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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling show Hall of Fame votes not so simple anymore

Curt Schilling of the Red Sox during a

Curt Schilling of the Red Sox during a game against the Los Angeles Angels in a 2007 MLB season game at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, Calif. Credit: AP/Four Seam Images

Congratulations (again) to Derek Jeter.

Jeter’s lifelong winning streak continued Tuesday night when the Hall of Fame revealed a big goose egg for new inductees on the 2021 ballot. That means Jeter won’t have to share the stage this summer with two of baseball’s most polarizing figures in Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens -- they’ve now stalled at 61.8% and 61.6%, respectively -- or Twitter insurrectionist Curt Schilling, who came in at 71.1%, just 16 votes short of the 75% threshold.

Some might say that also makes it an overall W for the Lords of Cooperstown, who after having to postpone last July’s ceremony now get another crack at a Jeter-Fest, along with the respectable undercard of Larry Walker, Ted Simmons and labor-union legend Marvin Miller. Typically, the Hall hates coming up empty in January. Hard to put on a show with no inductees. And this marks the first time since 2013 the BBWAA failed to produce a freshly minted player for enshrinement.

But this year? Eh. Not so much. Last summer’s covid-forced cancellation was tough on Cooperstown, obviously. Not only a huge disappointment for the sport, but a devastating economic hit for the baseball-loving hamlet itself. Jeter was set to draw record-breaking crowds, surpassing teammate Mariano Rivera from the previous year, so punting the party to 2021 was a brutal kick in the gut for everyone.

That also made it a nervous six months for the Hall, who no doubt preferred to have the decorated Yankees captain alone as the headliner, free and clear of any PED-tainted pageantry caused by the Bonds-Clemens circus. Or the political mudslinging that certainly would be dredged up by Schilling’s pending induction.

You’d never hear that publicly out of Cooperstown. The Hall’s governing body doesn’t get involved in the muck of actually deciding on candidates. They leave the dirty work to the BBWAA, with its electorate of 400-plus voters, all with a minimum of at least 10 consecutive years of chronicling the sport.

We can talk all we want about the great honor of selecting inductees for baseball immortality. The weight of the sport’s long history and hallowed tradition. I’ll admit there is significant prestige in voting for candidates. People truly care who gets through those Cooperstown gates. It is a constantly renewable source for debate, extending from one generation to the next, and the passion is unmatched among other sports.

But we’ve also reached a strange place in this process, thanks mostly to the proliferation of PEDs in the late 90s, where the character and sportsmanship clauses have now overshadowed almost every other measure for enshrinement. For Bonds and Clemens, it has nothing to do with numbers or performance -- just the shadowy allegations that helped produce their legendary careers. As for Schilling, enough voters may have withheld their support due to his radioactive political views, but should that disqualify his candidacy?

It’s what the voting system has devolved into for the BBWAA members -- sifting through the sordid details, acting as judge and jury after others in authority refused to do so. Commissioner Bud Selig -- elected into the Hall by a special commission in 2017 -- was the chief enabler that allowed not only Bonds and Clemens to rewrite the record books with impunity, but countless others still unidentified (some, almost certainly, with a bust in Cooperstown already).

The Hall was saddled with a joyless task this year. While I had no issue casting my annual ballot with the boxes checked for Bonds and Clemens, just like I have since they first appeared, Cooperstown must shudder at the possibility (2022 will be their final year of eligibility). As for the BBWAA itself, denying Bonds and Clemens comes off as the height of hypocrisy after the same organization willfully handed Bonds seven MVP trophies (four after 2001) and Clemens seven Cy Young awards (four after 1997). Rule-abiding superstars then, but forever-disgraced cheaters now? For me, neither one was ever disciplined by MLB for whatever substances of choice they used, so that’s where I’ve drawn the line.

Schilling is a different story. I dropped him off my ballot in 2019 in a shift to more of a "Small Hall" mentality, a philosophy I had mulled over for years before Harold Baines became the tipping point. Nothing against Baines. Good for him. But when a special committee enshrined someone who maxed out at 6.1% on the BBWAA ballot, I tightened up my personal admissions process.

Politics had nothing to do with my stance on Schilling, and that’s left me with a clear conscience in the wake of his Twitter support of the January 6 attack on the Capitol. Should sedition outrank PED usage when it comes to Cooperstown crimes? And to think our predecessors once made these decisions on career batting average and home run totals.

Simpler times. And just wait until next year, when Bonds, Clemens and Schilling will be piggy-backed by A-Rod and Big Papi on the ballot.

Enjoy Jeter’s speech. It only gets uglier from here.

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