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SportsColumnistsSteve Popper

Steve Popper's Baseball Hall of Fame ballot for the Class of 2019

Mariano Rivera leaves the field for the last

Mariano Rivera leaves the field for the last time as a player after his last game at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 26, 2013. Photo Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

Before I had a vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame, it was easy to engage in the arguments about steroids and statistics. But when you hold that ballot in your hands, as I have for the last five years, it becomes a much tougher debate with yourself.

The most pressing issue is steroids, the one that Major League Baseball and the Hall of Fame never settled, leaving it in the hands of voters. And my line has been this: If a player was proved to be a user, suspended or banned, he is out.

Based on conversations with baseball officials over the years, there is a belief that a huge percentage of players were using, so maybe I will lower that bar someday — allowing players such as twice-suspended Manny Ramirez onto my ballot.

The other parameter with steroids: If I believe many were using, how did the player compare with his peers before or during the time that PEDs were thought to be pervasive?

By that rule, I have never filled out a ballot that didn’t include Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Most everyone believes their claims of innocence are false, but they also were dominant players before and during the steroid era.

But it’s not the only issue as you combine advanced statistical analysis, comparisons with current and past players and even the eye test about how dominant the player was in his time.

One tough debate is over certain positions — relief pitchers and designated hitters. With relievers, do you give credit to saves, the traditional measurement, or the more reliable analytics — two ideas that separate Billy Wagner from Hall of Famers Trevor Hoffman and Lee Smith. Does Edgar Martinez get in as a dominant hitter only?

So here’s what I came up with this year:  

Barry Bonds   

The best hitter before, during and after suspicion of PEDs. It’s impossible to vote for anyone suspected if you don’t vote for Bonds.   

Roger Clemens

Like Bonds, Clemens was dominant at every level. He got better late and that raises red flags, but he was so good early, too.   

Roy Halladay

His death in a plane crash may speed up the process for Halladay, but his efficient pinpoint control and a postseason no-hitter certainly put him in.   

Edgar Martinez

The argument has nothing to do with his worthy numbers, but whether a DH should get in. He does belong as one of the best hitters of his time.  

Mike Mussina

Mussina didn’t get to the magical total of 300 wins (he was 270-153 in 18 seasons), but he’s top 10 in almost every other category.   

Mariano Rivera

The best ever at his position. Enough said.   

Scott Rolen

Consistent hitter and fielder with numbers that put him right with Hall of Fame third basemen.   

Curt Schilling

No matter what he’s done to embarrass himself after his career, he was as good as anyone in big spots.   

Billy Wagner   

Wagner doesn’t have the saves, but that’s the worst stat for a reliever. Best BAA, WHIP and Ks/9 of any pitcher in history.   

Larry Walker

First time on my ballot as he approaches the end of his eligibility. Walker’s all-around play trumps the Coors Field effect.

The breakdown

Slam dunk: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mariano Rivera.

Solid picks: Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez.

Borderline yes: Curt Schilling, Billy Wagner, Mike Mussina, Scott Rolen, Larry Walker.

Borderline left off: Andruw Jones, Omar Vizquel, Jeff Kent, Andy Pettitte.

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