Ripken Sidesteps Talk About Steroids

The Associated Press
Tuesday, December 5, 2006; 9:07 PM

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Cal Ripken Jr. sidestepped questions about Mark McGwire and steroids on Tuesday, with Hall of Fame ballots bearing their names already in the hands of voters.

"I'm curious, but I don't feel that I'm in a position to judge," Ripken said at the baseball winter meetings. "History will judge us all in some way. And, if you're content with the truth coming out, then whether your judgment day is now or 50 years from now doesn't matter."

A two-time MVP who played in 2,632 consecutive games to break Lou Gehrig's record streak, Ripken is considered a certain first-ballot inductee next year. Tony Gwynn is, too, when the votes are counted in early January.

So was McGwire, back when he hit 70 homers in 1998 to break Roger Maris' single-season record; the former Oakland and St. Louis first baseman finished with 583 home runs, seventh on the career list.

But McGwire's refusal to answer questions about steroid use during a congressional hearing last year has stained his career and his candidacy.

An AP survey last month of 125 baseball writers who are eligible to vote _ about 20 percent of the total _ showed that only one in four who gave an opinion planned to vote for McGwire.

Asked if he would object to sharing the stage with McGwire, Ripken said, "Couldn't get past that question, could we?"

"I, personally, sit back and don't want to be drawn into that. I'm not personally qualified," he said. "The Hall of Fame run, it should be a celebration of the player's career. I hope, if that happens with me, that it would be a celebration."

Tony La Russa, McGwire's former manager, has steadfastly defended his slugger.

"He had the greatness of a Hall of Famer," said La Russa, who also speculated that McGwire would consider taking a job in baseball when his sons get older.

While saying he wasn't sure how well steroids worked, Ripken acknowledged that he had some concerns when he was playing. Ripken said he built a gym in his house and worked hard to get stronger, but he couldn't match the gains he saw in others.

"A smarter person will have suspicions when you look around and see people coming back a lot bigger than they were," he said. "I realize that steroids were an issue in other sports. But no way did I know it was as big as it's starting to show it was."

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