PHILADELPHIA – As a member of baseball’s Hall of Fame, Joe Morgan knows he will not have the initial say on whether Rafael Palmeiro is worthy of Cooperstown. That does not prohibit Morgan from having definite opinions on Palmeiro’s deservedness after a 10-day suspension for violating baseball’s steroid policy.

Wednesday, Morgan, one of the first Hall of Famers to publicly speak at length on steroids and Palmeiro, voiced those opinions, angrily scorching not only all steroid users, but the game he says willingly tolerated and profited from the abuses.

Morgan, 61, also dared baseball to continue justifying Pete Rose’s exclusion from the Hall of Fame for betting on baseball if known steroid users are inducted.

“All those years, I was the guy who said Pete needs to be punished, and he has, for 16 years,” Morgan said of his former Cincinnati Reds and Phillies teammate. “But how long are these guys going to be kept out?

“If you are going to let people into the Hall who have done steroids, then you have to let Pete Rose in, because this (steroids scandal) has hurt baseball more than what Pete did.”

Though Morgan said he was speaking “just as Joe,” his voice is a powerful one in the game. He is on the Hall’s executive board and is prominent on national game telecasts on ESPN.

“If I sound angry, it’s because I am,” Morgan continued. “I just hate what I’ve seen happen. We brought this on ourselves. Now, every number, the suspicion is there, and that hurts more than what Pete did.

“The game doesn’t belong to these players today. It belongs to all the players who have ever played – Henry Aaron, Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Frank Robinson, the guys who helped build the game, not to guys who have hurt the game. Now these great players’ numbers are being pushed back.”

Until this week, Morgan considered Palmeiro, the Baltimore Orioles slugger, to be among the elite. “When a guy gets 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, he’s a Hall of Famer,” Morgan said he had felt.

Now? “I have reservations, not only about Rafael Palmeiro, but a lot of the guys who are going to come in with numbers obtained during this era,” he said. “I think there just has to be a penalty – I just don’t know what that is yet.”

Morgan did not spare baseball, even in the wake of its new drug-testing policy.

“Baseball itself is at fault because it let it go on for so long and didn’t do anything about it,” he said. “All these people who they didn’t know (about steroid use) – I say, let them take a lie-detector test. No one would pass. That includes managers and coaches. … “I’ve known it for 10, 15 years, and I am not even on the field.”

Asked why he did not speak out after hearing what he described as constant rumors over the years, Morgan said he had his reasons – and regrets.

“It wasn’t my job to speak out, because I just would have been another reporter at that moment, speculating,” he said. “But in hindsight, the only thing I wish I would have done is approach the commissioner’s office sooner, but I didn’t know how they would react.”

When asked why the game didn’t act for so long, Morgan said: “The game was booming. The home run was the thing. The even advertised it – “Chicks dig the long ball.’ “

Home runs and Cal Ripken Jr.’s consecutive-game streak have long been credited for reviving the game after the strike wiped out the end of the 1994 season, Morgan said. “The game was prospering, in love with the long ball. . . . McGwire, Sosa, the home-run chases. We took a game which was great and turned it into Home Run Derby.”

Then came the scandals, followed by today’s attempt to clean drugs from baseball’s system. “But,” Morgan said, “as we always know, when you put things off, there’s a bigger explosion in the end.”

Now, he says, the very integrity of baseball has been affected. “It’s not just the home runs, but stamina, the way the game is played,” he said.

“Little things don’t matter – speed, stealing bases,” he added, pointing to this turn as a reason he believes teams no longer actively pursue African American prospects. “It’s all tied together. Players are locked onto first base waiting for the home run. They don’t need us anymore.”

Morgan paused. “There’s not a big enough asterisk to handle all of this. There has to be some penalty. I just don’t know what it is.”

(c) 2005, The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-08-03-05 2127EDT

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