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January 9, 2014

Baseball fans got a treat when Maddux came to town

(Continued)

There wasn’t much doubt that Maddux would be voted into the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. When the tabulation was completed, he was named on 555 of 571 ballots. His 97.2 percentage was the eighth-highest in the history of voting.

Glavine, his teammate in Atlanta, drew just under 92 percent of the vote, and Thomas polled almost 84 percent. All three were well above the 75 percent needed for election.

While there was reason to cheer the election of three players following last year’s vote, in which none was selected, the dispute raged about how to judge some of the game’s biggest stars who played during the Steroid Era.

Who can suggest that Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds weren’t great players? Whether their careers were enhanced or extended by drug use is debatable. Whether they'd established themselves as all-time greats before that drug use isn’t.

To a degree the same can be said about Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, though their single-season home run records remain tainted beyond defense.

Clemens saw his support for election into the Hall of Fall slip from 37.6 percent last year to 35.4 percent in the most recent vote. It was the same for Bonds, who slid from 36.2 percent to 34.7 percent.

Baseball faces a dilemma it can’t resolve. Instead of casting votes that separate the greats from the near greats, the writers have to weigh a moral question concerning unfair advantage. That’s a difficult position.

Such was not the case with Maddux, who some thought should be the first player to get a 100 percent approval rating. Not even Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron or Ted Williams did that.

Maddux’s achievements were significant. He made the All-Star team eight times. On four occasions he won the Cy Young Award, twice unanimously, as the league’s top pitcher.

What I will always remember is a guy pitching for a down-and-out team on a summer's day in 2008 and befuddling the Reds. Even in the last months of his career, Maddux was a pro who knew nothing but to give his best. And he didn’t need drugs to do it.

Tom Lindley is a CNHI sports columnist. Reach him at tlindley@cnhi.com.

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