- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Call the Class of 2006 for the National Baseball Hall of Fame the calm before the storm.

Bruce Sutter was the only player who received enough votes from baseball writers to be elected to the Hall. And he barely got in, receiving just 1.9 percent more than the necessary 75 percent of the vote to gain entrance.

So on July 30, the Sutter family will be in Cooperstown along with a few other tourists. Let’s face it, the split-fingered fastball may have saved 300 games, but few fans will make a pilgrimage to pay homage to Bruce Sutter. He may have been best known for his success with the Cardinals, with whom he was part of the 1982 World Series championship team. But he spent just four seasons in St. Louis, so he is hardly a franchise icon like Ozzie Smith, who made up the last class of one to enter Cooperstown in 2002.

It was a strange year for Hall of Fame voting because there were no clear-cut candidates. This was Sutter’s 13th year on the ballot. Two more and he would have been banished to veteran’s committee land, where it is much more difficult to get in these days.

Because there were no favorites, it seemed like a few other borderline candidates might get the nod. It looked like the best chance for Jim Rice (382 home runs, 1,451 RBI) and Andre Dawson (438 home runs, 1,591 RBI) to get elected — not only because of a weakened field but also because in light of the furor over steroids, the power numbers of these players would be better received.

But they weren’t received well enough to break into Cooperstown. Rice came close, finishing second in the voting with 64.8 percent, and Dawson was fourth at 61 percent. So it really isn’t clear what the fallout, if any, is among voters about steroids and the impact on Hall of Fame credentials.

By this time next year, it will be.

The Class of 2007 will be so hot we might as well start talking about it now. It was once considered the Hall’s Dream Season, but it could consist of two dreams — Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn — and one nightmare named Mark McGwire.

The hoopla surrounding Ripken’s induction will be off the charts. They have been planning this in Cooperstown for several years now. People planning to attend this ceremony might have to go to Canada to find a hotel room.

Gwynn was not as big a star and had primarily a West Coast presence, but he was the premier hitter of his time and won eight National League batting titles. Plus, both Ripken and Gwynn spent their entire careers with the same team.

Given the pathetic state of the franchise these days, all Orioles fans have is tradition and memories. There will be a parade from Baltimore the likes of which the small New York town has never seen.

But what of McGwire? Will writers pass on him because of the circumstantial evidence he used steroids, compounded by his refusal to answer questions at the Congressional hearing in March? Or will they feel compelled, in light of a lack of proof, to recognize his 583 career home runs and the 70 home run season in the Summer of Illusion and vote him in?

Will they punish him by keeping him out on the first ballot, then give him a pass after that? If he is elected, what type of reception will McGwire receive from the Hall of Fame members on hand to greet him? Some of them have expressed anger about the players who used steroids to inflate their numbers and deflate the accomplishments of players from past eras.

Whether McGwire is in or out, steroids will be an issue in Hall of Fame voting for years to come. McGwire can remain on the ballot for 15 years, providing he gets the requisite 5 percent of the vote each year. Then there will be Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and, just for the sake of comic relief, Rafael Palmeiro.

For those who believe steroids should not impact the chance of a candidate, consider that among the six criteria for voting are integrity, sportsmanship and character. There may not be drug test data available for some of those players, but you don’t have to be a chemist to see they failed those criteria.

Oh yes. By the way, know who else will be eligible for the first time next year? Jose Canseco.

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