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Richard Griffin: Baseball Hall of Fame voters warming up for Hail to the Cheats

Richard Griffin: Baseball Hall of Fame voters warming up for Hail to the Cheats
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Baseball Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson will officially announce the 2019 list of inductees on Tuesday at 6:15 p.m. A couple of first-year eligibles, right-handers Mariano Rivera and Roy Halladay , are expected to lead the honourees headed to the ceremony on July 21 in Cooperstown, N.Y.

The likeliest candidate to join that pitching duo will be DH Edgar Martinez, in his final year on the ballot.

Increased support for Roger Clemens in Baseball Hall of Fame voting points to induction as soon as 2020 for the right-hander who won two Cy Young awards as a Blue Jay.  (Sporting News Archive / GETTY IMAGES file photo)

Another Cooperstown possibility is pitcher Mike Mussina, who has strong support based on ballots made public. The bottom line, however, is that those not yet revealed, ballots that come in late, include those from more veteran hardliners, the tougher side of the baseball writers electorate. Percentages usually drop.

What will not go unnoticed on Tuesday is the steady, almost inexorable climb toward the required 75 per cent by a couple of PED-stained wretches, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

With 50.2 per cent of the ballots revealed by this past weekend on the hall’s online vote tracker , Clemens had checked in at 70 per cent, with Bonds lurking over his shoulder at 69.6 per cent — up by around 13 per cent from last year’s final totals. With another similar gain, even slightly less, the much-maligned duo could gain entry as soon as 2020.

Is that a good thing for baseball?

Recall that in November 2017, Joe Morgan — a card-carrying hall of fame second baseman and member of the institution’s board of directors — issued a surprising letter asking voters to never elect any suspected PED cheaters.

“Players who failed drug tests, admitted using steroids, or were identified as users in Major League Baseball’s investigation into steroid abuse, known as the Mitchell Report, should not get in,” Morgan wrote. “Those are the three criteria that many of the players and I think are right.”

Sorry Joe, that day is coming, and it will be interesting to see how many hall of fame players agree with Morgan when Bonds and Clemens are ushered in. The evidence will be clear on the induction stage, usually overflowing with proud living members — currently 77 — there for the party.

The numbers say that eventually enshrining Bonds and Clemens is likely. A compromise would be the addition of one paragraph on each plaque, acknowledging the circumstances of the Steroid Era. It might be the right thing to do.

Hall-worthy? In 1998, Bonds was a five-tool player in his sixth year as a superstar with the San Francisco Giants. The lefty swinger collected 37 homers, 28 steals, 130 RBIs, a .303 average and 1.047 OPS. Those numbers went virtually unnoticed up against the home run battle of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Bonds noticed the lack of respect for his performance, and the theory goes that the next spring he showed up a different player, allegedly with the help of pharmaceuticals. But that was before mandated MLB drug testing. That process started in 2004. Anyone who took performance-enhancing drugs after that date is officially a premeditated cheater.

In 1996, at the age of 33, Clemens was winding down a starry career with the Red Sox and headed to free agency amid rumblings from GM Dan Duquette that the Rocket may be washed up. He signed with Toronto for two seasons, reviving his career with back-to-back Cy Youngs and the AL pitching Triple Crown (wins-ERA-Ks) in 1997 and 1998. How much did that dis by the Sox fuel his afterburners? On July 12, 1997 he returned to Fenway Park, allowing one run in eight innings with no walks and 16 strikeouts. He is hall-worthy with a huge ego.

The two first-timers on this year’s ballot, Rivera and Halladay, seem like immortal locks, no-doubters. Rivera is the greatest closer in history. Period. Halladay, who died tragically in a small plane crash in the Gulf of Mexico near his Florida home in 2017, led MLB in wins, winning percentage and shutouts over a 10-year stretch from 2002 to 2011 with the Jays and Phillies. His 63 complete games were 30 more than runner-up C.C. Sabathia. He was dominant for a decade.

In 2010, Doc’s first year with the Phils, he threw a perfect game vs. the Marlins in May, then a playoff no-hitter vs. the Reds on Oct. 6. Halladay was an intimidating and inspiring example for younger teammates in terms of preparation, dedication and conditioning — and untainted by any hint of artificial help.

My 10-person ballot — submitted by mail just prior to the new year — included Rivera, Halladay, Martinez, Mussina, Clemens, Bonds, Larry Walker, Fred McGriff, Scott Rolen and Todd Helton. They were all in the top 13 with half the ballots made public.

Walker has one more year of candidacy left and, after 50.2 per cent of the electorate had checked in, his support had been bumped from 34.1 per cent in 2018 to 65.7 per cent, an astounding and deserved increase.

The expectation is that his final percentage will be lower than that, perhaps around 60 per cent, but the increase could put him on course for induction in 2020. Walker’s bump has come as the result of a social media campaign that has added votes from the skeptical analytics crowd to those who saw the Expos/Rockies/Cardinals outfielder play and remained constantly amazed at his five-tool talent and baseball smarts.

The list of players announced Tuesday will join the earlier veterans’ committee choices: designated hitter Harold Baines and closer Lee Smith. It says here that Rivera, Halladay and Edgar will gain entry, with Mussina, Curt Schilling, Clemens, Bonds and Walker hoping to gain enough ground for next year — when former Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter will be the sole first-year superstar.
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