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Steroids issue will dominate voting

Hear from Barry Larkin after being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Hear from Barry Larkin after being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
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Tracy Ringolsby

Tracy Ringolsby is a Hall of Fame baseball writer. He is in his 37th year covering Major League Baseball, is a co-founder of Baseball America, and is in his fourth year as pregame and postgame analyst for Colorado Rockies games on Root Sports.

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COOPERSTOWN, NY

On a gorgeous Sunday afternoon in upstate New York, Barry Larkin and the late Ron Santo became the latest inductees into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

HALL'S FAIR

Ken Rosenthal says it's actually a good thing that nobody was voted into the HOF this year.

Storm clouds, however, are moving closer.

The great debate of suspicions and accusations is looming.

The Steroid Era is about to hit the Hall of Fame in full force.

Mark McGwire has been on the ballot considered by veteran members of the Baseball Writers Association of America the past six years, and Rafael Palmeiro has been a candidate the past two.

Now comes the true test.

Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza and Sammy Sosa will join McGwire and Palmeiro on the ballot this December for the players to be inducted July 28, 2013.

No longer is greatness on the field enough to satisfy many of the voters. Suddenly, BBWAA members have decided to be judge and jury, willing to convict in the court of public opinion on the basis of assumptions, presuming guilt even when proved innocent.

Think about it. Clemens was acquitted last month of lying to Congress during its investigation of drug use by athletes, but there are Hall of Fame voters who have already publicly announced they wouldn’t vote for him.

Sorry. That mentality doesn’t wash.

And Bob Gibson, as great a competitor and pitcher as the game has ever seen, says it well.

"I don’t care if they get in or not," Gibson said during the weekend ceremonies. "Players have always tried to cheat. This is a little different, but players have been cheating for years. But it’s not up to me, anyway. It’s up to the writers."

It is humorous to hear Pete Rose and his legion of fans moan about steroids and the fact that players who might have used them could be voted into the Hall of Fame while Rose, who admitted to gambling on the game, is banned for life for his misstep.

Funny, isn’t it, how Rose and his backers so quickly skim over how much he allegedly relied on amphetamines throughout his career? In the '60s and '70s, "uppers" were readily available in big-league clubhouses, even though they were illegal.

The cocaine problems of the late '70s and early '80s have not been held against the likes of a Paul Molitor or current candidate Tim Raines.

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The fact that Whitey Ford or Gaylord Perry or Don Drysdale doctored baseballs was not enough to keep them out of the Hall of Fame.

And what about the pre-1950s Hall of Famers? They never had to play night games. They never had to travel west of St. Louis. That was pre-Jackie Robinson, which meant they never had to face the dominant athletes of the Negro Leagues who were denied big-league opportunity because of their skin color.

The writers haven’t been very forgiving, so far. McGwire has seen his support decline from 23.5 percent in his debut on the ballot for the Class of 2007 to 19.5 percent this year. Palmeiro managed only 11 percent support a year ago, and 12.6 percent this year.

They have, however, been a little more forgiving to Jeff Bagwell, who saw his support increase from 41.7 percent in his debut a on the Class of 2011 ballot to 56 percent this year. But then Bagwell has never been accused of any wrongdoing. He has only been questioned for his on-field success by those who wonder how he could have emerged into such a dominant player.

That, in itself, is an indictment of some, who despite having no proof are willing to deny someone such as Bagwell his proper recognition.

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There is no indication that the voting process is going to change.

The Hall of Fame is not planning any change to its rules, despite the suggestion by some that the "morals clause" be removed so that baseball voters can focus solely on what a player accomplishes on the field, the parameter used by the Pro Football Hall, and diminish the annual grousing about the vote being conducted by the BBWAA instead of a broader base.

"The writers hold the keys to the elections," said Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson. "We’re very comfortable with the rules we’ve put forth. Whoever the writers select, if anyone, we’ll honor them, and they’ll be represented just like anyone else in the Hall of Fame gallery. You’re either a Hall of Famer, or you’re not."

Idelson said no "steroid era" label will be attached to any such inductee.

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OLD TIMERS

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"When you walk through the plaque gallery, you see that we don’t discern anywhere between different eras of baseball, and I don’t see any reason why we would start today," Idelson said. "Having the mantle of Hall of Famer supersedes any one point in time or any one event, and I feel that our guys take that role seriously and love coming back to Cooperstown.’’

There has been speculation that some current Hall of Famers would boycott the induction ceremonies if a suspected steroid user is elected.

The BBWAA, however, will have its say first.

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