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A rookie voter's take on the Hall of Fame election

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NEW YORK (AP)

There is a wonderful scene near the end of the movie ''Charlie Wilson's War'' in which Philip Seymour Hoffman tells Tom Hanks the tale of the Zen master and the little boy.

Among the lessons in that little yarn about life's ever-changing uncertainty is this: Every action has consequences - often unintended ones. Sometimes those consequences don't become clear until years, decades, even generations later. But everything leads to something else.

You can count on it, like Greg Maddux's pinpoint control.

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The Steroids Era isn't over.

Not by a long shot.

Some of the annoying aftereffects are just starting to roll around, infesting the Hall of Fame ballot and turning quaint, little, old Cooperstown into baseball's biggest battleground, a most imperfect contradiction rather than ''America's Most Perfect Village.''

And you know what? Accept it. This is a big part of what PEDs have wrought.

Consequences. Messy consequences embarrassing to baseball. The game earned every last one of them.

So Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas got in Wednesday, while Craig Biggio barely missed and Jack Morris fell short in his final try on the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot.

Voters remained mostly split on sluggers Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens - not even close.

In reality, these broiling, never-ending debates were born decades ago. There's no way Hall of Fame elections could be neat and clean once even a handful of players were dirty.

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As a first-time voter, I consider it an honor and a privilege to have one voice in the process. I thought long and hard about my initial choices - for years, really - and discussed them with practically anyone who was interested.

Probably a few people who weren't, too.

When I was younger, of course, I never imagined I'd be contemplating court documents, congressional testimony and grand jury indictments. Just the numbers on the backs of all those baseball cards I collected, and my memories of a shortstop ranging deep into the hole.

But by the time I came to bat last month, the task was much tougher: A ballot overstuffed with worthy candidates, many of them holdovers stained by steroids allegations. The maximum is 10 selections, and the six specific criteria include integrity, sportsmanship and character.

After much deliberation, I checked eight boxes: Bagwell, Glavine, Maddux, Mike Mussina, Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling and Thomas.

I have my reasons and rationale, like all voters. I accept that one or more of my picks may have used steroids or other illegal drugs. I'm well aware of the giants I left off. I wish it wasn't that way.

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The hard truth is, there's no sure way to know which stars compiled authentic statistics and which resumes were artificially inflated. Whether that should even matter at this point is a reasonable question.

But the integrity of the Hall of Fame, just like the game itself, was compromised the moment players began juicing and nobody did anything to nip it in the bud.

Blame it on the guys who used and got rich. Blame it on the clean ones who kept quiet for too long. Blame it on the commissioners or owners who looked the other way as the money rolled in. Blame it on the media if you want, for playing the fool and missing the story until it was way too late.

Doesn't matter. There's no going back now.

Players who cheated are going to wind up in the Hall of Fame.

It may have happened already.

Deserving men will be denied, due (at least partly) to unfounded suspicions or overcrowded ballots.

Many think that happened again Wednesday.

Unfortunately, no unsullied solution exists. Not anymore.

And anyone who cares about this sort of thing, from Major League Baseball headquarters to the Hall of Fame hopefuls themselves, from the voters who have a voice to the die-hard fans who don't, will have to live with those consequences.

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