Baseball Hall of Fame voters grappling with issues involving performance-enhancing drugs received an email advisory Tuesday from an unexpected source.
A day after the Hall released the names of 33 players on the 2018 ballot, Hall of Famer Joe Morgan sent a letter to voters with a list of three criteria he thinks should disqualify future candidates for admission to the shrine.
Morgan, the Hall's vice chairman and a member of its board of directors, said he wasn't speaking for all Hall of Famers. But he said he was representing the views of many who are concerned by what they see as eroding standards for admission.
"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."
Of the players on the current ballot, four appear to fit the disqualifying criteria set forth by Morgan. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Gary Sheffield appeared in the Mitchell report, a 409-page investigation into MLB steroid use overseen by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell in 2007. Manny Ramirez, a 12-time All-Star and member of baseball's 500-home run club, retired in April 2011 after failing two drug tests in a span of three years.
Sammy Sosa, who appears on the ballot for a sixth time, tested positive for steroids during anonymous "survey testing" in 2003, according to a 2009 New York Times report citing anonymous sources. But Sosa never officially failed a test or incurred a suspension under MLB's drug testing and treatment program. He denied having used steroids during testimony before Congress in 2005.
Morgan's letter comes at a time when the lines for admission have begun to blur. Recent inductees Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell were the subject of longstanding performance-enhancing drug rumors, and Jose Canseco wrote in his 2005 memoir "Juiced" that he personally injected former Texas Rangers teammate Ivan Rodriguez with steroids. Rodriguez made it to Cooperstown last year with 75 percent of the vote in his first appearance on the ballot.
Clemens and Bonds both gained considerable ground in the voting last year and are moving closer to the 75 percent plurality required for induction. Clemens received 54.1 percent of the vote, while Bonds was named on 53.8 percent of ballots a year ago. Both players still have five years left on the ballot.
Morgan acknowledged in his letter that Hall of Fame voting is a "tricky issue" and the electorate has to deal with "shades of gray" in assessing individual candidates.
"But it still occurs to me that anyone who took body-altering chemicals in a deliberate effort to cheat the game we love, not to mention they cheated current and former players, and fans too, doesn't belong in the Hall of Fame," he wrote. "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."
Jon Shestakofsky, the Hall of Fame's vice president of communications and education, told ESPN.com on Tuesday that Morgan was speaking on behalf of himself and other Hall of Famers in his letter to the baseball writers.
"This is a Hall of Famer initiative," Shestakofsky said. "That being said, we were aware of it."
Morgan spent most of his 22-year career with the Cincinnati Reds and the Houston Astros franchise. Along with Pete Rose and Hall of Famers Johnny Bench and Tony Perez, Morgan helped the Reds win back-to-back World Series championships in 1975 and 1976. Cincinnati also reached the World Series in 1972, Morgan's first year with the Reds.
Morgan was the National League MVP in 1975 and 1976 and was named an All-Star in each of his eight seasons with the Reds. He was a .271 career hitter with 268 home runs, 1,133 RBIs, 1,650 runs scored and 689 stolen bases, 11th most in baseball history.