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A baseball game nobody wins

By Mike Downey, Special to CNN
January 9, 2013 -- Updated 2248 GMT (0648 HKT)
Barry Bonds, shown in 2007 when he played for San Francisco, hit 762 home runs, but was passed over for the Hall of Fame.
Barry Bonds, shown in 2007 when he played for San Francisco, hit 762 home runs, but was passed over for the Hall of Fame.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Not one of the 37 players on the 2013 ballot will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame
  • Mike Downey: "You cannot play baseball for a living without being good"
  • Downey says there is no proof Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens broke baseball's rules
  • Downey: "Baseball is not supposed to be a game in which nobody wins"

Editor's note: Mike Downey is a former columnist for the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times and a member of the Baseball Writers of America.

(CNN) -- I hesitated. I vacillated. I fluctuated. I scratched, spat, sucked on sunflower seeds, adjusted my cup (coffee), wiped dirt from my palms onto my pants, tried to do what a ballplayer would do. I dug in, waggled my pen, stared at my baseball Hall of Fame ballot like I'd like to kill it.

Do I vote for HIM? No, he cheated and got caught. Do I vote for HIM? I don't know .... he was just suspected of cheating. How about HIM? No, he didn't get enough hits. But what about HIM? He got a whole lot of hits, but was he as good as HIM?

This guy's on the ballot for the first time. Whereas that guy's on it for the 15th and last time. This guy's a jackass, a jerk. Oh, man, though, could he hit. This guy's a pleasure, a prince. But he sure couldn't hit like that guy. And, whoa, that guy could pitch. So could this guy, but sure wasn't that guy.

Controversy surrounds baseball ballots

I voted. I mailed it. I even stuck a Willie Stargell forever stamp on the envelope, although the postage was already on it.

I waited. I wondered. Who would make it? Barry Bonds, yes or no? Roger Clemens, yes or no? Mike Piazza? Sammy Sosa? Craig Biggio? Jeff Bagwell? Jack Morris? Maybe none? NONE??? Yes, I kept hearing as the December 31 vote deadline passed, very possibly not a one.

Wednesday, the news came. The non-news. Whatever you want to call it.

Yes, the answer was no. No to all.

No to the man with 762 home runs. No to the pitcher who won 354 games. No to the hitter who got 3,060 hits.

Bonds (762 homers, most ever) struck out. He needed 427 votes. He got 206. Eight other guys on the ballot got more votes than he did.

Clemens (354 wins) got lit up. He got 214. Three other pitchers got more votes than he did.

Biggio, (3,060 hits) came closest. He got 388, fell a mere 39 votes shy of a date in Cooperstown, New York, with a nice, bronzed bust and plaque. It was like he won all the electoral votes he needed except Florida and Ohio. He gave it a great shot. Maybe next time.

I could try to justify it. I could try to explain it. I won't. I can't. It is an election. Everybody has a right to be wrong. A total of 569 ballots were cast. Five were turned in blank. I guess those voters have their reasons, bizarre as they are. A total of 37 names were on the ballot. No one won. I don't know why. I can't tell you why one of those 569 voters gave a yes to Aaron Sele, a pitcher who won 148 games. I have no problem with Aaron Sele, but if he is a Hall of Famer, I am the husband of the Duchess of Cambridge.

Will I reveal my own vote? No, I won't.

Not even whether I voted for Clemens and Bonds?

OK, dammit, I did.

Baseball writers balk at Hall of Fame class of '13

I am not necessarily proud of it. I was not 100% sure which way to go. I crunched the numbers on a number of the candidates, tried to weigh their qualifications, make up my mind if a guy was a Hall of Famer or merely wonderful. No such crunch was necessary for Clemens or Bonds. Their stats were insane. Off the charts. I generally know a Hall of Famer when I see one, and whenever I saw those two guys, I saw two.

But each had an asterisk.*

* Not a real asterisk. A make-believe asterisk. Or more of a question mark, I guess. Cheater? Charlatan? Liar? Fraud?

Neither of them, in my opinion, were proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to have broken baseball's laws and rules. We can do the "you know and I know they did" thing all day long, but neither Barry Bonds nor Roger Clemens was ever banned, suspended or disciplined by Major League Baseball for being a steroids cheat.

Others got caught red-handed. Busted. Banished from the field for a specified period the way Hall of Fame candidate Rafael Palmeiro was and the way future Hall of Fame candidate Manny Ramirez was. I can't look the same way at the accused the way I do at the convicted.

I know, or know of, a lot of my brother and sister voters. I know they know baseball, love it, put a lot of thought into it.

Here is a partial list of Baseball Writers' Association of America members who publicly acknowledged that they did cast votes for Clemens and Bonds:

Barry Bloom, Jim Caple, Chris De Luca, Gordon Edes, Jeff Fletcher, Gerry Fraley, Paul Hagen, Tom Haudricourt, Mike Imrem, Bruce Jenkins, Richard Justice, Tim Kawakami, Tom Keegan, Tim Kurkjian, Carrie Muskat, Bob Nightengale, Ian O'Connor, Buster Olney, Rob Parker, Joe Posnanski, Ron Rapoport, Tracy Ringolsby, Henry Schulman, Claire Smith, Jayson Stark, Dave Van Dyck.

Now here is a partial list of BBWAA voters who said no to Clemens and Bonds:

Mike Bass, Michael Bauman, Hal Bodley, Murray Chass, Pedro Gomez, Mark Gonzales, Scot Gregor, Ken Gurnick, Jon Heyman, Phil Hersh, Ann Killion, Wallace Matthews, Bruce Miles, Scott Miller, Fred Mitchell, Terence Moore, Mike Nadel, Marty Noble, Mark Purdy, Phil Rogers, Ken Rosenthal, Bob Ryan, Dan Shaughnessy, Paul Sullivan, Rick Telander, Tom Verducci, Charlie Vincent.

They can't ALL be wrong.

I have been maintaining since I began voting in the late 1980s that there are three kinds of professional baseball players -- the good, the great and the immortal. You cannot play baseball for a living without being good. You can become great, or you can even become one of the greatest of all time.

Bonds and Clemens are among the greatest of all time, without a doubt. But they have extenuating circumstances. Biggio never seemed a mortal lock to be an immortal the way Bonds and Clemens do, but I cannot tell you in a million years why 181 voters did not put a check mark by his name. (I did.)

Nor do I have a clue where the Hall of Fame goes from here. It took Bert Blyleven and Jim Rice a ridiculous number of tries to become Hall of Famers, but they made it. It took 15 ballot failures and a couple of post-election rejections before Ron Santo made it, but he made it. Posthumously, but he made it.

I hear TV and radio announcers call a player "a surefire Hall of Famer" and I have no idea what universe they reside in that permits their mouths to form these words. There is no such thing as a surefire Hall of Famer any more.

Greg Maddux will be on the ballot next year. Frank Thomas will, too. If either of them fails, I will eat my cap. I will never, ever, ever refer to either as "a surefire Hall of Famer," however, because that ship has sailed.

The voters have spoken, as politicians have put it. I know there are millions of you who hate the way it came out. I do, too. Baseball is not supposed to be a game in which nobody wins.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mike Downey.

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