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Hall ballot deep in big league accomplishments

First-timers Bonds, Clemens, Biggio, Sosa, Piazza there to challenge closing-in Morris

The newly released 2013 National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot is rich in numbers and deep in talent:

• Barry Bonds, the all-time home run leader with 762.

• Roger Clemens, a storied right-hander with 354 wins.

• Craig Biggio, a second baseman with 3,060 hits.

• Sammy Sosa, the only slugger to bash more than 60 homers in three different seasons and who totaled 609.

• Mike Piazza, who hit 396 of his 427 homers as a catcher -- the most of any player at that position in Major League history.

• Curt Schilling, winner of 216 regular-season games and 11 more in the postseason.

• Jack Morris, a starter who so dominated the American League during one decade that he's now on the cusp of immortality in his 14th try.

The ballot that members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America will contemplate during the month of December, though, is not simply about career numbers. This year's voting -- with the addition of Bonds, Clemens and Sosa in particular -- brings further attention to baseball's era played under the cloud of performance-enhancement questions.

"It's going to be a very interesting ballot and I know the writers are going to have some tough decisions to make," said Morris, who finished with 66.7 percent of the vote in the last balloting "Unfortunately, they are going to have to be the moral police and I don't think a lot of them want to be. Hopefully it will work out the right way and it will be the right thing when it's all said and done."

As all Baseball Hall of Fame votes are conducted, a candidate needs to be named on at least 75 percent of the ballots to be elected. BBWAA members with 10 consecutive years or more of covering the sport are eligible to vote and they can name as many as 10 players on their ballots. The results of the voting will be announced on Jan. 9. will air a live simulcast of MLB Network coverage of the announcement.

Those elected, if any, will be inducted into the Hall during the annual ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y., on July 28. They will be joined posthumously on that day by anyone selected by the pre-integration Veterans Committee. The winners of the Ford C. Frick Award for meritorious contributions to baseball announcing and the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for excellence in baseball writing will be honored on July 27 at Doubleday Field.

Anyone named by the Veterans Committee -- plus the two award winners -- will be announced at the Winter Meetings, to be held in Nashville, Tenn., from Dec. 3-6.

Morris, who had 254 career wins during his 18-year career -- an American League-best 162 of them during the 1980s -- tops a list of returnees that includes, among others, Jeff Bagwell, Lee Smith, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell and Edgar Martinez.

Morris is hoping that his 14th year on the ballot will be the charm. He fell 48 votes shy of election for the Class of 2012, in which Reds shortstop Barry Larkin was the only player elected by the BBWAA. In recent votes, Burt Blyleven was elected to the Hall in his 14th year, Jim Rice in his 15th year and Bruce Sutter in his 13th.

All of this is setting an optimistic course for Morris.

"That's the beauty of the waiting process; the fact that there is time," Morris said. "If it was one vote and you're gone, there would be a lot more guys in or a lot more out. I've always said this: the guys who are in, they deserve to be in. There may be a few guys who aren't in who deserve to be in. There's never going to be a perfect system. You can't really change it to make it perfect."

Among the first-timers, Biggio would seem to be on a clear course toward a plaque because 3,000 hits is almost a certain ticket to the hallowed Hall. Of the 26 other retired players who amassed 3,000 or more hits, only two are not in the Hall and both have extenuating circumstances. One is Rafael Palmiero, who finished with 3,020 hits and 569 homers but garnered 12.6 percent in his second year on the ballot after being suspended for a positive steroid test in 2005, his last season in the Major Leagues. The other is Pete Rose, the all-time leader with 4,256 hits who is banned from baseball because of gambling and is not eligible to be included on Hall of Fame ballots.

Biggio played 20 seasons, all for the Astros. He batted .281 as a catcher, outfielder and second baseman; he played 1,989 of his 2,780 games at second base.

"It would be a very, very rewarding feeling if it was to happen," said Biggio, who has been a high school coach and a special assistant to the general manager for the Astros since his retirement in 2007. "I'll just cross my fingers and hopefully next year, come Jan. 9, I'll get a phone call."

Bonds played 22 seasons for the Pirates and Giants and holds the all-time records for homers in a career and a single season (73), plus walks (2,558) and intentional walks (688). By even the metrics of today, Bonds is third in overall WAR (Wins Above Replacement) behind Babe Ruth and Cy Young, third in offensive WAR, sixth with a .444 on-base percentage, sixth with a .607 slugging percentage and fourth with a 1.051 OPS, which combines on-base and slugging percentages. He won the National League MVP seven times, three times before 1998, the demarcation line for when many believe the so-called steroids era began.

"I gave to that game," Bonds said recently. "I know how many games I played, how many years I put in, how many hours I put in, how much time I've worked, how hard I've worked and I am never, never, ever going to justify that part of my life. And it was a great part of my life. ... "

"This is an exceptional group of players," he said. "... We're always going to respect each other as athletes."

Clemens, who pitched for the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Yankees and Astros during a 24-year career, is ninth in career victories, one shy of Gregg Maddux, the top winning pitcher in their era with 355. He is third with 4,672 strikeouts behind Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson. His career WAR ranks eighth for all players and third among pitchers behind Young and Walter Johnson, the pitchers with the most wins in history. Clemens was the AL MVP and won the Cy Young in 1986 for the Red Sox. He captured the Cy Young Award seven times, six of them in the AL, four of them prior to 1998.

Sosa hit 66 homers for the Cubs in 1998, the year of the feverish home run race with Mark McGwire to break Roger Maris' record of 61, set in 1961. McGwire finished with 70, a record that was broken three years later by Bonds. During that '98 season, Sosa led the National League with 158 RBIs and was named the NL's MVP. His home run hitting didn't end there. Sosa hit 63 in 1999, 64 in 2001 and led the league with 50 in 2000 and 49 in 2002. During that five-year period from 1998-2002, Sosa hit 292 homers.

Piazza ranks fifth offensively among the top nine catchers, six of them Hall of Famers. He hit .308 and was a 12-time All-Star, winning Rookie of the Year honors with the Dodgers in 1993. He was MVP of the 1996 All-Star Game in Philadelphia.

Schilling and Randy Johnson were the co-MVPs of the 2001 World Series as their D-backs defeated the Yankees in seven games. Schilling's regular-season record of 216-146 with a 3.46 ERA is not particularly Hall-worthy, but his 11-2 record and 2.23 ERA in 19 postseason starts for the Phillies, D-backs and Red Sox certainly stand out.

Schilling was 4-1 with a 2.07 ERA in seven World Series starts, also winning it all with Boston in 2004 and '07. In 2004, he created postseason lore by pitching against the Yankees with such a serious foot injury that blood soaked his baseball sock.

Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow@boomskie on Twitter.