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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

'Who didn't get in' still more compelling Hall of Fame voting story

Former San Francisco Giants outfielder Barry Bonds, right,

Former San Francisco Giants outfielder Barry Bonds, right, hits his 761st career home run off Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Chris Capuano in the fourth inning of a game in San Francisco. Credit: AP, 2007

A year ago, the BBWAA electorate determined no one was deserving of Cooperstown. The debuts of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens made the whole ballot radioactive in the minds of some, and as a result, the entire process came off as one big, PED-contaminated, toxic mess.

But Wednesday, roughly the same pool of voters, a total of 571 ballots overall, anointed three worthy candidates for the Hall of Fame: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas. Each player cruised past the 75-percent threshold needed for induction, with Maddux topping out at 97.2 percent.

So it's all good, right? Cooperstown gets a great lineup for its late July lawn party and we're all spared the rock-throwing for another 11 months until next year's ballot arrives in the mail.

Well, not quite. Even after Wednesday's announcement, too much of the conversation about the Hall of Fame remains focused on who doesn't get in rather than the newly minted plaques. During Maddux's conference call, the second question to him involved the candidacy of Bonds, who slipped backward -- from 36.2 percent to 34.7 percent -- in the voting. Maddux certainly could have sidestepped the issue, as Glavine mostly did when asked later on, but the Braves great actually came off as pro-Bonds.

"He was the best hitter I ever faced," Maddux said. "He was good when he was in Pittsburgh. He might have been the best hitter when he was a Pirate, too.

"As far as the Hall of Fame, I definitely respect Barry's abilities to play the game of baseball and it was always a privilege to face him. The game revolved around him."

Bonds is the sport's only seven-time MVP, not to mention its home-run king. But after the second ballot of his 15-year window of eligibility, Bonds also is trending in the wrong direction, as is the seven-time Cy Young winner Clemens, who slid from 37.6 percent to 35.4 percent in the 2014 count. (Full disclosure: I voted for both.)

But they're doing a heck of a lot better than Rafael Palmeiro, now off the ballot after falling below the 5 percent (4.4) needed to stay, as well as Mark McGwire (11.0) and Sammy Sosa (7.2). The only ones gaining traction among the PED fringe -- we're talking suspicion here, nothing substantial -- are Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell, two players apparently being kept out by a whisper campaign.

Piazza inched up to 62.2 percent, and on his current trajectory, should eventually get in. Bagwell is lagging further behind at 54.3, but in his fourth year, still has time to build momentum.

Just to show how pervasive the PED rumors can be, one reporter on the conference call went as far as to ask Thomas about Craig Biggio possibly being a "steroids guy." Biggio, mind you, missed out by a total of two votes, so these types of shadowy allegations can make a very concrete impact.

Thomas didn't hedge on PEDs, but his argument didn't really lay out a clear path of action, either. What is the definition of a PED user anyway? A player that has tested positive? Been disciplined by MLB? Or just accused?

"Over the last year, doing a couple of charity events with Hall of Famers, they've got a strong stance against anyone who's taken steroids," Thomas said. "They do not want them in."

Thomas, who said Wednesday that he was "100 percent clean," also agreed with his new Cooperstown teammates.

"I've got to take the right stance, too," he said. "They shouldn't get in. There shouldn't be cheating allowed to get into the Hall of Fame."

Of course, Hall of Famers don't have a vote. Neither do current or former players. That responsibility falls to the BBWAA, and to a large portion of the electorate, the burden of proof doesn't seem to matter much. At least not up to this point. And not when it comes to some deserving candidates.

Which means we're still a long way from shelving this debate. If Piazza makes the necessary leap to induction -- he'll have a puncher's chance on another stacked ballot in 2015 -- then maybe that's progress. As for Bonds and Clemens, the two most polarizing figures in the Hall's voting history -- and arguably the game's two greatest players -- they remain as divisive as ever.

Until they get in. Or disappear altogether.

New York Sports