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Strong 2014 ballot could hurt holdovers’ chances for Baseball Hall of Fame

Published: Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013 10:58 a.m. CST

(MCT) — CHICAGO — When former Cubs pitcher Greg Maddux and former White Sox slugger Frank Thomas become eligible for the Hall of Fame next winter, look for the candidacies of former Cubs closer Lee Smith and former Sox outfielder Tim Raines to take a tumble.

The 2014 ballot is considered one of the strongest in history, and that weakens the chances of those who missed in Wednesday’s election.

Plus there is the ongoing uncertainty of how much support suspected performance-enhancing drug users such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens will receive. Both were named on fewer than 40 percent of the ballots this year; 75 percent is needed for election.

What hurts the holdover candidates — led by Craig Biggio (68.2 percent), Jack Morris (67.7) and Jeff Bagwell (59.6) and including Raines (52.2) and Smith (47.8) — is that none of the top new candidates has been tainted by the steroid allegations that have haunted Bonds, Clemens and former Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa.

“Voting for the Hall of Fame is a continuum,” President Jeff Idelson said. “Because neither (Bonds or Clemens) didn’t earn election doesn’t preclude them from (making it later).”

Sosa is unlikely to be elected, given his 12.5 percent support Wednesday.

Thomas, meanwhile, has been adamant — and is almost universally believed — that he was not part of the steroid culture. Also on the ballot for the first time are Maddux, his former Braves teammate Tom Glavine, pitcher Mike Mussina and former MVP Jeff Kent, a teammate of Bonds with the Giants.

For those who thought the Baseball Writers’ Association of America had a difficult choice this year, wait until the debate begins next winter. Voters are limited to selecting 10 names, and historically one to three players have been elected.

Here’s what the holdover candidates face:

Greg Maddux

Pitcher — Cubs, Braves, Dodgers, Padres

A second-round draft pick of the Cubs, Maddux won four consecutive Cy Young Awards from 1992 to ‘95 — the latter three with the Braves — and finished second in the voting once and third twice. He also won 18 Gold Glove Awards.

The ultimate finesse pitcher, Maddux won 355 games in a 23-year career while posting a 3.16 ERA, making him almost certain of first-ballot election.

Frank Thomas

First base/DH — White Sox, A’s, Blue Jays

Thomas won back-to-back MVP awards with the Sox in 1993 and ‘94 and was second in 2000. He led the American League in on-base percentage four times and finished his 19-year career with a .301 batting average and 521 home runs, almost guaranteeing he will be a first-year inductee.

Tom Glavine

Pitcher — Braves, Mets

He helped the Braves to 11 consecutive playoff appearances before going to the Mets, with whom he won his 300th game at Wrigley Field. The soft-throwing left-hander won 305 games while compiling a 3.54 ERA.

Jeff Kent

Second base — Blue Jays, Mets, Indians, Giants, Astros, Dodgers

The 2000 National League MVP with the Giants, Kent won four Silver Slugger Awards while taking a back seat to the oversized ego of Bonds. In 17 seasons, he hit .290 with 377 home runs, which used to be good enough for inclusion in the Hall. But his statistics could suffer in comparison with those bloated during the Steroid Era.

Mike Mussina

Pitcher — Orioles, Yankees

While he never won a Cy Young Award, Mussina did collect seven Gold Gloves and finished in the top six of Cy Young voting nine times. He had a 270-153 record and 3.68 ERA and pitched in nine postseasons. That includes seven with the Yankees, which won’t hurt his chances with the large New York BBWAA electorate.

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