Steroids era muddies Hall of Fame ballot, forces lines to be redrawn

LOS ANGELES – I swear, because of this Hall of Fame ballot I have finished my Christmas shopping, done the laundry, gotten in two extra workouts and stopped at the shoe repair store, post office, bank, Staples and Barnes and Noble. I didn't even know the neighborhood had a shoe repair store.

I got around to filing an expense report (or three), jabbed at my year-end review and learned some variations off the G-chord. When I went for sushi the other night with colleague Jeff Passan and his 5-year-old son, Jack, I thought it would be good for Jack to get his first look at the Pacific Ocean, so we stood on the Venice Pier for a while. It really wasn't about Jack, so I felt a little bad about his blue lips and chattering teeth.

I'm also available for dog walking, gutter dredging, cuticle stripping and whatever else will get me away from this ballot.

But I ran out of other stuff to do. So here I am, staring it down. And it, me.

I was a hard-liner. There were great players and then, in my view, there were Hall of Famers. There's a difference. Cooperstown was for the icons of the sport, for those men who were legends not merely on their teams or in their cities, but of their game. I don't know what I am anymore. Or who they are.

In my opinion, there are sitting Hall of Famers who probably don't belong. I've never voted for someone who didn't eventually get in. That's not because I'm so good at this, but because I voted icons. Now I wonder how we separate the deserving from the not.

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I once had lunch with a retired Jack Morris in Santa Monica, the interview set up by a public relations firm. Morris was stumping, I think, for something All-Star game related, so we talked about that for a while over iced teas and tuna sandwiches. Morris had come up short in a handful of Hall votes. We talked about that, too. He asked if I'd voted for him. I said I hadn't. He said he compared favorably with Bert Blyleven. I said I hadn't voted for him, either. He asked if I'd voted for Dennis Eckersley. I told him I had. He asked that I grant him a save – in theory – for every complete-game win he'd had. I thought about that for a while and concluded Morris was still great, but fell short, right where I had him before. We shook hands. He was very nice about it, which made me feel worse.

Who's on HOF ballot?

Sandy Alomar

Jeff Bagwell

Craig Biggio

Barry Bonds

Jeff Cirillo

Royce Clayton

Roger Clemens

Jeff Conine

Steve Finley

Julio Franco

Shawn Green

Roberto Hernandez

Ryan Klesko

Kenny Lofton

Edgar Martinez

Don Mattingly

Fred McGriff

Mark McGwire

Jose Mesa

Jack Morris

Dale Murphy

Rafael Palmeiro

Mike Piazza

Tim Raines

Reggie Sanders

Curt Schilling

Aaron Sele

Lee Smith

Sammy Sosa

Mike Stanton

Alan Trammell

Larry Walker

Todd Walker

David Wells

Rondell White

Bernie Williams

Woody Williams

I hate those debates, even the mild ones, because these players who are so capable and decorated, who performed so well, they don't deserve the counter arguments. They – their careers – are above them.

Yeah, I'm still stalling.

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Thirty-seven names comprise this year's ballot, the most daunting – and haunting – ever. It's not just the sight of performance-enhancing drugs, but the aroma of them, perhaps even our fear of them. All those dark corners, those shades of competitive advantage, those greenies all grown up. It's not just the sight of some of the best baseball players in history, but a referendum on whom to trust, and whether that's even important, and what makes a bunch of ball writers so qualified to sort through any of it.

Then, of course, there's the simple – by comparison – conclusions of what a Hall-worthy player looks like, which has been lost in the discussion, probably because there are so few honest comparisons to be had anymore. So even that isn't simple.

What I know is this: I cannot vote for a player who used performance-enhancing drugs, or one who I strongly believe used them. I wish I didn't care. But I do.

They were free to make their money, to extend their careers, to run other players out of the game, and to force others to consider the same sort of synthetic enhancement – along with the same potential physical side effects and industry repercussions. They got all that. They do not also get my vote.

I can understand why some might have chosen that course. One cannot spend time in the Dominican Republic, for example, and cast judgment on a 16-year-old, 130-pound shortstop whose life will be baseball or the sugar cane fields. (The young man's buscone is another matter.) One can, however, dismiss a perennial All-Star who grew into, say, a freak and also drew the interest of, say, federal investigators.

In-between, it gets hazy.

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What constitutes iconic over the past generation of players? And how many would-be icons were left behind because of choices they made to play within the ethical and moral confines of the game? Is it enough anymore to line up the statistics and vote? Now we line up suspicions and separate shades of gray.

All I can say is I did my best. I think I've softened some on my previous hard-line ballots, even voting for players I've not voted for previously. As a result, I've submitted seven players, more than I ever have.

They are: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Edgar Martinez, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling and Larry Walker.

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