Barry Bonds might be the best hitter in baseball history, and Roger Clemens might be the best pitcher of his generation (or so), but both also might not get into Cooperstown because they are associated with performance-enhancing drugs. The same goes for Sammy Sosa who, like Bonds and Clemens, appears on the ballot for the first time in 2013. Mike Piazza, perhaps the best hitting catcher ever, also has been suspected of using PEDs. He might not get in, either. In another life, both guys (not to mention Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire) would be in, no question.
There are other worthy first-year candidates not shadowed by steroid associations. (Although, doesn't it seem like voters are holding all of the players of the past 25 years responsible? Here's a response to that conundrum by Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe. And here's an older BBWAA link where the electorate explains itself.)
Regardless, the "clean" first-year candidates include Craig Biggio of the Astros (who seems like a no-brainer, but who knows?) and Curt Schilling of Diamondbacks and Phillies fame. Kenny Lofton will get some attention, too. But it's possible none of these first-year guys will get in. And this Hall of Fame ballot is one of the most talented, if not the best, ever seen.
So, what about the holdovers? The top returning candidates prompt arguments — rather than discussion — as well.
Jack Morris received 66.7 percent of the vote in his 13th season on the ballot and would seem to be due for inclusion this time. Though he's never been associated with PEDs, he's one of the most divisive candidates ever. His performance in the 1991 World Series against the Braves, particularly in Game 7, might be the most important single-game effort in the history of the Hall of Fame. It's probably what every Jack Morris lover thinks of first when they think of Jack Morris, and that's why he's on the verge of Cooperstown after having an overall career that doesn't match that one night in the Metrodome.
Jeff Bagwell doesn't have any such defining career moment. He only compiled one of the best careers for a first baseman in history. But he also has been linked to PEDs, so he received 56 percent of the vote in 2012, his second year on the ballot, when others like him got elected.
Lee Smith (50.6 percent) and Tim Raines (48.7) might have a shot someday, but not this time. The results for Alan Trammell and Edgar Martinez have been criminally low (not breaching 37 percent in 2012), but maybe there's a Ron Santo-quality push coming for them in the future. At least in the cases of Raines, Smith, Trammell and Martinez, the arguments don't get so nasty.
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