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January 10, 2013

Writers shut out tainted baseball stars

By Rob Centorani
The Daily Star

---- — The Baseball Writers’ Association of America just said no Wednesday.

It said no to Barry Bonds and his record 762 home runs. It said no to Roger Clemens, and his 354 victories and record seven Cy Young awards. It said no to Sammy Sosa and his 609 home runs.

Thirty-four others also failed to hit the 75 percent threshold to earn election into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Numbers that in past BBWAA elections guaranteed election meant nothing this time around. Of greater importance appeared to be whether the stars who accumulated those gaudy statistics used performance-enhancing drugs to help them along.

“This is by far the most talked about election and certainly the most controversial,” Hall President Jeff Idelson said.

It marks the first time since 1996 and the eighth time overall the BBWAA did not vote anyone into the Hall.

So instead of swarms of fans converging on Cooperstown to celebrate the accomplishments of all-time greats such as Bonds and Clemens this summer, the Clark Sports Center _ the site of the Induction Ceremony _ might be relatively quiet in late July.

The Hall’s membership still will grow by three as Pre-Integration Committee electees Hank O’Day, Jacob Ruppert and Deacon White _ all deceased _ will be enshrined July 28. Twelve other Hall of Famers who never had formal inductions because of World War II _ Lou Gehrig and Rogers Hornsby among them _ also will be recognized.

The 10-member class of 1945 picked by Committee on Old Timers also will be honored. In that class were Roger Bresnahan, Dan Brouthers, Fred Clarke, Jimmy Collins, Ed Delahanty, Hugh Duffy, Hughie Jennings, King Kelly, Jim O’Rourke and Wilbert Robinson.

Idelson said honoring Gehrig, Hornsby and the Class of 1945 was something the Hall has wanted to do for awhile.

“That was something that came to fruition when we began to plan for a what-if,” Idelson said in reference to a season when the BBWAA elected no one. “We’ve talked about it for a number of years and decided 2013 was the right time.”

J.G. Taylor Spink award winner Paul Hagen and Ford C. Frick winner Tom Cheek will be honored July 27 at Doubleday Field. Cheek will earn the honor for broadcasters posthumously.

“We’re going to do everything we can to enhance the weekend,” Idelson said. “Nobody wants to see small crowds. Certainly, this will have a different feel than elections with living inductees.”

The top BBWAA vote-getter was Craig Biggio, who amassed 3,060 hits. The former Houston Astros star earned 68.2 percent of the vote. He fell 39 votes shy of election in his first year on the ballot.

Ex-Detroit Tigers pitcher Jack Morris, who has one year left on the BBWAA ballot, was next at 67.7 percent. Biggio’s former teammate, Jeff Bagwell, garnered 59.6 percent of the vote and former New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza was next with 57.8. Former New York Yankees outfielder Tim Raines was the only other player to have over 50 percent. Raines finished at 52.2 percent.

“The takeaway was the writers collectively sending a strong message they don’t take the era lightly and that was reflected in the vote,” Idelson said.

Bonds and Clemens, arguably the best players of their generation, had 36.2 and 37.6 percent of the vote, respectively. Sosa finished with 12.5 percent.

"After what has been written and said over the last few years I'm not overly surprised," Clemens posted on Twitter.

Bonds’ agent, Jeff Borris, told the Associated Press: “It is unimaginable that the best player to ever play the game would not be a unanimous first-ballot selection."

Mark McGwire, in his seventh year on the ballot, received 16.9 percent. That’s off the 19.5 percent he had last year.

McGwire and Sosa, 10th and eighth, respectively, on the career home run list, were quite possibly the poster boys baseball’s steroid era. In the summer of 1998, both men took aim at Roger Maris’ single-season home run record of 61. McGwire finished with a record-setting 70 homers and Sosa had 66.

Former Sidney resident Joel Bennett played briefly in the big leagues in the late-1990s. Bennett pitched for the Baltimore Orioles in 1998 and the Philadelphia Phillies in 1999.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” Bennett said of the results of the BBWAA vote. “They’re always going to be tarnished even though they’re amazing athletes.”

Bennett, who’ll begin his first season as Windsor’s varsity baseball coach this spring, said he was “totally oblivious” to performance-enhancing drugs during his time in the big leagues. He said he witnessed teammates mixing together concoctions in blenders and lifting frequently, but Bennett said he never suspected steroid use at the time.

“It sends a message for sure,” Bennett said of the vote. “(The game is) tarnished, but at the time it was happening, no one was talking about it.”

Though no one alive earned enshrinement this year, Idelson said the 2014 class has the potential to be mammoth.

Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, both 300-game winners, two-time MVP Frank Thomas, Jeff Kent and Mike Mussina will be on the ballot for the first time. Biggio, Bagwell, Morris and Piazza figure to have good chances, and managers Joe Torre, Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox are likely to appear on the veterans committee ballot.

“It could be a monster year to coincide with our 75th year,” Idelson said.

Rob Centorani can be reached at rcentorani@thedailystar.com or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.