Voting for the Baseball Hall of Fame will always be one of the elite privileges I've had. It's just too bad it's getting so complicated and controversial — and a lot less enjoyable.
Each year, we 550 or so voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America are faced with making additional and increasingly uncomfortable decisions that force more lines to be drawn. And often well beyond the standard framework many of us apply: whether a player was truly dominant in his era.
The conversation has expanded — and the debate and accompanying criticism amplified — to create a series of questions without necessarily right or wrong answers, and it will hit a crescendo this afternoon when the 2011 results are announced.
Among the issues:
• Steroids: Clearly the biggest point of controversy, and one that will only grow in coming years as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens join the ballot. There are hard-liners who won't vote for any player even suspected, others for whom it's a nonissue. (And others who question how different steroids are from amphetamines of earlier eras.)
I've been open, voting for Mark McGwire each year under the premise that use was widespread and it's not possible to determine how much impact it had on his performance (he claimed it was to recover from injuries).
But I decided I couldn't vote for Rafael Palmeiro, who joined the ballot this year with overwhelming numbers (one of only four players with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, joining Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray). The line I eventually drew was that Palmeiro failed a drug test — he knew there was testing and got caught anyway. Plus, he offered lame excuses and the defiant finger-pointing in front of Congress.
• Stats: Obviously no player has improved his career since joining the ballot. But the increased use of advanced and comparative stats and metrics, and the expanded (and aggressive) circulation of such, often by Internet proponents, has effectively led voters to re-evaluate.
Players benefiting most from these campaigns are Bert Blyleven, who might get in today after falling five votes short last year, plus Tim Raines and Jack Morris.
As a reporter, I'm not going to argue against including more data. But the over-analysis, such as the score of the games during the innings Morris pitched (to justify his high ERA), can be too much.
• Specialists: For years, closers were excluded, then in the past eight years Dennis Eckersley, Bruce Sutter and Rich Gossage were inducted, with Lee Smith (478 saves) and John Franco (424) still on the ballot and Trevor Hoffman (601), Mariano Rivera (559) and Billy Wagner (422) coming.
But now there's another debate building over DHs, as the best ever, Edgar Martinez, got only middling support in his ballot debut last year (36.2 percent) amid discussion over the impact a DH can have.
• Character: Vote for Roberto Alomar, despite him spitting in the face of an umpire, but weigh past drug issues in not voting for Raines or Dave Parker? Vote for some admitted/suspected steroid users, but also vote for Fred McGriff because he did what he did without?
I told you this wasn't fun.
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.