BRISTOL, Conn. -- Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred told ESPN.com on Thursday that he would advise Hall of Fame voters not to "surmise" that certain players used performance-enhancing drugs unless there is "credible evidence."
During a half-hour Q-and-A with a group of ESPN.com reporters, Manfred didn't name players such as Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza, whose Hall candidacies have been hurt because some voters have connected them with PED use despite a lack of definitive proof. However, he made it clear he does not believe that voters should withhold votes from players who meet their description.
Asked what he would tell the Hall of Fame about how it should handle the PED era, Manfred replied: "The only piece of advice that I'm comfortable giving is that I think that everyone should keep in mind the difference between players who tested positive and were disciplined on the one hand, and players where somebody has surmised that they did something on the other. And I think, based on what you read in the media, sometimes those lines get blurred. And I think it gets really important to keep that distinction in mind.
"I think it's unfair," Manfred said, in answer to a follow-up question, "for people to surmise that Player A did X, Y or Z, absent a positive test, or proof that we produced in an investigation, or whatever. I just think it runs contrary to a very fundamental notion in our society, that you're innocent until somebody proves you're guilty."
The commissioner said he would not include players named in the Mitchell report among those he believes are unfairly accused.
"I think the Mitchell report produced evidence of use," Manfred said.
When Manfred was asked specifically about Barry Bonds, and whether he feels there is "proof" that Bonds used PEDs, he said he would not respond to questions about any individual player. However, in answer to a more general question, Manfred hinted strongly that he does not believe Bonds would fall into the category of those who are unfairly maligned.
"I think you get to the point, on any individual player -- I'm talking about just as a general proposition, not necessarily talking about Barry Bonds," the commissioner said. "You get to a point where there's a quantum of credible evidence out there that you can make a judgment that he did something.
"The guys I'm concerned about are, there are players out there who are talked about where there is literally nothing. They have nothing, other than, you know, 'He looked like X.' Trust me, from somebody who spent a lot of time [investigating], you can't decide whether or not somebody was using steroids, based on what they look like. That is not enough evidence to make that determination."
Manfred did agree to answer one specific question about Bonds, however. When asked whether he considers Bonds to be the true home run champion, the commissioner replied, carefully: "I know for a fact that, based on the numbers, Barry Bonds hit more home runs than anybody else. And my view of the world is that, with words like 'true,' people have to make their own judgments about those numbers."