Sure, I'll readily admit, no small part of my willingness to forgive stems from the adolescent man-crush I (and, to be fair, many of the boyz of my generation) had on gentleman like Bonds, Sosa, and Sheffield long before anybody ever introduced me to the postmodern vocabulary of performance enhancement: acromegaly, cranial elongation, testicular atrophe, and the like. But my current state of sympathetic righteousness goes well beyond the apologist tendencies bred of nostalgia.
Frankly, the juicers, for all their faults, are just more likable than their antagonists. Their failings - most commonly characterized by ignorance or pride - are easy to relate to. It is easy for me to imagine the cycle of temptation, rationalization, denial, and guilt which has been their burden for much of the last decade, in some cases longer.
On the other hand, I cannot imagine what satisfaction stodgy baseball writers get from declaring their intentions to withhold Hall of Fame votes from any player remotely linked to steroids; in some cases, from any player who even had the misfortune of being born into the so-called "steroid era." I cannot empathize with the jealous types, like Jack Clark, who feel the need to level inarticulate criticisms on former colleagues, like flinging fecal matter, unprovoked, into the media void. It may have seemed a somewhat ridiculous non-sequitur at the time, but more and more I understand why Barry chastised that gaggle of reporters all those years ago, "get your own house in order."
We could all benefit from this reminder. History rarely reflects well on those who sit in judgment, cast aspersions, and make unsubstantiated assumptions. I'm certainly willing to admit that many, many players used performance-enhancing drugs during the late nineties and early noughties. It would be a bit naive to suggest otherwise. It would also be naive to suggest that those who have crucified the juicers have been acting in the best interests of baseball and its fans. The juiced ball era grows uglier by the day because there are no martyrs and no heroes. The BALCO investigation was headed up by an ambitious meathead, Jeff Novitzky, who loved nothing more than seeing his name in the papers. The Mitchell Report was conspicuously amateurish, as though designed to fall short of any legal standard. And, of course, the infamous books by Selena Roberts and Fainaru-Wada/Williams look more and more like publicity stunts. No doubt some of their accusations were true, but they were also filled with anonymous sources, circumstantial evidence, and speculation disguised as inquiry. These witch-hunters long ago eclipsed the juicers in terms of dishonesty and self-interestedness. Isn't irony grand.
In the past, I've been accused of holding a double standard, defending one group of juicers (Bonds, Sheffield, Sosa, etc.) while vilifying another (Clemens, A-Rod, McGwire, etc.). My opinions towards these players were never based on their pharmaceutical regimens, but rather on playing styles and temperaments, but heretofore I consider myself a firm supporter of them all. Fuck the haters. These were the best players of their generation, alongside many others, including Griffey, the Big Hurt, and (cough, cough) Roberto Alomar. They deserved enshrinement, in Cooperstown and in the much more important canon of baseball literature and history. And they'll get it, in the end, while Novitzky, Michell, Chass, Roberts, Fainaru-Wada, and rest, they'll be lucky if they earn a footnote.