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Fred McGriff will enter Hall of Fame; Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens denied again

Fred McGriff is heading to Cooperstown. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

SAN DIEGO — Steroid-era superstars Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens again were denied admission to the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, this time by a jury that included several of their contemporaries. The Hall of Fame’s Contemporary Baseball Era Committee elected just one of the eight eligible players on its ballot: first baseman Fred Mc­Griff, a unanimous choice who will join this year’s regularly elected class in Cooperstown next summer.

The committee of 16 former players, longtime executives and veteran sportswriters included former players Ryne Sandberg, Jack Morris, Lee Smith, Frank Thomas, Alan Trammell and Greg Maddux. The committee reconsidered the fates of eight stars from the post-1980 era whose candidacies the writers rejected: McGriff, Bonds, Clemens, Curt Schilling, Albert Belle, Rafael Palmeiro, Dale Murphy and Don Mattingly. Players needed at least 12 of the 16 committee members’ votes to earn election.

McGriff was the only one who got them, meaning he will carry his 493 homers and 2,490 hits to Cooperstown after being left out during his final year of eligibility in 2019. “The Crime Dog,” as he was known to baseball fans and anyone who stumbled upon a Tom Emanski baseball training commercial during the 1990s, has more homers than all but nine other first basemen since 1960. One of the others is Palmeiro. Another is Mark McGwire, who admitted using steroids during his career. Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera will be Hall of Famers when they are eligible. The rest of the list is already in.

“I’ve been totally blessed over the years. This is just icing on the cake, and for it to be unanimous, it’s a beautiful thing,” McGriff said on MLB Network. “… I got cut from my high school team … so for me just to play one day in the big leagues, I exceeded all expectations.”

Bonds, the all-time career home run leader, and Clemens, who is third all-time in strikeouts, compiled otherwise Cooperstown-worthy careers but have become test cases for the legacies of the steroid era’s biggest stars. Neither was suspended for the use of performance-enhancing drugs, but both were accused. Bonds has denied knowingly using PEDs; Clemens maintains he never used them.

And while the conversation around their candidacies has long centered around that particular taboo, both were also accused of mistreating women off the field — Bonds of domestic violence toward his wife, Clemens of starting a relationship with a 15-year-old girl when he was 28.

Both are statistically better than almost any other player at their position and would otherwise have been locks to be voted in by the writers, but neither earned the requisite number of votes in their final year of eligibility last offseason — or any of their nine years of eligibility before that. Bonds has won more MVP awards (seven) than anyone. Clemens has won more Cy Young Awards (seven) than anyone.

Schilling, who never won the Cy Young, also had his candidacy marred by off-the-field controversy, though of a far different form than Bonds or Clemens. He has made several hateful public statements in recent years, some of which targeted transgender people and Muslims, others of which supported the Jan. 6 insurrection.

But Schilling was prolific as a starter for the Philadelphia Phillies, Arizona Diamondbacks and Boston Red Sox. He struck out 300 batters three times; he’s the only man to do so and not be in the Hall of Fame. He pitched to a 3.46 ERA in more than 3,000 career innings and was dominant in the postseason: In 19 playoff starts, he maintained a 2.23 ERA and a walks plus hits per inning pitched under 1.00.

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Former Braves outfielder Murphy and longtime New York Yankees first baseman Mattingly always lingered on the Cooperstown bubble, though neither ever got more than 25 percent of the writers’ vote. (Bonds and Clemens got more than 65 percent of the writers’ vote in their last year of eligibility). Murphy was a two-time MVP who hit 398 homers. Mattingly was the 1985 MVP and finished his career with a .307 batting average.

Belle, like Schilling, was a complicated case for the writers as a fiery personality who sometimes alienated them. But his numbers, including 381 homers and a .295 batting average, also fall just outside the realm of the traditional Hall of Fame lock. McGriff, by comparison, was a five-time all-star who finished with more 20-homer seasons (14) than any first baseman in history and 493 homers, seven shy of the number that had traditionally been considered an automatic bid.

The shadow of steroid use, alleged and confirmed, has rendered that number more complicated, which is why Palmeiro — who finished with 569 homers and 3,020 hits — did not find his way in Sunday, either. Palmeiro received a 10-game suspension in August 2005 following a positive test under MLB’s recently implemented drug testing program.

McGriff will join any players voted in by the writers in the Class of 2023. The results of the writers’ vote will be announced in January, when Bronson Arroyo, Carlos Beltrán, Matt Cain, R.A. Dickey, Jacoby Ellsbury, Andre Ethier, J.J. Hardy, John Lackey, Mike Napoli, Jhonny Peralta, Francisco Rodríguez, Huston Street, Jered Weaver and Jayson Werth will see how they fare in their first years of eligibility.

Alex Rodriguez, who tested positive for steroids during his career, joins Scott Rolen, Jeff Kent, Todd Helton, Billy Wagner and others on a list of players returning to the ballot after falling short last year. Should Rodriguez miss the threshold for election again, two of baseball’s top five home run hitters, along with one of its best power pitchers of all time and its all-time hits leader (Pete Rose), will remain without plaques in the Hall of Fame.

“It’s a great honor. It’s the ultimate,” McGriff said on MLB Network. “Every player’s goal is to make it to Cooperstown, be a Hall of Famer. And so I just had to work on my patience a little bit.”