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Dan Shaughnessy

Lifting a bit of weight

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / December 22, 2010

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The Hall of Fame ballot goes in the mail today with check marks next to the names of Bert Blyleven, Roberto Alomar, and Jack Morris.

We won’t know who’s in until January, but this year’s ballot has some new challenges because the Steroid Boys are stepping forward in large numbers.

The Hall has a problem and it’s going to get worse every year. Baseball scribes are asked to weigh off-the-field stuff such as “character’’ and “contributions to the game,’’ and this clause puts us in the uncomfortable position of measuring moral fiber. The character clause is what’s kept Mark McGwire out of the Hall in his first four years of eligibility and it’s going to put Rafael Palmeiro and his 569 homers on the sideline when this year’s vote is announced.

Is this what fans want? I’m not so sure. Writers never have been able to vote for Pete Rose because baseball put the Gamblin’ Man on its permanently ineligible list, but I’m pretty sure the fans want him in there.

Last year Andre Dawson was the only player voted in by the scribes. Dawson was a fine player but a tad boring. Future induction ceremonies are going to be awkward when nice players are enshrined while folks such as Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds perhaps remain on the outside looking in. Is that what fans want? Where is the line as we cherrypick our way through the proven cheaters and guys who merely look suspicious?

There’s nothing wildly interesting about the players I’m voting for this year. Blyleven came within five votes of induction last year and probably will make it in 2011. This is his 14th year on the ballot. You probably remember that Jim Rice didn’t get in until his 15th and final try.

I’ve been a Blyleven guy for years (just as I stayed with a deserving Luis Tiant right up until he was tossed from contention after 15 years). Blyleven ranks fifth on the all-time strikeout list and he pitched in an era when it was tougher to strike guys out than it is today. He pitched for a lot of bad teams, but he still won 287 games and compiled an ERA of 3.31. He threw 60 shutouts and had 16 seasons of 200 innings. He pitched well in the postseason and won two World Series. He’s in.

Alomar also should be enshrined. He missed by only eight votes in his first year of eligibility and should go over the top this time. His exclusion was kind of a joke (maybe it was that spitting at the umpire episode). He was a switch-hitting second baseman, a career .300 hitter with 210 homers, 10 Gold Gloves, and 12 consecutive All-Star appearances. He was without a doubt the best at his position for more than a decade and one of the greatest 2Bs of all time.

Morris is a tougher vote. He’s not going to make it. His 3.90 ERA is high. The silly stat shut-ins don’t like him. Morris is more of a “you had to be there’’ candidate. I was at the 1991 World Series when he won Game 7, 1-0, in 10 innings. Curt Schilling fans should promote Morris. It will help the Big Lug when he makes it to the ballot.

Now let’s get to the folks who won’t get votes on this ballot.

Start with McGwire, who hit 583 homers, but never has gotten 25 percent of the vote. Big Mac finally ’fessed up to using performance-enhancers after years of “not talking about the past’’, but it won’t be enough to boost his candidacy. He’s viewed as a one-skill guy who enhanced that skill with banned substances.

This brings us to Palmeiro. He’d be a lock if he hadn’t wagged his finger at Congress, said, “I have never taken steroids,’’ then tested positive. Palmeiro’s never going to recover from that. He gets in only when we finally crack and say, “OK, it was the times we lived in. It was the Steroid Era and everybody was doing it.’’

That day isn’t here yet. So look for Juan Gonzalez to shrink on the ballot in Dave Kingman (442 homers) fashion.

Fred McGriff is another story. He hit 493 homers. There’s no hint of cheating. But he goes down as another less-than-dynamic talent who owes much of his résumé to longevity. McGriff is a mere .284 career hitter.

I’m also just saying no to Larry Walker, Kevin Brown, Barry Larkin, Alan Trammell, and Edgar Martinez (Career DH Edgar’s got a particularly vocal lobby of folks who’ve never been out of the house).

Finally, what do we do with Jeff Bagwell? He’s a career .297 hitter with 449 homers. He was an MVP. He won a Gold Glove. He had six straight seasons of 30 homers, 100 RBIs, and 100 runs. His career on base percentage is .408. Bagwell never tested positive for anything. But like a lot of players who will follow him to the ballot, he was a guy who made you wonder.

If you care about “character,’’ snubbing guys who tested positive (Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, and Manny Ramirez) is easy. Bonds and Clemens are under indictment. But they’re just the tip of the iceberg. What happens to Sammy Sosa, Pudge Rodriguez, and other players who made you raise your eyebrows? What do we do with Bagwell, who may just be a victim of cheaters around him? Where is this going?

Voting for the Hall of Fame is a great honor. Too bad it’s become almost impossible to stay consistent. I’d better put extra stamps on the envelope. The ballot gets heavier every year.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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