- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The takeaway from this year’s Hall of Fame balloting is Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens likely will get in within the next five years. Shame it couldn’t be this one.

Because those two sharing the stage with former commissioner Bud Selig at induction ceremonies in Cooperstown this summer would have been priceless, a photo worth more than a million words.

That way, the next time a kid asks about baseball’s “supersized” era, you just show him the picture, make a serious face and say, “A clear conscience might be overrated.”

In the same frame, you’d have the greatest hitter and pitcher - and shameless opportunists - of their generation, together with the commissioner who didn’t really want to know how Bonds and Clemens and who-knows-how-many-others got bigger and better even as they got older, until it was too late.

Either way, all three will be linked forever. Each played a big role in pulling the game out of a rut the owners dug after canceling the remainder of 1994-95 season and the World Series. They also got rich in the bargain.

The message embedded in the 2017 Hall vote is fewer and fewer people - fans, and not just baseball writers - care to remember how.

Top vote-getter Jeff Bagwell has been called a “steroid apologist,” which might be charitable considering some of the opinions he’s shared on use of performance-enhancers. Ivan Rodriguez, one of several ballplayers called out by former player and noted braggadocio Jose Canseco, got in as well.

Last month, the veterans’ panel extended the honor to Selig, now commissioner emeritus but the office-holder when the hanky-panky both commenced and likely tapered off. On Wednesday, Bonds and Clemens, punished or largely ignored by Hall voters through their first five years of eligibility, both crossed the 50 percent threshold this time around, a roughly 10 percent increase.

Clemens finished at 54.1 percent and Bonds at 53.8; most of their peers who hit that mark, especially in recent years, get welcomed inside at some point.

We’ll never get credible numbers about how many players in their era were doping. The anecdotal evidence says plenty, since everybody from power hitters to rag-armed relievers got nabbed as baseball patched the gaping holes in its dragnet.

Some players benefited more than others. But it’s worth noting Bonds and Clemens were solid Hall of Fame candidates entering the supersized era, as well as giants during much of it.

If you are looking for solace regarding their likely inclusion in the Hall, it’s this: They might have cheated the game, but they absolutely cheated themselves.

Either might have staked a claim to being among the greatest of any era and instead, they’ll always be defined by the era they dominated - a suitable asterisk to be sure.

For some others, the stain may be indelible. Sammy Sosa still can’t muster enough votes to be the janitor at the Hall, and won’t be climbing up the ranks anytime soon. Mark McGwire’s 10th and last year of eligibility has passed and the veterans’ committees - while giving Selig a pass - tend to have a longer memory.

It’s rough justice, to be sure, but it’s better than none at all. It does a disservice to anybody who played clean, too. But fans have been picking and choosing their way through the record book since there was one.

Blacks and Latinos were excluded from the game for decades. Amphetamine use was rumored to be widespread in the 1960s and ‘70s. Who’s in a position to factor any - let alone all - of it into a mix.

In that sense, the 2017 ballot wasn’t all that different. The voters were simply reflecting the softening position of fans - especially younger ones - on the subject of performance-enhancing drugs.

No one can say with certainty how much cleaner baseball is now. What’s clear, though, is that people worry about it a lot less.

___

Jim Litke is a sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at [email protected] and https://Twitter.com/JimLitke

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