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Nightengale: Beltre Flap is Proof the PED Cloud Will Never Go Away

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Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre recently got his 3,000th career hit. Photo: AP

Baseball’s steroid era has largely come and gone, but it continues to nag at our conscience.

We’re supposed to be celebrating Adrian Beltre’s 3,000th hit in Texas, but a day later, are listening to a national radio host casting doubt on the feat’s authenticity.

We’re in Cooperstown, N.Y., honoring the newest class of the Hall of Fame, but it’s impossible to ignore the mostly private assertions that Pudge Rodriguez and Jeff Bagwell cheated their way to the Hall.

We see monstrous home runs being hit these days, and instead of marveling in awe, we’re blaming it on the ball.

Did the steroid era irreparably gash our enjoyment of the game?

Can’t we just savor extraordinary accomplishments without everyone automatically questioning its validity, as if we’re protecting ourselves in case a positive drug test lurks around the corner?

Should we really entertain the reckless idea that Beltre is a steroid user simply because he’s still one of the best third baseman in the game at 38?

“I’m not saying Adrian Beltre unequivocally did it,’’ Doug Gottlieb of Fox Sports said on his radio show, “I’m saying, ‘hey, we’ve all been fooled before.’ And we have some markers that could paint the tale of a guy who could possibly be ahead of the curve and hasn’t tested positive for it.”

How dare he utter those words, so we lash back, saying it’s cruel and almost immoral for anyone to attack Beltre’s integrity.

Why, unless something changed in in another early-morning tweet from the Oval Office, we still live in a country where you are innocent until proven guilty.

So Beltre is innocent until proven otherwise with a dirty test.

Beltre, only the third player to play the majority of his games at third base to reach 3,000 hits, has passed every drug test he has taken for the last 13 years of his major-league career. The skeptics will remind you that that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens never flunked a drug test either; same with the 13 players nabbed in the 2013 Biogenesis scandal.

Skeptics look at Beltre’s 2004 season, when he hit .334 with 48 home runs and 121 RBI in 2004 with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Yet, he was just 25 years old. It was his walk year before free agency. He did the same thing in 2010 with the Boston Red Sox when he hit .321 with a league-high 49 doubles before free agency, and no one uttered a word.

Skeptics wonder how he’s able to be so productive in his late 30s, hitting .300 with 32 homers and 104 RBI last year at the age of 37, but they don’t see the discipline involved in maintaining that level of play over the past decade.

Come on, he’s got to be clean, right?

Well, the uncomfortable fact of the matter is that we have absolutely no idea whether Beltre – or any major leaguer, from situational reliever to franchise player – ever used performance-enhancing drugs in his career.

I don’t know. And you don’t know.

Beltre says no.

But with the exception of Mark McGwire and David Segui, no player in the history of the Hall of Fame ballot has ever admitted to steroid use.

So who you going to believe? What are we supposed to believe? We really don’t know who is clean today, or who was dirty back in the day.

We had our strong suspicions in the steroid era.

You had to be a fool, or utterly naive, not to know steroids were out of control in baseball in the ’90s, when middle infielders began resembling middle linebackers.

It was the drug that produced the infamous home-run race between McGwire and Sosa, re-generating interest in a sport struggling for an identity after the 1994 strike that cancelled the World Series,.

The narrative today that journalists turned their back to the steroid era is absurd. Did we know the cheating was rampant? Absolutely. There were plenty of stories written about steroid use in the early days, including by myself, but no one really seemed to care.

Now, did we ever print names of those we strongly suspected, names of players being whispered in our ears, or even from those who privately admitted to steroid use? Absolutely not.

Sorry. Just like today, the idea of being sued for libel has a funny way of being frowned upon by our bosses.

The Baseball Writers Association of America instead spoke out in a different way, expressing their suspicions in Hall of Fame balloting. It’s why it took Bagwell seven years after his eligibility to finally be voted into the Hall. Mike Piazza didn’t make it until his fourth try. Rodriguez made it on his first attempt, but the greatest all-around catcher of his era squeaked in with 76% of the vote amid concerns of his massive weight loss that coincided with drug testing.

None of those players failed a drug test. Again, neither did Bonds nor Clemens, but that won’t stop several inductees from boycotting the Cooperstown ceremony when Bonds and Clemens enter the Hall of Fame.

And Bonds and Clemens one day will be in inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Bank it.

Considering we already are permitting players with suspicions or links to PEDs into the Hall of Fame now, why in the world should we stop the two greatest players of the steroid era into the Hall?

Bonds and Clemens never failed a drug test. They were never suspended. They even went to federal court to prove their innocence, and won.

I vote for them every year on my Hall of Fame ballot, and will continue until they’re elected.

I’ll vote for Beltre, too.

You’re talking not only about one of the greatest third basemen ever, but if you ask anyone who ever played with Beltre, they’ll tell you he was the greatest teammate, too. He’s perhaps the most respected player in the game today.

So, did he ever use performance-enhancing drugs at any time in his career?

I don’t know.

Neither do you.

And you know what, that’s OK, too.

By Bob Nightengale

This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, USA Today. Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter and Facebook

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