CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It’s time for the death penalty for baseball’s steroid users. Not literally, but the baseball equivalent — a lifetime ban and permanent ineligibility for the Hall of Fame.

This crime wave’s raged for years as steroid abusers ravaged baseball’s fundamental integrity. Juiced batters exploded with unprecedented power statistics. Aging, injured pitchers found miracle cures. Good hitters, even late in their careers, artificially reinvented themselves into Babe Ruths.

During all the seasons before 1995, players hit 50 or more homers only 18 times, but from 1995 on, it’s happened 23 more — a tsunami of inflated slugging! Baseball’s most treasured hitting records have fallen, and fallen under a cloud of suspicion. As long-established standards for single season and career homers dissolved in a flood of juice, the entire sport has broken loose from its historical moorings.

Why do successful standouts, even superstars, become sellouts that cheat to gain added advantage? Call it pride, vanity, or greed, it all spells selfishness. Seductive me-centered impulses tempt people to trample rules and violate the law.

When they do, fairness is the first victim and the playing field tilts crooked. Games are won that should have been lost, homers are hit that should have been fly outs, and records shattered that should have endured. Ruined health and early death are the terrible price many abusers — and their imitators, including kids, pay for these “easy” pickings, alongside their honor.

Baseball needs the strongest possible medicine to eradicate this plague. So far, nothing has halted the relentless spread of steroid-fueled travesties. It’s proved ineffective to levy fines against corrupt multi-millionaire players. Go figure.

Suspensions that vanish within weeks haven’t deterred cheaters from resorting to career-making, legend-manufacturing, record-blasting enhancers. Who knew? The cancer remains, and grows, because our half-hearted attempts to remove it were only cosmetic surgery. We’ve ignored the malignancy and had liposuction.

The All-Star Game is supposed to feature great players with sound character, but in today’s steroid-infested swamp everyone is presumed guilty.

With monitoring and enforcement so lax, who can be certain anyone is clean? Is an amazing power display the result of talent and hard work alone, or a freak-show juiced by lawless abuse? Honest superstars are under the same suspicion as long, ever-growing lists of known cheaters. Without decisive change, fans will soon stop caring, and ballparks will be filled only with ghosts, until baseball becomes a ghost itself.

Baseball needs leadership. It must do what Landis did. Some may be unjustly punished, or punished disproportionate to their crime. But nothing else has worked.

An automatic lifetime ban and Hall of Fame ineligibility for steroid use, established to the commissioner’s satisfaction, will detoxify and rehabilitate baseball. It’s very strong medicine, but exactly what the situation demands.

John Kunich is the author of “Cubs Fans’ Leadership Secrets: Learning to Win from a ‘Cursed’ Team’s Errors.”

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