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The Globe and Mail

Cooperstown welcomes Alomar, shuns McGwire, Palmeiro

This was nothing, this business of dealing with Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro on the same Hall of Fame ballot. Two years down the road, you'll need to wear a hazmat suit to handle the vote when the names of Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens are added. Hear that noise? Just writing those names in the same paragraph requires you to take a urine test.

Voters laid to rest fears that Roberto Alomar's spitting incident with umpire John Hirschbeck in 1996 would be a body blow to his Hall of Fame bid on Wednesday, sending the former Toronto Blue Jays second baseman to the baseball hall in Cooperstown with 90 per cent of the votes cast, a year late, frankly, and well after Hirschbeck had made peace publicly with Alomar.

But any sense that time was also healing puncture wounds left by the steroid era? Forget it.

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McGwire's support on this ballot was 19.8 per cent, the lowest of his five years of eligibility despite the fact that early last season before returning to uniform as the hitting coach with the St. Louis Cardinals, he copped to using steroids and human growth hormone.

Palmeiro, only the fourth player to hit 500 home runs and collect 3,000 hits and who famously wagged his finger at a Congressional subcommittee while proclaiming he was clean before failing a 2005 doping test, polled just 11 per cent in his first year of eligibility. That's low for somebody whose candidacy was a litmus test.

What about Jeff Bagwell? Even voters who do not use the allotted 10 votes per ballot had to give his candidacy a thought. Yet Bagwell - never accused openly of steroid use, never linked to it, but a subject of suspicion because of his physique and the fact he went from hitting four home runs in Double-A to slugging 39 in the majors four years later - managed just 40 per cent.

If I'm Mike Piazza, a 62nd-round draft pick whose acne across the back and Popeye forearms were long a subject of speculation en route to becoming the most productive offensive catcher of his generation but who hasn't had his name pop up in a database or a report? Right now I'm a little concerned knowing that my name will be among that 2013 group.

No sooner had the results of Wednesday's vote been announced than the fretting began among the chattering classes about the future of the Hall of Fame ballot. Already there have been calls for a clearer charge to voting members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. And that's nonsense, of course.

Cooperstown usually gets it right, if not always in a linear manner. There are weaknesses in having a pool of 580-odd voters, but there are also strengths. A clearer set of directions won't make any difference to the process, because 580 voters bring 580 different prejudices and sets of criteria to the equation, especially since nobody is forced to reveal his ballot. That doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing.

My sense is that this will play itself out. At some point, the remnants of this year's ballot will be cleared off, because voters who won't pick a player tied to steroids will still want to vote for somebody. Next year's candidates are the thinnest group in years (headlined by Bernie Williams), and that's good news for Barry Larkin, who will be next year's inductee. And for those among us who are proponents of Tim Raines, his 37.5-per-cent support with 11 years left on the ballot seems to almost guarantee his election within three years. Larry Walker's 20.3-per-cent support in his first year makes me like his chances more than I thought I would 24 hours ago.

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Baseball has had dead-ball eras, live-ball eras, segregated eras, cocaine eras and steroid eras and they are all represented in one form or another in Cooperstown. Some of them are overrepresented; others are underrepresented. Bonds will get in at some point, and if he's punished by having to wait a few years, well, so be it. And if all bets are off for the likes of Clemens? If voters need time to put steroids and the game's culture of performance enhancement in context? That's just fine. The hall will wait. It always does.

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