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Every vote counts

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What is it about Baseball's Hall of Fame that makes it so compelling? We aren't talking about "heaven," at least per se, are we? Why do people get so stirred up every January when the baseball writers annually and clumsily do their thing and again in December when the old codgers' committee annually corrects the mistakes the baseball writers dumbly make?

Only in baseball does it really matter. In football, the flood-gates at Canton, Ohio open every summer allowing newly anointed saints to go marching in by the battalion. Maybe the fact it's relatively so easy is the reason only intimate family members and the most wacked-out gonzo fans care who gets to reside there.

Hockey's pantheon has a bit more character and hockey people, who are notoriously tribal, bicker strenuously about the politics of the process. Interest, however, is admittedly regional. On the other hand, how many who live beyond the length of the Mass Turnpike know the whereabouts of basketball's shrine while the tennis Mecca, nestled among the mausoleums of Newport, is an even bigger secret.

Thoroughly charming is the degree of passion baseball alone excites on this mossy subject, thanks mainly to the anecdotal richness of its long, colorful history deeper than that of all other games near combined. In this space, it's always been an obsession. Stunning is how much of a flap this year's proceedings inspired everywhere else.

That's mainly because PEDS -- those infernal performance enhancing drugs now threatening to blight a whole generation of that precious history -- have, much as everyone predicted, confused the issue bitterly and maybe, hopelessly. When mainly in frustration the writers ended up defiantly voting nobody into the baseball Valhalla in this year's balloting they struck quite a nerve.

It was not entirely fair. If the BBWAA has handled the matter poorly it was hardly reasonable to have the impossible responsibility of unraveling this Gordian Knot of a dilemma dumped in their collective lap.

Why does no one wonder where the commissioner has been in this fiasco? The answer is "hiding," which has been Bud Selig's official policy on this wrenching issue from the very get-go.

When Pete Rose went astray on gambling it was the commissioners who brought him down. Bart Giamatti grounded him and Fay Vincent emphatically reaffirmed his ineligibility for such honors as the Hall of Fame. Please understand the commissioner doesn't control what happens at Cooperstown and has only a ceremonial role there. But his desires concerning the fundamental question of what's "good for baseball" extends to every blessed spec of this game and its presence, promotion, and preservation.

Be assurred that if Giamatti or Vincent were in charge today -- or Happy Chandler or even Ford Frick, for that matter -- the office of commissioner would have clarified baseball's official attitude on PED offenders, thus profoundly influencing the process and thereby lessening the burden on the writers who have neither the talent nor license to make such a difficult decision unaided.

But then if Giamatti or Vincent had been in charge the last couple of decades we wouldn't have this problem today. I can't prove it, obviously. But I find it unthinkable that either of the astute gentlemen who preceded Selig as czars of this game would have ignored the menace of steroids and the pernicious issue's astounding growth through the 1990s the way Bud so casually did.

But of course Bud was far too busy in those happy days expanding the profit margins of his buddies, the owners, and multiplying the value of their equity, the franchises, to pay attention to the fact that the torsos of many of his players were bulging to the point where some were beginning to look like that memorable cartoon character of that misguided era, "the incredible hulk."

It needs to be said Selig was not alone in taking a powder on this delicate issue. There were many others complicit in the outrage and the sorry list assuredly includes the baseball writers who proved so gifted at looking the other way and disdaining the obvious for which they're paying the price, perhaps deservedly. But the writers are also now trying -- however feebly -- to atone whereas Selig now compounds his folly by being AWOL on the aftermath as well. I can't wait until the electors get to consider his eligibility for elevation to the ranks of the Cooperstown elite.

It was a mistake for the writers to elect no one this year of all years. It's a free-vote beyond control so there was no averting a messy result to a messy situation. But it's unfortunate it turned out as it did. Everyone understands that the dominance of candidates infected with the steroid question confused the issue. But it would have been far better if the writers had dramatically rejected the cheaters while rewarding someone who'd excelled without cheating, or was even remotely suspected of having cheated.

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