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Steroids make Cooperstown voters blind

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There are semi-serious calls today for an investigation into the 16 baseball writers who inexplicably refused to vote Greg Maddux into the Hall of Fame. Some critics are even more outraged, insisting that anyone who said no to Maddux should have their voting privileges revoked. To this we say: Chill. Please. This is not Dennis Rodman’s North Korea.

Still, it’s fair to wonder what it’ll take for a unanimous election to Cooperstown. So far, no one’s made the grade, including Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Hank Aaron, so Maddux shouldn’t take it personally. But if these generational superstars couldn’t make a strong enough case for a clean sweep, then maybe no one can. Not even Mariano Rivera in five years.

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It’s just one of the many flaws of the Hall’s selection process, that some voters refuse to vote for any candidate in their first year of eligibility. It’s nonsense, of course. There was no logical reason to ignore Maddux, and anyone who thinks Rivera shouldn’t get in on the first ballot should really ask themselves why they’re participating in the process.

Rivera went out as the greatest closer in the game’s history — it wasn’t even close. There’s no need to recite his career highlights, because we’ve all memorized them by now. If you’re not convinced Rivera stands alone among relievers, that there’ll never be a closer like him, then you have no business here. Move along.

One could almost make the same argument about Maddux, whose 355 wins represented the most of any right-hander since the Second World War. Maddux didn’t just accumulate victories, he dominated hitters in the middle of the steroid era without a 90-mph fastball.

But that stopped at least one voter dead in his tracks.’s Ken Gurnick revealed on Monday he passed over Maddux precisely because his 23-year career spanned the decade during which baseball was fueled by syringes. Of course, no one ever accused Maddux of using performance enhancing drugs, but Gurnick, who voted only for Jack Morris, painted with the widest-possible brush, refusing to cast his ballot for any candidate who was around in the late ’90s to the mid-2000s. Presumably, that means Gurnick will say "take that" to Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson next year — and Rivera in 2019 — but the tempest has already past. Gurnick, reeling from the blowback, says he’ll never vote in another Cooperstown election.

Still, his logic underscores the narrow thinking that diminishes the Hall every year. Granted, this is a democracy and everyone is entitled to an opinion and a vote. That will never change. But baseball could help itself by issuing guidelines for steroid-era candidates, for example, and help enlighten voters who either can’t or won’t think through their arguments.

The case of Mike Piazza represents a particular low-point in this mess. The greatest-hitting catcher in the game’s history barely received 60 per cent of the votes on Wednesday, and even that was a 5 per cent jump from last year. Why? Because Piazza has been linked to steroids by voters who simply don’t trust him.

Without any proof, Piazza was rounded up with the usual suspects because he just fit the profile: a slugger who amassed great offensive numbers against a backdrop of widespread steroid use. Mind you, Piazza never failed a drug test, was never named in the Mitchell Report and has maintained he was clean all along. If anyone has better, more specific information about Piazza’s about use of PED’s, I’d like to see it.

Still, Piazza is climbing in the voting, and I believe he’ll get to Cooperstown in the next four-five years. The same can’t be said about Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, both of whom lost ground from last year. They’re down to 34.7 and 35.4 per cent, respectively, which means it’ll be a long and difficult road to the Hall. They’re casualties of the same damnation-without-proof ethos, although it’s certainly easier to understand the case against them than Piazza.

The greatest disappointment has to be Craig Biggio’s 74.8 per cent tally — just two votes short. Again, if some of the voters would’ve taken the election more seriously, Biggio, a deserving candidate, would’ve made it. Consider: if Gurnick’s Jack Morris-only vote and the lone blank ballot weren’t returned, Biggio would’ve been at the required 75 per cent threshold.

But let’s not create the impression it was an unsatisfactory election overall. To the contrary: three terrific candidates — Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas — will all be inducted, and along with managers Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony LaRussa, who were selected by the Veteran Committee, it should be a doozy of a ceremony in July. It was a far better day for the Hall than 2013, when no one got in.

Still, it would be nice if someone breaks the foolish tradition that denied Maddux a 100 per cent consensus. In fact, he wasn’t even that close to Tom Seaver’s all-time record, 98.8 per cent (five people didn’t vote for him) or runners-up like Cal Ripken (98.5 percent, eight people) and Aaron (97.8 per cent, nine people).

Maddux finished with 97.2 percent, a landslide by any measure.



— The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)


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