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Hall of Fame 2018: The most controversial names on the ballot

Editor’s Note: Baseball’s Hall of Fame voting results are coming Jan. 24. To get you ready, we’re breaking down this year’s ballot in a five-part series. Part 4 focuses on the controversial players on the ballot in 2018.

What is an acceptable level of cheating for the Hall of Fame? Baseball has had to grapple with that question since its inception. Players who used spitballs and amphetamines and did other terrible things have long been memorialized in the Hall, but the issue has increased in prominence in recent years.

That’s because players from baseball’s Steroid Era now populate the ballot.

That specific issue has varied on a case-by-case basis thus far. Some players who were suspected of steroid use in their careers have been elected to the Hall of Fame in recent years. Voters are willing to overlook cases where use is suspected in some cases.

With those guys out of the way, the 2018 ballot is littered with the most prominent and most controversial of those suspected users. You probably already know who they are.

Notice that — in all but one case — we’re using suspected here. Only one player on the ballot tested positive and was suspended by the league for using steroids.

The rest? Well, they are here for a reason. We’ll get into that and break down every one of the controversial candidates on the 2018 ballot below:

There are a lot of players eligible for the Hall of Fame whose candidacies are shrouded in controversy. (Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

BARRY BONDS
Let’s start with this: Barry Bonds is probably going to get into the Hall of Fame. Not this year, but that’s the way things are trending. Last season saw Bonds receive 53.8 percent of the vote, which was a steady improvement from 2016. Bonds is already trending better than last year on Ryan Thibodaux’s excellent ballot tracker. He’s currently listed on 63.9 percent of ballots.

That number will drop. In fact, it’s probably wise to point out right now that every player here will see their percentage drop when the actual votes are released. That’s because controversial candidates are less likely to appear on ballots that don’t get revealed publicly before the results are announced.

But Bonds is already trending higher than he was last season. Not only that, but many first-time voters are checking Bonds’ name in recent years. The younger the electorate gets, the more votes Bonds receives. As of right now, Joe Morgan’s letter doesn’t seem to be working.

The rationale people like to use with Bonds is that he was a Hall of Famer before he allegedly used. While there’s plenty of suspicion around him, including leaked grand jury testimony where he admitted using “the cream” and “the clear,” but denied knowing they were steroids, Bonds never failed a test and was never suspended by the league.

ROGER CLEMENS
In the Hall of Fame voting, Bonds and Roger Clemens are linked. Clemens is in the exact same position as Bonds. He’s been trending up in recent years, and should see somewhat of a boost in 2018. Clemens is currently tracking at 63.9 percent of the vote as well, a slight uptick from last year.

The comparisons don’t end there. Clemens and Bonds were both named on the Mitchell Report. Clemens never failed a test and was never suspended by the league.

Most evidence that Clemens may have used comes from his former trainer Brian McNamee. McNamee allegedly testified that he personally injected Clemens between 1998 and 2001. Clemens has stringently denied those claims

MANNY RAMIREZ
Here’s one area where the voters are willing to draw the line. A confirmed positive test and suspension means you aren’t getting into the Hall of Fame. Ramirez didn’t come close during his first year on the ballot in 2017, and he’s trending down in 2018. The former outfielder is sitting at 23.8 percent on the ballot tracker, and has already lost seven votes this year.

Strictly on numbers, Ramirez is a Hall of Famer. He hit an incredible .312/.411/.585, with 555 home runs, over 19 years in the majors. Even if you wanted to punish him for his defense, he should still trend much higher than this, but only if you throw out the positive tests.

But those speak far too loudly. Some won’t consider Ramirez at all for those tests. Those who are willing to vote for him, have made him one of their first cuts when better players appear on the ballot. Unless things change drastically in the coming years, he’s going to have a hard time surging forward.

Curt Schilling has no connection to steroids, but is still considered controversial. (AP Photo)

CURT SCHILLING
Here’s a candidate with zero steroid concerns. How refreshing. Now, let’s talk about politics and memes about nazis.

Schilling’s issue doesn’t involve cheating. He doesn’t have a connection to performance-enhancing drugs. He was never named on the Mitchell Report. He never testified at a grand jury to defend himself. The only way to connect Schilling to steroids is by believing in conspiracy theories.

Perhaps that’s fitting considering how Schilling has operated lately. There’s not a political meme out there he won’t retweet. And memes aren’t exactly the most trustworthy sources. It’s not just memes, though. Schilling’s tweets have gotten him into plenty of hot water in recent years. He wanted Hillary Clinton buried under a jail. He implied journalists should be hung. He held a podcast with a congressional candidate who has ties to white supremacy.

Schilling’s candidacy goes beyond disagreeing with political stances. There’s concern that he might be a crummy human being.

Voters don’t seem to agree with that. Schilling has actually gained votes in 2018, and by a large margin. He received 45 percent of the vote in 2017, and is trending at 64.9 percent on the tracker. Schilling has picked up 17 votes from returning members. That’s among the highest of any player on the ballot.

He’s not getting in this year, but things are looking good in the future. This is Schilling, though. It’s impossible to predict whether he’ll sabotage himself on social media in 2018.

SAMMY SOSA
Of all the players on this list, Sosa has the worst shot to make the Hall of Fame. Yes, he’s trending even lower than Ramirez, who failed two tests. Sosa sits at just 11.4 percent, and there’s a real chance he drops off the ballot before his eligibility is up.

Sosa reportedly did fail a test in 2003, but it was a unique situation. This test was done before steroids were illegal in baseball. It was a test to determine whether regular testing for steroids should be introduced league-wide. Sosa’s test was supposed to remain private, but it was leaked years later that he tested positive. When the league banned steroids, Sosa never tested positive and was never suspended for steroid use.

He’s trending lower than Bonds and Clemens, however, because people believe steroids made Sosa’s career. For Bonds and Clemens, they argue both players used after they were superstars. Can that be proved? Probably not. Is it a bad argument? It might be.

Sosa hit .273/.344/.534, with 609 home runs, over 18 seasons in the majors. He’s only gotten above 10 percent of the vote once, in his first year on the ballot. Since then, it’s been all downhill.

Previously in this series
Part 1: Players who will drop off the ballot
Part 2: Players who need a lot of help 
Part 3: Players who are running out of time

Coming Tuesday: Players who are locks to get into Cooperstown in 2018

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!