(Reuters) - Tony La Russa, who will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, believes there is room in the Hall for tainted stars from the so-called Steroids Era.
Pitcher Roger Clemens and sluggers Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire should be included in the shrine as stars of their generation, attached with an asterisk to note the questions that surround their achievements, former manager La Russa told ESPN.
Those players deserve recognition as the best of their time despite being linked to performance enhancers, said La Russa, who will join five other new inductees at Cooperstown this weekend.
“If you were a Hall of Famer during that period as far as your pitching and playing, I would create some kind of asterisk, where everybody understands that, ‘Look, we have some questions, but you were still the dominant pitchers and players of your time,'” said La Russa.
“I might get voted out of the Hall of Fame with that attitude, but that’s what I believe.”
La Russa's view flies in the face of outspoken Hall of Fame members and in the voting record of members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, who have yet to elect a player linked to performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) into the Hall.
"He is naturally entitled to his opinion, but he is not part of the voting body for the Hall of Fame," BBWAA Secretary/Treasurer Jack O'Connell told Reuters on Friday in an e-mail.
"The rules are clear; voters may vote for anyone on the ballot up to a number of 10," added O'Connell about the system, which requires 75 percent of the votes cast to earn induction.
Vote totals for Clemens, Bonds and McGwire were not close to winning entrance. Clemens was ninth (35.4 percent) among vote getters, Bonds was one place back (34.7) and McGwire was 18th on the list with a distant 11 percent.
Many already enshrined Hall of Famers have insisted that drug cheaters were not fit for Cooperstown.
In recent years, iconic slugger Hank Aaron has said, "The game has no place for cheaters." Pitcher Goose Gossage, elected in 2008, said, "Cheaters should absolutely not be in the Hall of Fame."
The late Bob Feller, elected to Cooperstown in 1962, presciently told Reuters in 2006: "Those players who have been convicted of using steroids or are caught using them are not going to get the numbers (from the BBWAA) to be elected to the Hall of Fame...and I am with them on that."
La Russa, who brought his former player McGwire back into baseball by hiring him as the St. Louis Cardinals batting coach in 2009, said an explanation of how the "dark period" of PEDs evolved in the 1990s is important.
"That story is not as easy to explain as people would think," La Russa said in an interview aired on National Public Radio (NPR) on Friday.
"We really started weight training and supplements like creatine which was still legal and all of a sudden it got away from us.
"Baseball is still not sure how to explain that 10 or 12 year period..."
La Russa, who won 2,728 games in his 33-year career as a Major League Baseball manager to stand third on the all-time list, said the PED craze grew out of a natural, competitive inclination.
"In all competitive sports people are always looking for the edge, always trying to push, push, push," he told NPR.
"In this case as guys got stronger, that natural bent to try and get an edge drifted over to illegal performance enhancers. That’s why you have to monitor and watch."
He added, "Just breaking a rule, you should be punished. If it breaks a law, that‘s much more serious."
Major League Baseball in cooperation with the Players Association installed mandatory drug testing in 2003 and a 20-month investigation produced the 311-page Mitchell Report in December 2007 that chronicalled pervasive doping in the sport, leading to a stricter doping agreement and punishments.
While the widespread use of performance enhancers found by the Mitchell Report seems to have abated, incidents of doping have not vanished.
Last August, 13 players, including baseball's highest paid player Alex Rodriguez, were handed suspensions over their involvement with an anti-aging clinic accused of supplying PEDs to MLB players.
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Gene Cherry