No one said this was going to be easy. Voting for the Hall of Fame has been increasingly difficult and muddled the past few years with players from baseball's "Steroids Era" becoming eligible to join the ballot. And for those 600 or so of us with the honor and privilege — and yes, despite all the whining it very much is still so — this year was going to be worse.
It was obvious, with a class of polarizing additions led by Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, that lines were going to have to be drawn.
I just didn't expect mine to be so squiggly.
Some voters went absolutely hard core, refusing to vote for any player connected in any way — by admission, association, suggestion, even by speculation — to performance-enhancing drugs. (Or worse, in a petty protest, returned a blank ballot which penalizes all candidates since election is by percentage.)
In their view, whether citing principle, the vaguely worded but now in vogue "character" clause on the ballot, or their own morality, the Hall of Fame would not include the game's greatest home run hitter, one of its best-ever pitchers and at least a handful of other greats. Also, they ignore the reality that players already in the Hall used previous versions of PEDs, such as amphetamines.
On the opposite pillar are other voters, whom I find myself more aligned with, who — while admittedly conflicted, and with considerable consternation and distaste — have dropped their objections and thrown open the gates, voting simply for whom they consider the best and most deserving players.
In their view, there is no exception to be made for the methods, just the bottom line, regardless of whether there were obvious character or moral flaws, rules violations, or even, in the case of Rafael Palmeiro, a failed drug test. The Hall, they posit, is a museum to reflect the history of the game, not a cathedral to honor only those deemed worthy by arbitrarily holier-than-thou gatekeepers.
And from somewhere in the middle, I struggled and theorized and compromised and contradicted myself (and then did it all over again) and came up with the ballot you see below.
Did I feel it was right at the time I put it in the mail on Dec. 22? Not really. If anything, this is a process structured to leave you frustrated and with self-doubt. There are, at least under the current voting guidelines, no correct answers, no guiding lights. Do I feel any better looking at it now? Not really.
I do know that I don't feel right excluding a player based on innuendo, suspicion, or a tenuous moral scale. And that I don't feel qualified to determine what percentage of a player's performance could be attributed to possible drug use.
But yet, I drew those curvy lines.
To me, Bonds and Clemens were pretty quick yesses. They are two of the game's all-time best, and despite all the suspicion and seemingly obvious evidence, they were never proven to have done anything against the rules at the time. Similarly, I voted for Mike Piazza, though after considerable debate over the merits of his offense-heavy resume, and again for Jeff Bagwell and Mark McGwire.
I couldn't bring myself to vote for Sammy Sosa, who was reported to have failed a 2003 test (that was supposed to be anonymous), whose career spike during his suspect seasons was excessive, who was caught using a corked bat against (of all teams) the Devil Rays. Nor, as the previous two years, for Palmeiro, who knew testing was in place, got caught anyway and then was defiant in his denial and testimony.
On to the ballot:
Complete player with 7 100-run/100-RBI seasons, MVP award (plus 5 other top-10 finishes), Rookie of the Year, Gold Glove.
May have best chance to be voted in this year; 3,060 hits, most doubles of any right-handed hitter, All-Star at C and 2B, 3 top-10 MVP finishes.
7 MVP awards, 8 Gold Gloves, 14 All-Star selections, .444 on-base pct., 762 home runs, 1,996 RBIs, 2,935 hits.
7 Cy Young Awards (plus 5 other top-6 finishes), 354 wins, 7 ERA titles, 2 triple crowns, MVP award (plus 5 other top-10 finishes).
Devil Rays' first closer deserves a nod if not a vote, ranked 11th all-time with 326 saves when he retired.
A great hitter, but not a great overall player; 72 percent of his plate appearances as a DH.
493 homers the old-fashioned way should still count for something for the Tampa product.
Beyond the 70 homers in '98, hit 583 total (10th most), averaged all-time best 10.6 at-bats per homer, had 10 90-plus RBI seasons.
A compelling case as a true ace, and his PR campaign has helped, but there's still that 3.90 ERA that would be Hall's highest.
Getting support in final year on ballot, but wasn't good enough long enough.
Being the best-hitting catcher of all time outweighs his defensive deficiencies.
A very good player for a long time who had a few great years, just not a Hall of Famer.
Those three 60-plus homer seasons sure stand out.
A great postseason pitcher, but has only 216 wins, no Cy Youngs and a career 3.46 ERA.
Sure, he hung around, but those 478 saves (No. 1 when he retired, 3rd most now) can't be ignored.
Similar to Raines, a very good player worthy of consideration but not election.
Probably deserves more credit, but it's hard to ignore Coors Field effect on stats.
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org