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Last call for a hallowed Hall with Sosa, Bonds, Clemens on deck

4-9-04 Christopher De LucSun-Times sports writer. Phoby Jim Frost Sun-Times.

4-9-04 Christopher De Luca, Sun-Times sports writer. Photo by Jim Frost Sun-Times.

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Updated: August 25, 2012 6:13AM

On the Sunday night of induction weekend, all of the Hall of Fame players gather for a private dinner. No wives. No family. No friends.

Just Hall of Famers — because these guys love the exclusivity of their club.

They gather in a ballroom at the Otesaga Resort, and tables are defined by Hall credentials. One year, Kirby Puckett asked to sit at Willie Mays’ table and was told no. He didn’t have enough home runs.

Tony Gwynn once wondered why he had Ozzie Smith at his table. He was told that was the table for Punch-and-Judy hitters.

It’s a night of busting chops and embellishing stories that need no embellishing. To some Hall of Famers, it’s the most treasured part of a great weekend.

And beginning next year, it will never be the same.

In fact, the quaintness and innocence that is Cooperstown, N.Y., will never be the same.

Next year is when Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and a Mitchell Report-worthy list of Steroid Era stars come up for first-time consideration.

Over the weekend, while Ron Santo and Barry Larkin were being honored as the Class of 2012, several members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America were wringing their hands over what will happen with the Class of 2013.

The prevailing opinion is that Sosa is doomed, while Bonds and Clemens might suffer through a one-year slap from the writers. That seems like such a waste. Either you deserve consideration or you don’t.

Larkin played through the meat of the Steroid Era and didn’t get stained by the scandal. Most writers don’t think he used performance-enhancing drugs. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. If Jim Parque took them, anything’s possible.

The writers will get their ballots at the end of this year, and then we will have to make real decisions. It’s hard to imagine a Hall of Fame that doesn’t include Bonds, Clemens or Sosa, considering what they did during their careers. Maybe none of them will be celebrating in Cooperstown next July.

But that doesn’t mean their cloud won’t hang over the quaint little town. Next year won’t be as much about who gets in but about who gets left out — and for how long.

Eventually, Bonds will get in. Maybe Clemens, too. I’ll vote for them, plus Sosa. None of their records has been erased from baseball’s books.

Now imagine the induction weekend that includes Bonds, Clemens or Sosa — and that private dinner at the Otesaga.

Who gets to sit at the Steroid Era table?

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