The most intriguing aspect of the 2017 MLB Hall of Fame ballot announcement on Wednesday had little to do with who was elected, although three worthy candidates will be enshrined in Cooperstown later this year, and a lot to do with what it could mean for the future of those labeled “Steroid Era” players.

Voters appear ready to forgive

The Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) not only elected base-stealing sensation Tim Raines, former All-Star Jeff Bagwell, and possibly the greatest catcher in MLB history, Ivan Rodriguez but also satiated those clamoring for a more straightforward voting process concerning players of the much-maligned era.

With the surge in voting numbers for Bagwell, Roger Clemens, and Barry Bonds, and with Rodriguez being elected in his first year of eligibility, it now seems the voters are softening their stance on those linked to the controversial era of baseball and appear ready to cease rejecting players based solely on allegation and conjecture. As older writers lose their votes (the HOF purged retired voters 10+ years removed from actively covering the MLB) and younger voters less entrenched in upholding the “old school” ways of bygone era gain a voice, still more support is likely to fall on the side of player from this era.

Growing support for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens

It is not up for debate whether Clemens and Bonds are two of the greatest players in the history of baseball.

What has been feverishly debated, however, has been the way in which their careers should be viewed with regard to induction into the Hall of Fame. With this year's voting, a year in which Clemens and Bonds received 54.1% (up from 45.2%) and 53.8% (up from 44.3%) of the vote from the BBWAA, respectively, it now seems possible both men will eventually receive the necessary votes for enshrinement.

Many voters changed their stance on Bonds and Clemens once the announcement was made that Bud Selig, the commissioner of baseball during the “Steroid Era”, had been inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee. Surely the debate will continue for years to come, but in the case of Bagwell, Raines, and Rodriguez, the Hall of Fame is adding to its rank three of the very best to ever play the game.

Tim Raines finally gets his due

This was the 10th and final time Tim Raines was to appear on the ballot, and many still can’t believe he wasn’t inducted years ago. With 808 stolen bases, a .385 on-base percentage, and 8 seasons of hitting .300 or better, the former Expos outfielder is arguably the greatest leadoff hitter not named Rickey Henderson of the modern era.

The path to Cooperstown was thought to be a bit murkier for both Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez, but at least in the case of Bagwell, he cleared more than enough votes (86.1%) for induction. The 1994 NL MVP played his entire career with the Houston Astros, compiling 1,529 runs batted in and an OPS of .948 (the 12th highest total in HOF history).

For Pudge, the waiting game was more stressful, as he garnered just enough votes to ensure he became only the second catcher in MLB history to be elected on their first ballot. The other catcher to do so, Johnny Bench, has called the 13-time Gold Glove winner, “as complete a catcher as (he’s) ever seen”.

What lies ahead for the 2018 Hall of Fame

For the two men (Trevor Hoffman and Vladimir Guerrero) just outside of the required 75% vote for enshrinement, their time may come as early as 2018. Hoffman, a 7-time All-Star who retired with 601 saves (at the time the most in MLB history), finished just short of the necessary votes, appearing on 74% of all submitted ballots, an increase of almost 7% from last year.

9-time All-Star Vladimir Guerrero received 71.7% of the vote. Those percentages would seem to make both men locks for next year, but with both Chipper Jones and Jim Thome making their way to the ballot in 2018, and with the huge increases in support for Bonds, Clemens, and Edgar Martinez, anything is possible.

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