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Nightengale: Rodriguez, Raines and Bagwell Prove Hall of Fame Does Forgive

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Tim Raines. Photo: SI.com

These three perennial All-Stars played during two of the worst scandals in Major League Baseball.

Two of them played during the steroid era and were suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs.

One played during baseball’s cocaine era, testifying during the Pittsburgh drug trial that he used the drug during games, keeping a vial in his uniform back pocket.

Now, all is forgiven as Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez were elected Wednesday into baseball’s Hall of Fame.

They have reached baseball immortality and will be inducted with former commissioner Bud Selig and former general manager John Schuerholz on July 30 at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y.

The vote and election certainly showed a softening toward suspected PED users by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Rodriguez, who was accused of steroid use by former teammate Jose Canseco in his book and lost 30 pounds before MLB’s testing program with penalties in 2005, faced significant skepticism.

Bagwell, suspected of PED use but with no paper trail to prove it, was forced to wait seven years until finally making it.

“It was an interesting process,’’ Bagwell said. “Anxiety was very, very high.’’

Certainly, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, the greatest hitter and pitcher of the steroid era, are familiar with the waiting game.

Yet they made their greatest stride toward future election, drawing 54% of the vote, 10% better than their previous high, with five years of eligibility remaining.

Jeff Bagwell. Photo: SI.com

It’s a similar voting pattern Bagwell faced despite having Hall of Fame credentials when he retired. Bagwell, who hit .297 with 449 homers, 1,517 runs, 1,529 RBI, .408 on-base percentage and .540 slugging percentage, has admitted to taking only androstenedione in 1998, an anabolic steroid that didn’t become banned in baseball until 2003.

Bagwell received 41.7% of the vote his first year in 2011, but after his voting percentage stalled, it grew from 55.7% in 2015 to 71.6% last year to a staggering 86.2% on Wednesday. He received 381 of 442 votes, easily eclipsing the 332 votes needed to reach the required 75%.

There’s little reason to believe Bonds and Clemens won’t soon be walking through the halls of Cooperstown, too, and Bagwell can’t wait to welcome them.

“I’ll make this very honest,’’ Bagwell said. “My honest opinion is that Barry Bonds is the best player I ever played against my entire life. Roger Clemens is the best (right-handed) pitcher. Man, they were just awesome. Their demeanor, the way they went about their business, is just amazing.

“I respect them.

“I’m a fan, put it that way.’’

Certainly, no one ever questioned Rodriguez’s Hall of Fame credentials. Rodriguez, a 14-time All-Star and 13-time Gold Glove winner, might be the greatest all-around catcher since Johnny Bench. He appeared in the most games, 2,427, as a catcher, with more hits, doubles, total bases and runs than any catcher in history.

Yet suspicions of Rodriguez’s PED use (“Only God knows,’’ Rodriguez has said to the allegations), were largely ignored by the voters. Rodriguez, only the eighth Latin American player to reach the Hall of Fame, barely was elected with 76% of the ballots — receiving only four more votes than required — but still joined his hero, Bench, as the only catcher to be elected on the first ballot.

“That means a lot,’’ Rodriguez said. “Johnny Bench was my favorite player growing up. I can’t wait until July to see him on the stage when I do my speech. It’s a dream come true.’’

Yet after watching Mike Piazza’s four-year delay before his election, he couldn’t help but wonder if he’d be penalized. Piazza is the finest offensive catcher in baseball history, but like Rodriguez, also was under suspicion of steroid use. Piazza has admitted to the use of androstenedione, but only before it became illegal.

Ivan Rodriguez. Photo: El Paso Times

“I had trouble sleeping for three days,’’ said Rodriguez, 45, the youngest living Hall of Famer, “I’ll tell you that right now. I was very anxious for the whole situation. There was some big hopes, but we didn’t know what’s going to happen. It was very close.’’

Raines’ Hall of Fame bid was sidetracked by a different type of drug: cocaine. Raines admitted to spending $40,000 a year on cocaine during his testimony during the Pittsburgh drug trials, which resulted in the suspensions of 11 major-league players. Raines was never suspended, only subjected to additional and random drug testing for the duration of his career.

While Raines’ drug abuse tainted his career, his Hall of Fame legacy was damaged much more by Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson.

While Henderson is widely considered the greatest leadoff hitter in baseball history — and Raines might have been the second-best — his career was hidden in Henderson’s shadows.

It took a decade for the Baseball Writers’ Association of America to realize Raines’ greatness. In his first two years on the ballot, he failed to garner even 25% of the vote and was still at 37.5% in 2011. But once it finally hit us, Raines easily slid into baseball immortality.

Really, it was embarrassing the writers, including myself, overlooking this seven-time All-Star and four-time stolen base champ for so long. Sure, maybe he didn’t reach any magical milestones — falling 395 hits shy of 3,000 — but he’s the only player in history with at least 100 triples, 150 homers and 600 stolen bases. He also had the highest stolen-base percentage, 84.7%, of anyone in history with at least 400 attempts, eclipsing Henderson (80.8%).

“A lot of people didn’t really know what Tim Raines did for 23 years,’’ Raines said. “I did a lot of things a lot of people actually in the Hall of Fame didn’t do. But now they’ve got these new stats. People look at you differently.

“People didn’t really look at it that way back in the day. You looked at 500 homers, 300 wins, 3,000 hits. If you didn’t reach those criteria, it was hard for anyone to look at you like a Hall of Famer.

“But the way the game has changed today, the way they looked at stats, it has changed a lot of people’s minds.’’

Along with our perspective on the steroid era, too.

By Bob Nightengale

This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, USA Today. Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter and Facebook

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