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Hall of Fame ballot has become morality test

Because of the Steroid Era, filling out my Hall ballot is no longer as innocent as it once was.

Former Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa is in his 10th — and final — year on the writers’ Hall of Fame ballot.
Former Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa is in his 10th — and final — year on the writers’ Hall of Fame ballot.
Darren Hauck/AP

I always enjoy getting my National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot in the mail.

It comes with surprises, memories and wistful pondering of the mystifying — but never dull — passage of time.

But then come the clouds.

I hadn’t been thinking much recently about Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens or Sammy Sosa. Which was nice.

But there they are again, bright and shiny, jumping back into the spotlight on my new ballot, along with fresh Hall candidates such as Prince Fielder, David Ortiz and Tim Lincecum.

Bonds, Clemens and Sosa have been on the ballot for 10 years. And 10 years is it.

If they don’t get in this time, they’re done.

At least, they’re done for the regular vote-in from members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

It’s possible one of the Hall’s four era committees could vote in any or all of them down the road, maybe also vote in Manny Ramirez, who has been on the ballot for six years with a high of 28.2% last year.

Manny ain’t getting in by our vote, that’s for sure. You need a checked box on 75% of the ballots cast. I’d be surprised if Ramirez even makes it to half.

Of course, this censuring isn’t because the men, technically speaking, aren’t worthy.

Consider that Sosa — the only player to hit 60 home runs in a season three times, with a total of 609 career homers — got a mere 17% of the vote last year, and you’ll understand considerations such as ‘‘integrity,’’ ‘‘sportsmanship’’ and ‘‘character,’’ all of them mandated parts of the voting guidelines.

Bonds? Arguably the best baseball player ever. Clemens? Arguably the best pitcher in history.

Yeah, a dilemma.

The old steroid nonsense, the troubling moral decisions we voters must make rather than just focusing on the ability and stats of the candidates, all that comes racing back like a foul wind on a sunny day when I see those names.

Will I vote for Bonds, Clemens, Sosa or Ramirez? No.

I never will. If younger voters or the old boys on one of the committees want them in years from now, fine. Do it.

I made my stand way back about what I consider cheating. All those guys are linked to the use of performance-enhancing drugs, which gave them an advantage on the field I don’t like or respect. And, of course, they lied about it.

I can rest easy with my decision. Take it to my grave. Let the worms know.

What I don’t like is that the BBWAA never has come to an agreement about what to do with the whole Steroid Era of inflated men and inflated numbers. It’s an era, don’t forget, that isn’t officially over; it’s just in remission.

I’ll never vote for Alex Rodriguez, a first-timer on this ballot. Not now, not in a thousand years.

‘‘A-Roid’’ has numbers that are otherworldly: 696 homers, 2,086 RBI, etc.

But say the words ‘‘doping,’’ ‘‘Biogenesis,’’ ‘‘lying’’ and ‘‘phony,’’ and you’ll see where I’m coming from.

Ortiz? ‘‘Big Papi’’ is on the ballot for the first time. I always liked the bulky guy and his power and clutch hitting, but I don’t know. He’s lightly tainted by steroid use, but he’s not all-in, like the other cheaters.

I’ll probably vote for him. I need to think about it.

This is the unhappy part, the part that makes the ballot that was first such a joy to receive gradually turn into a sinkhole of doubt, uncertainty, even anger.

I’ll vote for Curt Schilling (even though he’s a jerk), Scott Rolen and Omar Vizquel (even though there are some unproven sexual-abuse allegations about him out there). And I have voted for Billy Wagner and Todd Helton in the past.

I’m eager to study the detailed work of first-timers Fielder, Jonathan Papelbon and Ryan Howard.

And Lincecum, a two-time Cy Young Award winner. I always liked him. Maybe it’s because the long-haired, baby-faced guy somehow threw flaming rockets despite being the size of a typical high school nerd.

It all becomes subjective, really. Everybody on the ballot was a star, a rare talent. You can study the stats until your eyes glaze. The numbers are awesome.

Ultimately, however, I use my own personal standard: When I watched him play, did I think I was watching a future

Hall of Famer? And a decent, sporting human being?

That’s it.