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Definition of a Hall of Famer grows murkier

MLB's all-time HR leader (Barry Bonds) and Cy Young winner (Roger Clemens) aren't in the Hall. Getty Images

I was 8 years old when I got my first book on baseball, "The Baseball Life of Sandy Koufax," and as my interest in the game grew, my mother -- who actually didn't like sports -- kept finding age-appropriate books for me on the topic.

There were obtuse references to Babe Ruth's active off-field life and Ty Cobb's difficult personality. I recall reading that Grover Cleveland was a little sleepy before being called on to pitch in relief in the 1926 World Series and striking out Tony Lazzeri. Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford were great friends, I learned, who had a lot of fun together when they weren't at the ballpark.

The details were more complicated than that, of course, but the common denominator for all of them, the reason they were written about, is that they were great ballplayers. Their accomplishments ultimately propelled them beyond what is generally considered the ultimate standard for greatness, the threshold for induction into the Hall of Fame.

But in 2015, what does being a Hall of Famer really mean?

Somewhere along the way, something has changed. It's a benchmark for something, but what that is exactly is increasingly hard to define.

Accumulating the most hits in baseball history? That doesn't make you a Hall of Famer, as Pete Rose will attest.

Hitting the most homers? Nope. Barry Bonds knows that.

Winning the most Cy Young Awards? No. Just ask Roger Clemens.

Being the greatest-hitting catcher of all time doesn't make you a Hall of Famer because Mike Piazza has failed to come close to election.