'' he said during a conference call Tuesday with some of the people that voted him in. ``I'm sure that most of you guys, the writers, don't really know how to approach this.''
That's true - as far as it goes - and it was certainly a lot more gracious than the way Roger Clemens framed the same challenge to some members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America who happened to be in the audience at his press conference in Houston a day earlier.
``You keep your vote,'' Clemens said. ``I don't need the Hall of Fame to justify that I put my butt on the line and I worked my tail off, and I defy anybody to say I did it by cheating or taking any shortcuts, OK?''
Whether Clemens feels the same way when he's eligible five years from now remains to be seen. Mark McGwire, who hasn't been heard from much since he told Congress in 2005 he wasn't interested in talking about the past, did no better in his second year on the ballot than he did in the first. McGwire totaled 128 votes, roughly a third of what he needed to reach the 75 percent threshold and gain entrance. So maybe the system, imperfect as it is, still works.
There are no absolute standards for the Hall. It's always a judgment call and in Gossage's case, it wasn't about whether his performances were enhanced, but how they ranked against players who did the same work. Relievers are still a relatively new breed and the Hall didn't even open a bullpen wing until 1985, when Hoyt Wilhelm moved in.
In the two decades that followed, only two other relievers, Rollie Fingers and Dennis Eckersley, followed him. Then came Bruce Sutter, who needed 13 appearances on the ballot before making it in 2006, and the Goose. Gossage laughed off his eight failed tries by often saying he was not going to save any more games. But when he retired in 1994, there was no way to be sure we wouldn't see the likes of him again.
ngs in a season, as Gossage did several times, and so he was correct to note how unfair it was to compare him to today's specialists, who pile up more saves but rarely work more than the ninth inning.
``They say Mariano Rivera is the greatest pitcher of all time, and I say, 'Do what we did and we'll compare apples to apples instead of apples to oranges,''' Gossage said. ``It's not the same position.''
But at least the voters got it right in time. As Gossage also noted, that's going to be a lot harder from here on out.
He blamed Clemens and Barry Bonds for muddying those waters.
``I think that if you did do performance-enhancing drugs, you need to come clean and put an end to this,'' Gossage said. ``Just fess up.''
But Gossage was more optimistic about the endgame than a lot of writers.
``Now we've got to figure out who's telling the truth,'' he added, ``and I think that someday we will know the truth.''
The Mitchell Report was supposed to provide the road map, but it offered only a starting point. And even if baseball gets better at catching cheats than its track record so far suggests, the ``he-said, he-said'' wrangling between Clemens and Brian McNamee, his trainer of 10 years, might just be a preview of what lies ahead.
Someone tried to put into context how much performance enhancers extended McGwire's career by describing him as ``Harmon Killebrew with a few hundred extra at-bats.'' It's an imperfect comparison, and the wait for a more precise measuring stick could last a lot longer than it did in Gossage's case.
The line backed up at the entrance to the Hall of Fame is only going to get longer. The shame for a lot of guys who will be queuing up in the coming years is that it will be tougher to decide whether justice is being delayed or denied.
---
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org
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