PED debate will decide this year’s MLB Hall of Fame class

The 2022 Baseball Hall of Fame writers’ ballot might very well be the most fascinating and polarizing such referendum in the museum’s history. This week, ahead of the results being announced Jan. 25, The Post’s Ken Davidoff will break down the many issues and debates in play before revealing his ballot.

Rule 5 used to be the Baseball Hall of Fame equivalent of a Brood X cicada, emerging every 17 years or so to prompt a discussion about a specific candidate and his foibles before disappearing once again.

Now, Rule 5 stands as ubiquitous as the mosquito. Thanks a lot, steroids.

Rule 5, in the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s rules for election, reads, “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”

It’s that “integrity, sportsmanship and character” trio (some overlap there) that has thrown the Hall into uncharted chaos, with this 2022 writers’ ballot set to close some doors while opening others. All those doors lead right back to illegal performance-enhancing drugs, the issue that has defined this process since Mark McGwire became eligible in 2007, many of his critics contending that he lacked those three overlapping qualities, and shows no hope of abating.

To the contrary, time has only muddied the matter, the game’s evolving rules on illegal performance-enhancing drugs creating subclasses of suspects. Consider that a certain tier of players — headlined by Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez — overcame whispers of illegal PED usage due to a lack of evidence beyond the eye test (and the subsequent raised eyebrows) to gain the 75 percent support necessary for election.

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Barry Bonds
Barry Bonds
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Let’s break down the other subclasses, none of which has hit that 75 percent threshold. Some players raised enough hell to gain entry into multiple groups; here, they have been assigned to the demographic that arguably damns them the most.

The pre-testing guys

McGwire, when he joined the Cardinals’ coaching staff in 2010, admitted that he used steroids during his record-breaking home run (70) season in 1998. He didn’t fare particularly well prior to that disclosure, topping out at 23.7 percent in ’10 (doubts loomed about both the authenticity of his accomplishments and their worthiness) and did even worse in the subsequent six years, additionally coming up small in a Today’s Game Era Committee tally.

Roger Clemens
Roger Clemens reached 61.6 percent of the vote last season.
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Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens came aboard in 2013 and have seen their votes move in virtual lockstep — Bonds hit a new high last year with 61.8 percent, Clemens with 61.6 percent — for good reason: The two all-time greats both saw government agents capture their purported suppliers, although the feds nevertheless couldn’t convict either legend. This year marks their last chance on the writers’ ballot.

Sammy Sosa, also on his last chance, peaked last year at 17 percent, a far cry from induction. He allegedly failed his 2003 survey test, yet it’s possible his most indicting moment occurred when he pretended to not speak English competently at the infamous 2005 Congressional hearings on illegal PEDs in baseball.

Gary Sheffield said in 2004 that he had unknowingly used “the cream,” an illegal PED manufactured by BALCO and given to him by Bonds during the 2001-02 offseason. He surged to 40.6 percent last year and has three years to go.

Andy Pettitte confirmed the Mitchell Report’s findings that he used human growth hormone in 2002 and later acknowledged using it again in 2004, at which point players were tested for steroids but not HGH. He climbed to 13.7 percent last year, his third year on the ballot.

The failed tests

Rafael Palmeiro became the first high-profile casualty of the testing era, which began in ’04, when a 2005 sample came back positive. He lasted only four years on the ballot, his 4.4 percent showing in 2014 falling below the 5 percent necessary to stay on the ballot.

When Manny Ramirez failed a test in 2011, it marked his third skirmish with illegal PEDs, as he reportedly tested positive in the 2003 survey and drew a suspension in 2009 for a non-analytical positive. This will be his sixth go-round on the ballot.

Alex Rodriguez
Alex Rodriguez is on the ballot for the first time this year.
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The non-analytical positive

A non-analytical positive is a conviction with evidence not gleaned from the actual drug test. That’s how Major League Baseball nabbed Alex Rodriguez in 2013, courtesy of the text messages between him and Biogenesis founder Anthony Bosch that Bosch provided and verified. A-Rod also admitted to using illegal PEDs with the Rangers from 2001 through 2003 and reportedly failed the ’03 survey test. A-Rod is a debutant at this dance and has about 40 percent of public-ballot support as per Ryan Thibodaux.

2003 survey testing

David Ortiz put up most of his numbers in the testing era and never came back positive … except during that ‘03 survey test, which was used as a baseline to determine whether discipline-infused testing was necessary (it was) and supposed to be anonymous. The slugger has asserted his innocence, and commissioner Rob Manfred has defended Ortiz as well, saying his result could have been a false positive. Ortiz, joining A-Rod as a ballot freshman, has started strong and could be elected in his first try, which would be a significant milestone for those linked to illegal PEDs.

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