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McGRATH: My Hall of Fame ballot: 8 men in

** CORRECTS UNIFORM NUMBER TO 35 INSTEAD OF 15 ** Former Chicago White Sox baseball player Frank Thomas celebrates after

** CORRECTS UNIFORM NUMBER TO 35, INSTEAD OF 15 ** Former Chicago White Sox baseball player Frank Thomas celebrates after throwing the ceremonial first pitch before a game between the New York Yankees and the White Sox in Chicago, Sunday, Aug. 29, 2010. Thomas' No. 35 was retired by the White Sox on Sunday. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

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Updated: January 30, 2014 6:31AM



It’s hard to believe that a guy who backed Rod Blagojevich for governor twice would be entrusted with a ballot in baseball’s Hall of Fame election, but I was a Hall voter long before I held my nose and blackened Blago’s dot as an overmatched but basically harmless goof, a better choice than Jim Ryan or Judy Baar Topinka.

A Hall vote is a perk that comes with 10-year membership in the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. I take it seriously as a privilege and a responsibility and have tried to be informed, objective and fair in casting a ballot.

There is a belief among some ethicists that journalists have no business voting for any type of award involving people they cover. The potential for conflict is too great, and it’s our responsibility to report news, not make it.

Valid points. But I have defended the practice in the belief that their daily exposure and access to the game make baseball writers the most qualified electorate available. And it’s a point of honor among most writers I’ve known to be informed, objective and fair.

This year, though, I was slow to open the distinctive brown envelope when it arrived in the mail. The Hall, the voters and the baseball hierarchy continue to dance around the issue of performance-enhancing drug use among some of the game’s biggest stars, telling us to vote our conscience. I’m not into moral relativism, but things change.

Such creature comforts as air travel and LASIK eye surgery were unavailable to Babe Ruth, but he never faced a black opponent in a game that counted.

Amphetamines — ‘‘greenies” — were a training-room staple for decades before turning up on the banned-substances list a few years ago. Is it unreasonable to suspect a Hall of Famer or two of resorting to an occasional pick-me-up for a day game after a night game?

Most tellingly, Tony La Russa, Joe Torre and Bobby Cox went into the Hall as unanimous choices earlier this month. Their credentials are unassailable, yet all three of them managed players identified as PED users in the Mitchell Report, so it’s fair to say they benefitted from the practice. As hands-on as La Russa was, not much went on in his clubhouse that he didn’t know about.

In the past, I have been unequivocal: Drug cheats need not apply. I’ve never voted for Mark McGwire or Rafael Palmeiro, and I didn’t vote for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens or Sammy Sosa when they joined the ballot last year. That’s to say eight MVP awards and seven Cy Youngs didn’t happen and that the all-time home-run king, a 600-homer guy (one of seven) and a 3,000-hits/500-homer guy (one of four) are not worthy.

Make sense? I’m no longer certain. But as I mull it over and channel the collective conscience of Jerome Holtzman, John Kuenster and other trusted advisers, here is this year’s ballot:

Locks: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas.

Maddux could be the first unanimous choice, and Glavine’s credentials are nearly comparable. The first half of Thomas’ career was way better than the second half, but in those first nine years, he was as good as anybody.

Moving up: Craig Biggio, Jack Morris, Alan Trammell.

Biggio, a casualty of steroid fallout, got 3,000 hits and was a capable fielder at three tough positions. Morris, a great big-game pitcher, goes in on the “same guy” theory with Bert Blyleven. Trammell was the best two-way shortstop of his time; Ozzie Smith’s less flashy counterpart in the field and a better hitter.

Surprised myself: Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina.

Schilling’s personality tends to alienate, but he was a dominant big-game pitcher for a decade, and good teams followed him around. Mussina never won a Cy Young Award and got to 20 wins only once, but by any measure of effective pitching, his numbers are off the charts.

Apologies to: Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Lee Smith, Larry Walker. This Hall is for the greatest of the greats, not the best of the very good.

Finally, a word about a .250 career hitter who got fewer than 3 percent of the vote in his only year on the writers’ ballot.

Before there was Jim Edmonds, before there was Ken Griffey Jr., before there was ESPN, there was Paul Blair of the Baltimore Orioles.

He could go get it in center field like few men before him or since. Blair died last week at 69.

He was a joy to watch and one of baseball’s all-time good guys.



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