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January 09. 2013 11:55PM

Kevin Gray's On Baseball: HOF voters raise the bar

ONLY A cloud of suspicion prevented Roger Clemens, one of baseball's all-time greatest pitchers, from being inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer.

Voters from the Baseball Writers Association of America have the power of bestowing the game's highest individual honor - and it appears they are raising the bar. Nobody on the ballot received enough votes to reach Cooperstown, not a power pitcher with 354 wins and seven Cy Young Awards, not the game's all-time home run king, Barry Bonds.

Electors are instructed to vote on a "player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s)." The part about integrity and character? That's a slippery slope for those who agonized over the Steroid Ballot of 2013, the first year in which Clemens, Bonds and Sammy Sosa were HOF-eligible. Would a vote for Bonds mean it's OK to cheat?

Spitballing Gaylord Perry, an admitted cheater who was suspended 10 games for doctoring the baseball, has a plaque on the wall in Cooperstown. Not the same as performance-enhancing drugs, you say?

Next discussion: Hall of Famers who have admitted to using amphetamines. This conversation already is becoming exhausting.

Craig Biggio, who had 3,060 career hits, was the most surprising omission on Wednesday. The seven-time All-Star was a consummate team player, career .281 hitter, and led the league in several categories during a 20-year career. The Houston Astros great was never tainted by the suspicion of using PEDs, yet he gathered only 68.2 percent of the vote, needing another 39 votes.

Biggio deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. Clemens deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. Even if the Rocket used performance-enhancing drugs later in his career, he was likely facing hitters that were juicing. In 2001, in the middle of the homer-happy steroid era, Clemens went 20-3 with a 3.51 ERA.

Many of the 37 players listed on this year's HOF ballot have been implicated in the use of PEDs. Bonds was on the cusp of being HOF-worthy before the 1998 season, a year considered to be the start of the Steroids Era.

New Fisher Cats manager Gary Allenson, who was the catcher for Clemens' major-league debut in 1984, said he would vote for the Rocket and Bonds. Clemens, by the way, was exonerated on all legal proceeding and found not-guilty of lying to Congress, Allenson said.

"I played with Roger Clemens and came with the Red Sox as a coach (1992-94), and nobody worked harder," Allenson said. "He'd throw an inning at spring training, and then go running for 15 minutes, the whole time we were hitting. Then he'd go back and pitch another inning because he wanted to simulate how it felt to have tired legs. He was dedicated. He backed his teammates. That's a Hall of Famer.

"There's a guy in the Hall of Fame with 11 home runs (Ray Schalk, White Sox, 1912-1929) because he played in the dead-ball era. There are different eras. For me, you take the best players of the era."

We have to believe Biggio and a few others on the 2013 ballot eventually will be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Voters may thrown a shutout on Wednesday, but there's no denying players like Biggio, Bonds and Clemens helped make the game great.



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Staff writer Kevin Gray covers pro baseball for the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. His email address is kgray@unionleader.com.

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