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Hall of Fame stays clean

COMMENTARY

January 10, 2013|Steve Dilbeck
  • Hall of Famers such as former Reds shortstop Barry Larkin have been adamant that players linked to performance-enhancing drugs should not be enshrined in Cooperstown.
Hall of Famers such as former Reds shortstop Barry Larkin have been adamant… (Tim Roske / Associated Press )

The Hall of Fame remains standing. There is no storming of the gates, no frenzied pitch-forked mob, no cries for a John McClane rescue.

Checked with representatives of the Baseball Writers' Assn. of America, who confirmed that they actually will come back and do this little Hall of Fame voting thing again next year.

Must be tough news for the indignant. For the morally outraged. For all those who cannot conceive that the baseball writers would fail to vote in Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens, or anyone else.

Wednesday brought us perhaps the most significant and scrutinized Hall of Fame vote ever. It brought the first real steroid class, led by Bonds and Clemens. Brought more hand-wringing than a teenager on the eve of a first prom.

If the past of those two were not so muddled with steroid accusations, their voting totals would have been over 90% and the only clamor would be from those decrying they weren't voted in unanimously.

But they did not come close, both receiving slightly more than a third of the vote when 75% is required. They may never get in, though no one can say with any real certainty.

And that's fine, that's how it should be. This is all unprecedented and there is no easy or simple way to address it. For those who think Wednesday was a sad day for baseball, it was representative of a sad baseball era.

It's clear writers are conflicted. They are still wrestling with an awkward and uncomfortable position, their opinions all over the baseball map.

"I'm glad I'm not a voter," Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly said. "It's tough for me with the steroid era. It makes it so tough to know whose numbers are real and whose aren't real and how long were they not real. I don't know. It's hard to judge."

Voters can put up to 10 players on their ballots, though only 22% did this year. Still, some want the ballot pushed to 12 or 15 or unlimited.

If you put 10 or 15 guys on your ballot, that's how many you think should go in, which is puzzling. It's the Hall of Fame, as they say, not the Hall of the Really Good. This is the greatest Hall of Fame in all sports.

Major League Baseball's statement on the matter was spot on: "Achieving enshrinement in Cooperstown is difficult, as it should be."

The writers' one clear message was that if you are suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs, doors to the Hall will not gleefully swing open.

"Come on in, get your bloated head through the door! All's forgiven. You poor baby, you were just a product of the times."

It didn't happen. Now maybe some writers just couldn't bring themselves to vote for Bonds and Clemens on their first ballot and will give them the nod next year. Maybe some are still waffling and will, as Mattingly said, "soften" their stance with the years.

Or maybe there are enough hard-liners who believe if you cheat, you don't get in. Not ever. There are 14 more years to find out for certain.

And for those who moan baseball did not begin testing for steroids until 2003 and they weren't illegal until then, understand MLB actually banned steroids in 1991. The players just didn't agree to testing in collective bargaining until 2002.

Wednesday's voting had three levels: 1. Guys who earned more than 57% of the vote who were only suspected of using steroids (Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell); 2. Guys who most feel certain did cheat (Bonds, Clemens); and 3. Guys who were caught or admitted to PEDs and received less than 17% (Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro).

The indignant reaction to the results is over the top. The Hall will be no less credible if Bonds and Clemens never get their 75%. There are exhibits of their exploits in Cooperstown, balls and bats from their accomplishments. They are actually in the Hall of Fame. They just won't be enshrined with a plaque. So they won't have to stand giving an awkward acceptance speech in front of Hall of Fame members who did not cheat.

This is the eighth time no player was voted in, and the Hall of Fame survived every time before. It will again this time.

The outrage led by the numbers-worshiping sabermetric types toward the writers is curious.

"We remain very comfortable with the process," said Jeff Idelson, Hall of Fame president. "It's a tough time for evaluation. Any group you put this to would have the same issues."

It's not a perfect system. And this time, that felt fitting. McClane can stand down.

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sports@latimes.com

Times staff writer Dylan Hernandez contributed to this article.

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