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Sports commentary: Election Time

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Hall of Fame voters have much to consider this go 'round.

By Mike Forster

  There will soon be an election upon us.  The results of this balloting will reflect how we, as a nation, value our morality.  The results will reverberate well into the future.

I'm not referring to the upcoming presidential contest, of course.   This newspaper has plenty of people who are happy to opine on that contest.  My job, for the most part, is to stick to my knitting.

The contest about which I'm concerned (this being the Sports pages and all) is the balloting for entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In order to be elected, an individual must be listed on at least 80% of the ballots cast.  Typically, one or two players are selected each year by the voting baseball writers.

That balloting will take place later this year.  There are three names that will figure prominently in that exercise:  Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa.  All three have just reached eligibility for election to the Hall, having been retired from baseball for the required five years.

Mike Piazza and Curt Schilling will be on the ballot for the first time, as well.  Those two, however, aren't the lightning rods that the aforementioned trio are.

If one were to go merely by what Bonds, Clemens and Sosa did on the field of play, they would be elected into the Hall by acclaim.

Bonds holds two of baseball's most sacrosanct records:  most home runs in a season and most taters in a career.  That last mark gets you an automatic bust at Cooperstown.

Clemens is among the top ten pitchers, all time, in both total wins and career strikeouts.  Again, with numbers like those, you wind up cast in bronze.

Sosa hit over 600 home runs in his career.  There is not a single player who has hit over 500 taters, and is eligible for election, who is not enshrined in the Hall.

Correction.  There are two:  Mark McGuire (583 homers) and Rafael Palmiero (569).

McGuire and Palmiero will also be featured on this year's HOF ballot.

Last year, those two generated little interest from the voters.  Palmiero picked up a scant 13% of the vote, while McGuire earned just shy of 20%.

Of course, McGuire, Palmiero, Sosa, Clemens and Bonds all figured prominently in baseball's dark saga of performance-enhancing drugs.

What I find interesting about the five is that each managed to do even more damage to his reputation after the allegations were first made.

What I find fascinating is that the more impressive the man's playing stats, the less impressive he has been in reaction to the allegations.

Take Palmiero, for example.  The man took a forceful position in testimony before Congress.

He stated, unequivocally, that he had NEVER used performance enhancers.

Within months of that performance, guess what turned up in his sample cup?  Steroids.

Sosa put on a lame performance of "Yo no hablo Inglés,"  which stumped the U.S. Congress.  Apparently, Sosa had no problem with Inglés when it came time to sign his contracts with the Cubs.  But, I digress.

McGuire marched into Congress and tried to out-arrogant a bunch of Congressmen, telling them that he wasn't there to dwell on the past.

Dwelling on the past is exactly what Congressmen do.

At least none of the three dished up red meat, as Clemens did.  His performance in front of Congress landed him with a charge of contempt.  His trial is taking place as I write these words.

Bonds seems to have handled things worse than any of the others.  The home run king was convicted of obstructing justice.

While I doubt that Clemens or Bonds will serve any pokey time for their adventures, their reputations are tarnished as a result of these legal proceedings.

The fact that neither Bonds nor Clemens ever showed much love to  the cadre of sports writers that covered them makes voting against them a bit easier.

Still, baseball writers, in spite of their penchant for payback, have to think long and hard about whether to vote for any (or all) of this lot.

The issue comes down to this basic question:  Is the Hall of Fame a baseball museum or is it a baseball shrine?

If it is a museum, it should provide an exhaustive understanding of the game, warts and all.  If a museum, induction should be less restrictive and the case for Bonds, Clemens, et. al. is stronger.

If a shrine, the Hall of Fame (and, more aptly, those who vote for induction into the Hall) has a duty to shield the game from its less savory elements.

I support the latter position.  As such, I wouldn't vote for any of these five players for induction.  A lot would have to change for me to alter that position.

But that's easy for me to say.  I don't get a vote.  At least not in this election.

Now, come November, that's a different kettle of fish:  We all get to vote in that one.  But you'll have to read about that in this newspaper's front section.