- - Thursday, January 19, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION

Our long national nightmare is over — Tim Raines was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The former Montreal Expos outfielder had become the cause celebre of the geek squad in his final years of eligibility on the ballot — see Washington Post headline, “Tim Raines’ Hall of Fame enshrinement is a victory for stats geeks everywhere.”

So in his 10th and final season of ballot eligibility, Raines rode in on the victim wave, with 86 percent of the 442 ballots submitted checking the box with his name. I was not one of them.

Here was my Hall of Fame ballot: Jeff Bagwell, Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Jeff Kent, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Mike Mussina, Ivan Rodriguez and Larry Walker.

I saw the entire 23 years of Tim Raines career. I never thought he was a Hall of Famer. The stats geeks — many of whom never saw Raines play — say otherwise.

Fine. Now he’s a Hall of Famer. So that injustice has been righted.

There remain victims, though, those players on the ballot the no justice/no peace wing of the baseball writers believe are being persecuted for cheating.

“Persecuted for cheating.” Say those words to yourself. Better yet, write them out. It sounds and looks simply foolish.

Yet the Hall of Fame ballot has now become the annual referendum on Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. And their supporters — the writers who chronicled the Cheated Generation, and, like the Cheated Generation fans, are angrily seeking validation — continue to disrespect and try to bully those voters who believe that Bonds and Clemens should not be honored for cheating their teammates, the fans and the game.

They cheered the fact that both Bonds’ and Clemens’ vote totals jumped this year. Clemens received 54.1 percent of the vote, compared to 45.2 percent last year, and Bonds garnered 53.8 percent, compared to 44.3 percent on the last ballot.

Those increases, along with the induction of Mike Piazza last year and Rodriguez and Bagwell joining Raines in the Hall of Fame this year, has freedom fighters like Bob Costas believing you can go ahead and order the plaques for Bonds and Clemens now.

That may be, and if so, fine. But this narrative also has the smell of fake news, with the vote totals and results on the ballot meaning something other than what is real.

Here’s what’s real — both Bonds and Clemens are still more than 20 percent shy of reaching the 75 percent support one needs to be elected to the Hall of Fame.

And, though supporters won’t admit it, their vote totals this year fell short of what they expected them to be.

Trevor Hoffman, at 74 percent, and Vladimir Guerrero, at 71.7 percent, fell short.

They will be on the ballot again next year, and years after that, until they are either elected or reach the 10-year term limit to be on the ballot. Bonds and Clemens will have to compete with both of them.

They’ll also have to compete next year with at least two Hall of Fame locks who come on the ballot — Chipper Jones and Jim Thome. Andruw Jones also comes on the ballot next year, as well as the greatest shortstop with a glove I ever saw, Omar Vizquel.

They all will be on the ballot, competing with Bonds and Clemens, next year and for years to come.

Add that in subsequent seasons the names of Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter, and you have the 75 percent neighborhood for perhaps the final five years of eligibility for Bonds and Clemens.

Plus those other candidates who were in the same neighborhood as Bonds and Clemens this year — Edgar Martinez at 58.6 percent and Mike Mussina at 51.8 percent — will also be competing for votes. And, as we have seen, the number of those reaching 75 percent is typically two in any given year. This year’s class of three is not the rule.

The election of Piazza last year and Rodriguez and Bagwell this year has been twisted into a narrative that because all three were suspected performance-enhancing drug users, the doors will open for Bonds and Clemens.

They fail to see the differences, as some voters are smart enough to do, between suspected cheaters and Bonds and Clemens, rejecting this notion that because you don’t know about everyone, you can’t judge anyone — even the ones you know used PEDs.

Bonds is an admitted cheater, testifying under oath in a grand jury that he used the substances, but claimed not to know what they were.

Clemens was the biggest name in the Mitchell Report, which the no justice/no peace writers wing tries to discredit at every turn. Call me crazy, but I chose to believe a report issued by a former United States senator — George Mitchell, who brokered peace in Northern Ireland — and investigated by a tough former federal drug prosecutor in Baltimore than I do Roger Clemens.

And when Clemens finally had a chance to take the stand to clear his name, he begged off in a defamation suit — not filed by Clemens but against him by his accuser, former trainer Brian McNamee — opting to settle before it went to trial.

Another “false” narrative is that because the commissioner of baseball during this time, Bud Selig, was elected to Cooperstown by special committee in December, that should open the door for all cheaters, since he presided over that era.

What’s real, though, is that the lack of strict testing during the steroid era falls primarily in the lap of the players’ union, which rebuffed efforts by Selig to add stricter testing.

The commissioner can’t unilaterally install drug testing. It’s a bargaining issue, and it only changed when leaders of the players’ union were embarrassed watching its members dragged up to Capitol Hill in hearings and shamed in the national spotlight.

There is no “wall” against steroid users coming down. Sammy Sosa, who had a positive drug test reported on the 2003 list that was reported by the New York Times, is barely hanging on at 9 percent. Gary Sheffield, named in the Mitchell Report, is at 13.3 percent, and Manny Ramirez, with two PED suspensions on his resume, received 23.8 percent of the vote.

While Bonds and Clemens may make it in the next five years, none of these others are climbing the “wall.”

This is about Bonds and Clemens, at least for now. If they remain on the ballot through their final year, it’s also when David Ortiz (2003 positive test) and Alex Rodriguez (two-time admitted cheater, one-year suspension) become eligible.
The “wall” will still likely be there.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes and Google Play.


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