By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former major leaguer Ken Griffey Sr. said on Thursday his son earned induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame the "right way" but still feels bad for stars of the so-called Steroids Era who have been denied entry.
Speaking to Reuters a day after Ken Griffey Jr. was elected to the Hall of Fame in record fashion, the elder Griffey said that some who have been overlooked by voting members of the baseball writers' association belong in Cooperstown.
Griffey Sr., a former outfielder who won two World Series titles with the Cincinnati Reds, said performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) inflated some records, but gave credit to the likes of former sluggers Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa for their feats.
"They made contact, they played hard, just like we did, and they still had to hit the ball. They still did it," he said after his son and Mike Piazza, the other member of the Class of 2016, donned their Cooperstown jerseys at a news conference.
"It's an opinion thing," the 65-year-old Griffey said, acknowledging that many view them as cheaters. "But my look at it, they put up the stats, the numbers. I think they should be in the Hall of Fame."
McGwire smashed 70 homers in 1998, while Sosa belted 66 in an enthralling duel that captured a nation and shattered the single season home run mark of 61 set by Roger Maris in 1961.
The duo staged another power show the next season, and may have spurred on others, including Barry Bonds, to muscle up.
McGwire, who has admitted using PEDs, was named on 12.3 percent of ballots while Sosa was on 7 percent, both well shy of the 75 percent needed for election.
The duo put on their home run derby four years after a players-owners labor conflict led to cancellation of the 1994 postseason and helped revitalize fan interest.
"If it wasn't for Mark and Sammy, those two years that they were going for all those home runs, baseball would never have brought fans back," the elder Griffey said.
"Now they blame them for something. That's the tough thing. During the time they were doing it, everyone loved that. And all of a sudden they found out he was doing steroids, whatever ... now they want to turn against them. I thought that was wrong."
Bonds, a seven-time National League MVP who in 2001 raised the home run record to 73 and retired as the all-time home run leader, received 44.3 percent in his fourth year on the ballot.
Seven-time Cy Young winner Roger Clemens, linked to PED use, was named on 45.2 percent.
Both Bonds and Clemens gained more than seven percent from last year's voting.
Suspicion by some that Piazza may have used PEDs might have kept the slugging catcher from winning election until his fourth year as a candidate.
No such doubts were ever harbored about Griffey Jr., the brilliant all-round talent, whose flowing swing produced 630 career home runs to go with 184 stolen bases and 10 Gold Glove awards for sensational defensive skills in center field.
In his first year of eligibility, Griffey Jr. got a record 99.3 percent of the vote, eclipsing the previous mark of 98.84 percent set by Tom Seaver in 1992.
"He did it the right way," his proud papa said. "He didn't like being pumped. He didn't like to pump up when he lifted weights, so he wouldn't lift the weight."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)