1 p.m. update: In his fifth year on the Hall of Fame ballot, Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire received his lowest vote total yet. McGwire was named on 115 of the 581 ballots cast, or 19.8 percent. He received 23.7 pct. of the votes cast in 2010 and 21.9 percent -- his previous low -- in 2009. Roberto Alomar (90 pct.) and Bert Blyleven (79.7 pct.) earned election this year.

Below is Derrick Goold's analysis of McGwire's Hall of Fame status, published this morning before the 2011 vote totals were announced.

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TOWER GROVE - In the days leading up to this afternoon's announcement from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Houston's hallowed first baseman Jeff Bagwell has been positioned as the Next Great Test for voters. He's the latest standout slugger whose statistics have warped with time, whose numbers look too good to be inducted. He's expected to get a slim percentage of the vote not because of a steroid admission or a steroid suspension, but because of steroid suspicion.

The whispers of such allegations had enough volume that Bagwell even felt compelled to refute them in a recent article on ESPN.com.

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/hof11/columns/story?columnist=crasnick_jerry&id=5963276" target="_blank">"It still irritates me," he told Jerry Crasnick. "But it is what it is. You can't run from it. You can't hide from it, and if somebody wants to believe something, that's fine. ... If I ever do get to the Hall of Fame and there are 40 guys sitting behind me thinking, ‘He took steroids,' then it's not even worth it to me. I don't know if that sounds stupid. But it's how I feel in a nutshell."

But regardless of how he feels or how he's viewed by the voters, Bagwell isn't the true test for the voters, the real litmus test for the Steroid Era that will be revealed this afternoon. Neither is his fellow ballot first-timer Rafael Palmeiro, who was suspended for a positive test after his famous finger-wag in Congress.

Mark McGwire has been and will be again today.

This year's vote is the first since McGwire's admission of steroid use, which came a few days after last January's Hall of Fame announcement. It is also the first vote that has taken place after McGwire's return to baseball after several years of self-imposed exile. Voters and baseball officials have all argued in the past four years that both events would change the voters' view of McGwire, and some have suggested that it would be the tipping point, the last push to get him into the Hall. We are a forgiving nation, writers once said and wrote. That perception has dimmed in recent years, and now pundits believe that McGwire will never gain traction with the voters and his admission of use may actually have had the opposite effect - finally convincing some of the holdouts to drop him from the ballot. Today will reveal the trend, the truths.

Does he gain votes?

Does he lose votes?

Does he lose a lot of votes?

This is why McGwire is the best test today for the Steroid Era and Hall. It will be the first time we have pre- and post-admission votes to compare, the first time we know if McGwire is forgiven or forget it.

The brawny slugger, who led the game's revival in 1998 with a record 70 home runs, has not done well in his four previous chances at induction into the Hall of Fame. It takes a vote from three of every four voters to gain admission, a difficult 75 percent of more than 500 voters.

McGwire has annually had three of every four voters against him.

The results:

2007 ... 128 votes ... 23.5 percent
2008 ... 128 votes ... 23.6 percent
2009 ... 118 votes ... 21.9 percent
2010... 128 votes ... 23.7 percent

It is a leap to suggest that getting 128 votes in three of his four years on the ballot represents the same 128 voters putting him on their 10-name ballot. The voting body changes each year, and for some writers their voting approach changes each year. (To gain a ballot a writer must be a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America for 10 years. For example at The Post-Dispatch, Joe Strauss, Rick Hummel and Bernie Miklasz all have ballots. Columnist Bryan Burwell and I are several years short of receiving ballots.) But it's not unthinkable that a majority - even a vast majority - of those voters are the same, year to year. If some of them are voters who, like a few local writers, believe in putting a player on their ballot absent proof of use, then McGwire's percentage will fall.

For a 2007 article for the P-D, Hall of Fame writer Hummel took a straw poll of at least one writer in every BBWAA chapter and predicted that McGwire would receive between 120 and 150 votes. Hummel also spoke with the voters about why McGwire wouldn't be on the ballot and what the future looked like for the Cardinals' first baseman. The common explanation was interesting. From the article:

Some of those contacted in the Post-Dispatch survey indicated they would vote for McGwire in later years if McGwire would be more forthcoming about the steroid issue.

This was articulated even clearer in articles from that January and later in the year as Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. (and, of course, Hummel) took to the stage in Cooperstown, N.Y., for their induction into the Hall of Fame.

"This is a forgiving nation," Hall of Fame writer and longtime Cincinnati Reds beat writer Hal McCoy told The P-D in 2007. "I said that all along regarding Pete Rose. If Rose admitted (to gambling on baseball) the first time it came up, he'd probably be in the Hall of Fame right now. If McGwire discussed it, I know he'd pick up the votes."

Wrote Mark McGuire in The Albany Times Union: "We're a nation of second, third and 15th chances. We like to see our icons rise, then fall, then rise again. All celebrity resurrection takes is contrition. Talk about your past. Tell the truth. Apologize. ... Say you're sorry again and again, without equivocation. Make a bended-knee tour ...

