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Effects of steroids are felt

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / January 6, 2011

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We have entered the Steroid Era of Hall of Fame voting.

The deeper we get, the better guys like Jim Rice and Bert Blyleven look.

Which is why Blyleven, in his 14th year of eligibility, was one of two new Hall of Famers announced yesterday, along with Roberto Alomar. And it is why players with Hall of Fame numbers — Jeff Bagwell, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, and Juan Gonzalez — did not get much support.

Gonzalez, in fact, received only 5.2 percent of the vote, just enough to keep him on the ballot. He was a two-time AL MVP who hit 434 home runs.

Bagwell, who has never been linked in any way to performance-enhancing drugs, received 41.7 percent, which bodes well for him in the future.

But Bagwell was likely a victim of suspicion. The kid who left the Red Sox organization in 1990 in a deal with Houston for reliever Larry Andersen went from gap hitter to power hitter and racked up some very impressive numbers in his long career. Bagwell has denied he ever used anything — and if he didn’t, we’re sorry, but blame his peers, some of whom got caught and some of whom didn’t. They’re the ones who created the suspicion.

The 581 voters — of which I am one — clearly decided to snub the known steroid users and those suspected. If the other voters are like me, they did so not because they’ve necessarily established a game plan for dealing with the Steroid Era, but because that game plan is still emerging.

We’re all hoping time will sort it out, that by not voting for certain players we’re trying to buy time to put things into context. It may be black and white for some, but for many it’s very complicated.

Neither the Hall of Fame nor the Baseball Writers Association of America will set down guidelines for dealing with this era.

At this point, the only thing I’m sure about is that I will not vote for players who tested positive after the steroid policy was in place. So Palmeiro did not get my vote, and Manny Ramirez won’t, either.

USA Today baseball columnist Bob Nightengale had a different view.

“I voted for Rafael Palmeiro because his numbers are simply too great to ignore,’’ Nightengale said. “I’ll also vote for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and others linked to steroids if they have the numbers.

“It’s just impossible to know who was clean and who was dirty. Why should we keep guys out of the Hall of Fame who were linked to steroids and let others into the Hall of Fame simply because they weren’t caught? Besides, how do we even know there isn’t a player or two in the Hall of Fame who used steroids?

“The guys I feel bad for are players like Fred McGriff. He played the game clean, put up unbelievable numbers year after year, and yet is being penalized because his stats were dwarfed by guys who used performance-enhancing drugs.’’

So lately the BBWAA has voted in players who look clean: Rice, Blyleven, Andre Dawson. Alomar was never suspected of PED use, though he’s had off-field issues, and the spitting incident with umpire John Hirschbeck in 1996 might have prompted some to withhold votes as a protest last year, Alomar’s first year of eligibility. This time, Alomar received 90 percent of the vote.

You have to wonder whether Rice, Dawson, and Blyleven would have been elected if the Steroid Era never happened. That it took so long for Blyleven raises red flags, as it did with Rice and Dawson.

Yet the guys who are in are very protective of the game.

Rice, for one, has been very outspoken about how cheaters shouldn’t be allowed in.

Blyleven was asked yesterday about the message voters sent.

“The writers are saying that this was the Steroid Era, like they have done with Mark McGwire,’’ Blyleven said. “They’ve kind of made their point. It doesn’t surprise me.

“Guys cheated. They cheated themselves and their teammates. The game of baseball is to be played clean.’’

Palmeiro had a noteworthy career, one that was promoted in this corner for years. He got only 11 percent of the vote in his first try, enough to stay on the ballot, but where he goes from here is anyone’s guess.

This is a guy in the same company as Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Eddie Murray as the only players with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. But he did a really stupid thing: He tested positive, and was suspended in 2005. The worst part was that it came just a few months after he testified before Congress, wagging his finger and saying, “I have never used steroids. Period.’’

As much as McGwire’s supporters try to pump him up as a terrific guy, the fact remains, he did it. And that his vote percentage dropped from 23.7 to 19.8 in his fifth year on the ballot means the admissions he made before taking over as Cardinals hitting coach last season didn’t help.

So here we are, smack in the middle of the Steroid Era of Hall of Fame voting. It seems those who did it and those suspected of doing it are going to have a tough road ahead.

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