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The wait ends for Blyleven

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Associated Press
January 6, 2011
— After a narrow miss last year, Bert Blyleven told voters they finally got it right by sending him into the Hall of Fame along with Roberto Alomar.

And he took the opportunity to talk about baseball’s dark past—the Steroids Era.


All-Star sluggers Rafael Palmeiro, Jeff Bagwell, Mark McGwire and Juan Gonzalez didn’t come close in Wednesday’s election. No telling if they ever will, either, after Hall voters sent a clear message: The drug cloud isn’t going to cover Cooperstown.


“The writers are saying that this was the Steroids Era, like they have done Mark McGwire,” Blyleven said after finally making it to the Hall on his 14th try. “They’ve kind of made their point.”


Blyleven was chosen on 79.7 percent—it takes 75 percent approval by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America to reach the shrine. The great curveballer won 287 games, threw 60 shutouts and ranks fifth with 3,701 strikeouts. He was down to his next-to-last try on the ballot.


“It’s been 14 years of praying and waiting,” Blyleven said in a conference call. “And thank the baseball writers of America for, I’m going to say, finally getting it right.”


Alomar was picked on 90 percent of the ballots. The 12-time All-Star won a record 10 Gold Gloves at second base, hit .300 and helped the Toronto Blue Jays win titles in 1992-93.


Palmeiro, McGwire, Bagwell and Gonzalez fared poorly, with BBWAA members reluctant to choose bulky hitters who posted big numbers in the 1990s and 2000s.


“Guys cheated,” Blyleven said. “They cheated themselves and their teammates. The game of baseball is to be played clean. I think we went through a Steroid Era and I think it’s up to the writers to decide when and who should go in through that era.”


A lot of them have already decided.


“I will not vote for any player connected with steroid use, because I believe cheaters shouldn’t be rewarded with the sport’s highest honor,” Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle said in an e-mail.


“We are asked to consider character when casting Hall of Fame votes and I don’t believe those who used performance-enhancing substances meet that standard,” she said. “They cheated to get ahead, plain and simple, creating an imbalance in the game and a mess for the voters. They can enjoy the big contracts they earned as a result, but they won’t get my vote.”


Bagwell got 41.7 percent in his first year on the ballot. His career stats are among the best for first basemen since World War II—.297 batting average, .408 on-base percentage and .540 slugging percentage. He hit 449 home runs, topped 1,500 RBIs and runs and ran the bases hard.


He was Rookie of the Year, NL MVP and a Gold Glove winner.


Bagwell never tested positive, there were no public allegations against him and he was adamant that he never used illegal drugs. Still, many voters and fans aren’t sure yet how to assess the huge numbers put up by the game’s top hitters.


“That stuff’s going to happen in this era,” Bagwell said on a conference call. “People are going to have suspicion in the era I played in.”


“People are going to think what they want to think. If they don’t think that anybody was good in this era, then that’s fine. Like I said, I’m one of the first ones to come up in that era. I’m OK with it,” he said. “There’s nothing I can do about it.”


Palmeiro was listed on just 64 of a record 581 ballots (11 percent) in his first try despite lofty career numbers—he is joined by Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray as the lone players with more than 3,000 hits and 500 home runs.


But Palmeiro failed a drug test and was suspended by Major League Baseball in 2005. The penalty came a few months after he wagged his finger at members of Congress and told them: “I have never used steroids. Period.”


Former Rep. Tom Davis was the chairman of the House committee that held the March 17, 2005, hearing on steroids in baseball at which Palmeiro made that statement and McGwire refused to “talk about the past.”


“The baseball writers are weighing the steroid thing. It’s still got to play out, but at this point they seem to have factored that it into their decisions,” Davis said in a telephone interview Wednesday.


The other leader of that committee, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., declined to comment through a spokesperson.


“Henry and I did our job. We tried to clean the game up a little bit and tried to help young people who were starting to use that stuff,” Davis said. “The rest of it will be up to history.”


Palmeiro recently reiterated the anabolic steroid that caused his positive test came in a vitamin vial given to him by teammate Miguel Tejada.


McGwire got 19.8 percent, a drop from 23.7 percent last year. This was his fifth time on the ballot, and first since the former home run champion admitted he took steroids and human growth hormone.


Juan Gonzalez, a two-time AL MVP implicated by Jose Canseco in steroids use, received 30 votes, just above the 5 percent threshold for remaining on the ballot next year.


Alomar and Blyleven will be joined by Pat Gillick at the induction ceremonies July 24 in Cooperstown. The longtime executive was picked last month by the Veterans Committee. Gillick helped earn his place with a trade that brought Alomar to Toronto.


Smart, graceful and acrobatic on the field, Alomar also was guilty in one of the game’s most boorish moments. He spit on umpire John Hirschbeck during a dispute in 1996 and was suspended. They later made up and Hirschbeck supported Alomar’s bid for the Hall.


“I regret every bit of it. I apologized many times to John,” he said. “I feel good I’ve had a good relationship with John.”


Said Hirschbeck: “I’m very, very happy for him. It’s overdue.”


“I’m not going to comment on why he didn’t get elected the first time. But I forgave him. Maybe the rest of the world has,” Hirschbeck told The Associated Press by telephone.


Alomar drew 73.7 percent last year in his first try on the ballot. Blyleven had come even closer, missing by just five votes while getting 74.2 percent.


“Robbie was an incredible player. He was a pleasure to watch play the game and I am not saying that because he was my brother. He had all the tools and put them all into play,” former Cleveland teammate Sandy Alomar Jr. said.



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