"Maybe then, after a couple of years, Cooperstown will welcome you."

McGwire did all that, right down to "the bended-knee tour."

And yet ...

That same chorus of parrots who twisted his phrase against him, saying he "should talk about the past," now can turn his admission on him. That seems to be the prevailing opinion in the run-up to today's announcement.

Leave it to columnist Miklasz to nail it.

"Even if McGwire comes clean or does the opposite and swears under oath that he never did steroids, I don't think it matters," Bernie wrote at this lovely wooden table we shared for work up in Cooperstown during the 2007 induction weekend. "It is safe to love Ripken and Gwynn, safe to travel through the rolling hills and pristine meadows of rural upstate New York to find the field of gold, the field of dreams, that will serve as the stage for their awaited induction. ...

"I don't see a way in for McGwire, or a way out of this mess."

There is a sense that Alex Rodriguez, unlike others who have admitted steroid use or been suspended for it, can still play his way into Cooperstown. He'll have enough of his career and enough of his milestones after his admission to woo voters back from their high dudgeon. People close to McGwire, including Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, quietly hoped that luring McGwire back to baseball as a coach and letting the game embrace him again would have the same effect. Today's vote will make that easier to tell. It may take a few more years to really know.

Or, it may not matter, his fate long sealed.

In the days after McGwire's admission of steroid use during his career, some of the best baseball writers in the country turned immediately toward the impact that admission would have on his Hall of Fame chances. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/12/AR2010011203438.html" target="_blank">"Like our parents said, when you do something wrong, don't lie about it," Washington Post baseball columnist Tom Boswell wrote. "It makes it worse. Sometimes worse than what you did. McGwire will even regain some portion of his lost respect in the sport because he knows what price he'll pay. With his decision Monday ‘to come clean,' McGwire almost certainly incinerates any chance he may have had to reach the Hall of Fame."

Wrote Bill Madden, a Hall of Fame writer at The New York Daily News: http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/2010/01/12/2010-01-12_way_too_late_to_pump_up_bid_for_cooperstown.html" target="_blank">"He has to know that finally talking about the past can never eradicate the past. ... Admission of steroid use should never be construed as some form of healing process for baseball, either. There is no healing from this. But it's a whole lot better than the lying and denying."

In 2007, Bob Costas described McGwire as a "cardboard villain," an easy stand-in and target for all the rage now generated by steroid revelations. That description still fits. Oh, sure, some of his contemporaries, even some suspected users, will get into the Hall, but not McGwire. No, putting him in the Hall would be a tacit acknowledgement of the era, an acceptance that the writers aren't willing to make. He's the emblem, baseball's very own Hester Prynne. And, yes, he brought it on himself by using and by first denying when confronted with his use.

That brings us back to Bagwell.

If McGwire's vote total today - and whether it rises slightly or plummets - is the true test of the Steroid Era, then McGwire himself is a lesson. Bagwell should take note of McGwire's path. Keeping quiet didn't work. Denying didn't work. And though some voters suggested otherwise, admission isn't expected to work. It's doubtful returning to the game will work. McGwire has tried many routes through the "rolling hills and pristine meadows" to Cooperstown and found each blocked.

Apparently, he just cannot get there from here.

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Some suggested reading as you prep for today's 1 p.m. St. Louis time announcement, which will air on MLB Network: Tyler Kepner http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/05/sports/baseball/05kepner.html?_r=2&ref=sports" target="_blank">explores the Cooperstown Question in this morning's New York Times. ... Jayson Stark says http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/hof11/columns/story?columnist=stark_jayson&id=5987228" target="_blank">a crisis has arrived in Cooperstown on ESPN.com. ... At SI.com, Tom Verducci offers his view of the candidates and pointedly says http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/web/COM1180461/1/index.htm" target="_blank">that ostriches are using arguments about the Steroid Era that are "not based in reality."

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A few months after the Mitchell Report was released, I approached Larry Walker and asked what he thought about so many players from his era being nailed for performance-enhancing drug use in those pages. Walker said his neighbors in Florida asked the same thing.

"Gee, I might get into the Hall of Fame now," the former MVP said. "There's nobody left form when I retired. I'm the only one that year who didn't get busted."

Walker, who finished his career with the Cardinals, is on the ballot for the first time this season, and he's not expected to get the required 75 percent for induction. Allow me one more brief Hall of Fame comment: He should eventually.

For the bulk of his career Walker one of the finest all-around players in the game. He won three batting titles, claimed seven Gold Gloves and was the MVP in 1997. There's a strong argument to be made that his overall numbers (383 homers, 1,311 RBIs, 2,160 hits) from an injury-complicated career aren't enough for induction, and that's fair. That's legit. There are others on the ballots (Tim Raines, for example) who have much stronger cases for Cooperstown.

But to dismiss Walker because of the Coors Field and the altitude in which he played many of his home games is, allow me to be blunt, lazy. It would also be a poor precedent considering Walker is the first Rockies' superstar to reach the ballot and others are certainly coming. To downgrade the exceptional careers because of Coors is an argument full of thin air.

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