Bonds, Clemens, now A-Rod: Weight of steroids as a Hall of Fame voter shares his 2022 ballot

The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, is a quaint place lost in time. It’s a village with an estimated 1,750 people actually living there. It is a Norman Rockwell painting. You aren’t sure what decade you’re in. The Hall’s address is Main Street, although that might have gone without saying.

Getting into the Hall of Fame is rather a quaint process, too. As if the Internet did not yet exist. The Baseball Writers’ Association of America mails the latest ballot every December to the 440 voting members — I am honored to be one — and they are due back by December 31. You fill out the paper ballot by hand. Old school, a self-addressed, stamped return envelope is included.

For 53 cents (pre-paid), my ballot is mailed to an address in Bayside, New York, an upscale neighborhood in Queens, where a BBWAA official will count them by hand.

Results will be announced January 25 and the 2022 induction held July 24.

But who gets into sports’ most famous Hall of Fame and why — that is not simple, or quaint. Used to be, before steroids, when a voter had the luxury of just crunching stats, but all that changed with performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) and their great influence over said stats.

Now we 440 voters must all bring our own morality into the equation. There is massive disagreement and shades of gray and in the end we just hope, by consensus, that we get it somehow right.

There is nothing that instructs us how to treat Steroids Guys, a.k.a. to some, “cheaters.”

There is BBWAA Rules for Election No. 5. that states, “Voting shall be based upon the players’ record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”

Integrity. Sportsmanship. Character. Ah, yes. They are the three words that explain why one of the greatest ballplayers ever, Alex Rodriguez, is almost certainly being denied Hall of Fame induction, as we speak, in his first year of eligibility.

Because “A-Rod,” to millions, is “A-Roid,” to enough of the voting 440 to very likely deny him the requisite 75 percent yes votes.

Integrity, sportsmanship and character — by which we mean steroids — also is why two other all-time greats by any measure, Basrry Bonds and Roger Clemens, have been denied Cooperstown year after year and are, right now, facing the referendum of their 10th and final year of ballot eligibility.

But here’s the thing, more evidence we voters are feeling our way through the dark: Bonds are Clemens are probably going to get in this year, in their last shot. Close call, but I would bet on it.

Basically, we BBWAA voters would be saying, “OK, we’ve punished you enough. Nine years, we punished you. Now, though our totally random good graces, your sentence is commuted. You are free!”

Vote totals for Bonds have risen steadily from a low of 34. 7 percent in 2014 to a high of 61.8 percent last year.

For Clemens it’s been eerily similar, from a low of 35.4 percent in 2014 to a high of 61.6 percent last year.

Now, both seem to be enjoying the Last Chance Bump, a thing. The vote-tracking site bbhoftracker.com comprehensively monitors the vast majority of votes that are made public and as of Wednesday, with 19.1 percent of votes accounted for, had Bonds and Clemens both running at 77.6 percent — Hall of Fame pace.

The only player running higher: David Ortiz, “Big Papi,” with 81.6 percent in his first year of eligibility.

A-Rod? With nearly one-fifth of ballots in, he’s running at 48.7 percent. That’s see-you-next-year. Or, see in you 10 years?

If you have been wondering, there are 30 finalists on the 2022 ballot and voters may select up to 10. I voted for nine. Alphabetically, I voted for: Bonds, Clemens, Todd Helton, Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling, Gary Sheffield, Sammy Sosa and Billy Wagner.

I did not vote for Miami-raised Alex Rodriguez.

Here is why, and this is a personal policy, although one I think many fellow voters share:

First-ballot selection is special to me. It should be reserved for players of unquestioned qualifications. Not borderline, close-calls guys. And not guys with the scarlet letter of steroids taint.

For this reason I did not vote for Bonds or Clemens at first but have come to more recently. I believe their PED cloud has rightly caused their delay in getting Cooperstown but should not deny them forever, because I believe their accomplishment was historically great to a degree that both preceded and followed the time they were getting pharmaceutical help.

For this reason I do not rule out voting for A-Rod someday, although his PED use was more infamous and more directly punished than anyone else’s.

On a related note, I have always encouraged the Hall of Fame to include blemishes such as a PED cloud on a player’s permanent bronze plaque. Explain why such historic numbers took all that time to get in. Same with Pete Rose and the gambling stain that keeps him out still.

Rose should be in Cooperstown. I would write his name on my ballot every year if they allowed write-ins. But his plaque should say why he was kept out for decades.

A quick word on Ortiz. In 2003 he appeared on a PED list that later was determined to have included several false positives. Commissioner Rob Manfred himself has said, repeatedly, that Ortiz should not be associated with steroids. Ortiz never tested positive from the time steroid testing became official in MLB In 2004.

I’m not interested in witch hunts. I give Ortiz the benefit of doubt he seems to deserve.

Neither do I believe in life sentences without parole for steroids when a player’s talent and accomplishment was extraordinary even beyond the temporary help.

I hope Bonds and Clemens finally get in on their last chance, but I also believe it’s right they were kept waiting. And the same goes now for Alex Rodriguez.

As a grateful voter, my ballot counts about one-quarter of one-tenth of 1 percent.

Old school, that ballot went in the mailbox out front of my house today.