Baseball's PED era complicates Hall of Fame vote

The common cause and cry among voters for baseball's Hall of Fame is how convoluted the decision-making has become.

We've all done it, accepting that the grand privilege of voting comes with the mind-numbing, line-drawing, philosophy-challenging pain of making judgment calls on issues well beyond whether the player's actual onfield career made him Hall worthy.

And just wait 'til next year.

The stain of the steroids era that merely taints this year's ballot — in evaluations of Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and, as unfairly as it appears, Jeff Bagwell — will wash over the 2013 voting and potentially alter the foundation of the Hall going forward.

Three of the game's most prolific performers, and three of the players most entangled in the performance-enhancing drugs issue — Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa — will all make their debuts on next year's ballot. And that's in addition to other lightning-rod candidates such as Mike Piazza.

Whatever precedents were established, justifications made, consciences rested, they will be challenged as voters consider whether the Hall should or shouldn't include the home-run king, one of the absolute best pitchers, the only player with three 60-homer seasons, and perhaps the game's best-hitting catcher.

Kinda makes this year's angst seem mundane. And with former Yankees centerfielder Bernie Williams the best of a weak class of newcomers, the internal debates were pretty much the same as last year for me, and many of the 550 or so voting members of the BBWAA.

I decided that while I had voted annually for McGwire — on the premises that use wasn't banned and was widespread, and that the impact on his performance couldn't be determined — I could not vote for Palmeiro, who knew there was testing and got caught anyway, then defiantly pointed his finger in front of Congress.

And neither the don't-look-at-the-stats push for Jack Morris nor the look-closer-at-the-stats bid for Tim Raines changed my mind on them.

Whatever a voter's philosophy — some won't vote for any player even associated with steroids, others don't consider it an issue at all, most are in between — it will be challenged significantly in the next year. About the only thing that is clear is that there is no clear right or wrong answer.

That said, here are my thoughts on other candidates on this year's ballot.

Agree/Disagree? Let us know what you think by email at topkin@tampabay.com. Jeff Bagwell

Complete player with seven 100-run/100-RBI seasons, a Gold Glove, an MVP award.

Vinny Castilla

Disqualified just on those Devil Rays years when he was called Vinny Cash-stealer.

Juan Gonzalez

Career numbers impressive (.295, 434 HRs, 1,404 RBIs), but there's that character thing.

Barry Larkin

Tremendous overall player, has best chance of any candidate on ballot to be elected.

Edgar Martinez

A great hitter but not a complete player: 72 percent of his plate appearances as a DH.

Fred McGriff

493 home runs the old-fashioned way should count for something.

Jack Morris

Always a tough call but always stopped by a 3.90 ERA that would be Hall's highest.

Dale Murphy

Actually would have had a better chance if he stopped playing a few years sooner.

Brad Radke

Tampa Jesuit product did well for himself winning 148 games, but he lost 139.

Tim Raines

A very good player for a long time who had a few great years, not a HOF player.

Lee Smith

Yes, he hung around, but 478 saves (No. 1 when he quit, third-most now) can't be ignored.

Alan Trammell

Like Raines, a very good player worthy of consideration but not election.

Larry Walker

Deserves more credit than he gets but hard to ignore Coors Field effect on stats.

Bernie Williams

Key piece of good teams and had great postseasons but overall numbers are not there.

.FAST FACTS

The vote

Hall of Fame results will be announced Monday at 3 p.m. on the MLB Network, mlb.com and baseballhall.org.

Baseball's PED era complicates Hall of Fame vote 01/07/12 [Last modified: Saturday, January 7, 2012 9:59pm]

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