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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Hall of Fame decisions, and some other picks

Picked-up pieces while filling out my Hall of Fame ballot . . .

Yes on Cal Ripken, Tony Gwynn, Jim Rice, Bert Blyleven, and Rich Gossage. No on Mark McGwire, Andre Dawson, and Harold Baines.

Ripken and Gwynn are going to cruise to Cooperstown on the first ballot when the results are announced next month. Gossage has a shot. Rice will have to wait until next year. Blyleven, maybe never. More on them in a minute.

I have been dreading this McGwire question for a long time, hoping new information might surface before the Dec. 31 deadline. Alas, we have nothing new and our last image of Big Mac was his de facto steroid confession in March of 2005. Too bad. I loved the guy. He helped bring the game back with Sammy Sosa in 1998 and he hit a whopping 583 homers in his career.

But it's impossible to escape the conclusion that he was juicing -- even though he hit 49 homers in his rookie season when he was downright lanky. It'll always be impossible to quantify how much he was helped by artificial means, but McGwire's credentials are based solely on his power, and there's every indication that his power was artificially enhanced.

We can all argue about baseball's ambiguous policies and the number of sinners in Cooperstown, but this ballot does not have to stand up to a court of law. So he doesn't get this vote, and that's going to make it difficult for me down the road with Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, and, yes, Barry Bonds.

Ripken should be unanimous, of course, but he won't get every vote. No one ever does. It's impossible to get 520 baseball writers to agree that today is Wednesday, and there will always be curmudgeons who hold out because Player X was not a first-ballot Hall of Famer. It's a bogus argument. A guy is in or he's out. First-ballot status is an artificial milestone. So Ripken will get a Tom Seaveresque 98 percent of the votes, and Gwynn won't be far behind.

Baines, another first-time caller, will come up short because he didn't reach 3,000 hits. If he feels bad, he should consider the lack of respect given to Dawson (56 more homers than Rice) and Albert Belle (picked on 7.7 percent of ballots last year despite Rice-like numbers and disposition). Blyleven, with his 287 wins for many bad teams and fifth all-time in strikeouts, always gets shortchanged by voters. Gossage got 64.6 percent of the votes last year (75 percent is needed for election), and could get some bounce in 2006.

Rice, meanwhile, had more votes than any non-electee last year (64.8 percent), but he'll probably fall back because of the strong new candidates.

The good news for Jim Ed is that Shawon Dunston, David Justice, Tim Raines, and Mike Morgan are the top new names next year. And Rice will continue to get new respect because it's obvious he dominated without the help of steroids. Rice gets elected next winter and gives his speech at Cooperstown in the summer of 2008. Make reservations now.

Apparently, it's true. Tigers flamethrower Joel Zumaya missed some time during the postseason because he had a sore wrist from playing "Guitar Hero" on PlayStation 2. Jim Leyland is said to be contemplating posting an addition to standard clubhouse rules: "no gambling," "no steroids," and now "no 'Stairway to Heaven.' "

If you got a bookstore gift certificate for Christmas, use it on Leigh Montville's "The Big Bam," or "Moving the Chains" by Charles P. Pierce. Holiday travel enabled this reader to finally inhale these literary keepers.

Montville, who filled this space better than any of us, put together a magnificent tome on the great Babe Ruth, and the story never gets old. He even has a new/old take on the ancient legend of Harry Frazee, warning us not to buy into revisionist accounts insisting that Big Harry was unfairly maligned. From "The Big Bam": " 'No, No, Nanette' was indeed part of the deal. Frazee did use the money to keep his theatrical interests afloat. The picture that had been handed down to generations of New England schoolchildren was essentially correct: Harry Frazee was the bad guy."

Meanwhile, Pierce's beautifully sculpted effort will tell you things that you never knew about Tom Brady. The section on Brady's draft day disappointment is worth the price of the book. Nancy Brady tells Pierce that after her brother wasn't picked in Round 5, he picked up a baseball bat and went for a walk. Tom Brady was out walking, bat in hand, when the Patriots called his house. There's also a poignant section dealing with Brady's bedside vigil with Maura Weis when her husband, then-Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie, was near death after gastric-bypass surgery.

Speaking of books, "Football Scouting Methods," written by the late Steve Belichick in 1963, ranked second among the top 10 most-sought-after out-of-print books, according to AbeBooks.com's BookFinder.com.

And one final book note. Make sure to avoid the latest and hopefully last Regan Books entry, a "biographical novel" of Mickey Mantle's private (read: sex) life by the shameless Peter Golenbock. The author blends fact with fiction and gives it to us in the defenseless voice of the late, great Mantle.

Tenor Roberto Alagna stormed off stage and never returned after getting booed at Teatro alla Scala in Milan earlier this month. The Italian press had no idea what he was talking about when he made a postshow remark about Johnny from Burger King. Fortunately, Alagna will not be asked to close games at Fenway Park this year.

Anybody else wondering whether BC's Sean Williams is a lottery pick? The Eagles, by the way, are home tomorrow night against the Duquesne squad that was devastated by a shooting that left five players hospitalized in mid-September.

It got lost in Dice Mania and the increasingly curious case of J.D. Drew, but when we take stock next October, the Red Sox' deal for Brendan Donnelly might be one of Theo Epstein's best. This guy was nothing less than sensational in his years with the Angels. Great pickup.

According to Baseball America, Newton's Jack McGeary is the fifth-best high school prospect in the country. A senior at Roxbury Latin, the 6-foot-3-inch, 200-pound lefty is committed to Stanford but no doubt will be fielding a big pro offer come June. McGeary played middle-school travel basketball with Wake Forest's Anthony Gurley and BU's Corey Lowe.

The Final Days of Tom Coughlin in New York are mildly reminiscent of the last days of Bill Fitch with the 1982-83 Celtics and John McNamara with the 1988 Red Sox. Ugly way to finish. And it's tough to see good-guy Ernie Accorsi (retiring Giants GM) finish a great career on such a low note. The New York tabloids are calling for the Giants to hire Scott Pioli and Charlie Weis. And speaking of ex-Patriot coaches, Eric Mangini (a.k.a. he who cannot be named) pulled a page from the Belichick playbook this week and got Smokin' Joe Frazier to deliver a message to the Jets.

Think we'll ever know how Ken Griffey Jr. broke his hand . . . at home?

"Rocky Balboa" is cornball, but I liked it anyway. Reminded me of "Yo Adriaen's Landing" in Hartford. Anybody else remember those days?

Corey (run for four, take five) Dillon would have gotten along with Pedro Martinez -- another guy who saw demons in every corner and never felt he got proper respect around here. Million-dollar paychecks and nonstop applause would do the job for most of us.

Patriot wideout Reche Caldwell majored in "leisure service management" at the University of Florida. Supply your own punch line.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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