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End the shutout: Baseball Hall of Fame’s ongoing exclusion of ‘Steroid Era’ players makes it less than elite

Baseball Hall of Fame
Credit: Jack Gruber / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Baseball Hall of Fame will announce another class of inductees Tuesday, one that will no doubt include Adrian Beltre as a first-year eligible player on the ballot.

Early voting numbers show Beltre to be a lock to receive more than 75 percent of the votes required from the baseball writers.

Along with holdovers Todd Helton and Billy Wagner, Joe Mauer, another ballot rookie, has a decent chance of joining Beltre and Eras Committee inductee Jim Leyland in the esteemed class of 2024.

If all four players were to achieve baseball immortality this year, their Hall induction would be the ultimate testament to their on-field greatness, to careers that represented excellence deserving of the game’s highest honor.

Kudos to them. Job well done. Congratulations.

Yet it’s too bad they weren’t the best players on the ballot.

Then again, that’s nothing new. The best players on the ballot haven’t been voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame for nearly two decades.

Otherwise, Cooperstown would already include the plaques of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire.

Pretty soon, you can add Gary Sheffield, Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez — three players on the current ballot — to the names of ostracized players who will never appear in the vaunted enshrinement room unless they buy a ticket.

Baseball Hall of Fame shuts out ‘Steroid Era’ players

Baseball Hall of Fame
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

So, let’s address the massive syringe in the room. None of the Baseball Writers Association of America voters has thrown a ball in a Major League Baseball game, yet they’ve collectively pitched a perfect game against any players connected negatively to “The Steroid Era,” whether they were proven PED users or not.

This is what makes the Baseball Hall of Fame both funny and phony. It’s an institution established to honor the best of the nation’s greatest pastime, yet the doors have been closed to — most notably — the two players who’ve won the sport’s top regular-season awards more than anyone in MLB history (seven MVPs for Bonds, seven Cy Youngs for Clemens).

Oh, they’ve been given the obligatory chance. With more than 10 years of MLB service, the aforementioned players have had their names placed on the ballot, but as almost a sick joke.

Bonds and Clemens came the closest to the 75-percent mark in their final year of eligibility, yet like the rest of their PED-accused brethren, they were essentially left on the ballot to just rot and go away quietly after a 10-year tease.

This year Sheffield, in his 10th and final year on the ballot, is taking his turn as the jilted player who falls painfully short. And then he’ll get passed onto one of the Eras Committees, where the chances of a “Steroid Era” player getting a sniff goes from slim to none.

How can you have a Baseball Hall of Fame that leaves out six of MLB’s top 15 all-time home run hitters but leaves in light-hitting shortstop Rabbit Maranville?

At least the Hall is remarkably consistent with the commissioner’s office, which continues to keep the all-time hits leader, Pete Rose, on the permanently ineligible list, even though it’s never been proven that he either bet on his team or threw a game as a manager or player .

Baseball Hall of Fame’s ‘archaic’ voting process

Baseball Hall of Fame
Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

The Baseball Hall of Fame voting process is as archaic as the sheet of paper the voters receive through the U.S. Postal Service each year. The voters check the boxes provided for no more than 10 candidates and then send it back in an envelope that must be postmarked by midnight Dec. 31. God forbid you forget the stamp.

The BBWAA voters don’t cast votes as much as they deliver judgments about each player based on Rule No. 5 of the BBWAA Rules of Election: “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”

This is baseball’s version of the Supreme Court, although there are more than 400 voters acting as judge and jury, interpreting “integrity, sportsmanship (and) character” more than 400 different ways.

And in bestowing the game’s highest honor, they render a career-defining verdict based as much on their own version of morality as it is on a player’s performance.

Certainly, players like A-Rod, Ramirez and Palmeiro were suspended for using PEDs and getting caught. A-Rod sat out the entire 2014 season as punishment, and Ramirez was suspended twice for a total of 150 games.

But once they served their sentence, shouldn’t any discussion about their Hall of Fame candidacy go back to focusing on their baseball exploits?

No need for voters to act as judges for Baseball Hall of Fame

Baseball Hall of Fame
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The BBWAA has voted 135 players into the Hall over the years, with 33 coming since the first steroid era player (McGwire) debuted on the ballot in 2007.

Does that mean the previous 102 players were upstanding citizens? Did they never take greenies, or doctor baseballs, or sharpen their spikes to a razor’s edge, or commit crimes, or abuse alcohol, or gamble away millions, or mistreat their families, or God knows what else?

To use a voting process to cast aspersions on some players for making poor choices but not on others is nothing more than a comically unfair abuse of power.

It’s written into the Rules of Election that the Board of Directors of the Hall of Fame “reserves the right to revoke, alter or amend these rules at any time.” Why not take aim at changing Rule No. 5 so the voters can weigh a player’s ability to play baseball over whether they’re a beacon of the community?

The BBWAA will get it right this year when Hall of Fame president Josh Rawitch announces the first-ballot induction of Beltre, but will get it wrong with superior players like A-Rod and Ramirez just gathering moss on the ballot until their time is up.

It’s time to admit the game’s truly elite players and leave morality at the door of your local places of worship. Otherwise, the ongoing result is this absurdity called the Baseball Hall of Fame, where “shame” is the more appropriate word for a hallowed place that puts more of a premium on PEDs than RBIs and ERAs.

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