Putting the X in the box next to Ken Griffey Jr.'s name was one of the simplest and most obvious decisions in my 10-plus years of voting on candidates for baseball's Hall of Fame. The only even related question is how anyone filling out a ballot could leave him off, or if when the results are announced tonight Griffey will become the first-ever unanimous selection by BBWAA vote.
And so much for the easy part …
After Griffey, and the handful of automatically dismissed courtesy candidates (e.g., former Devil Rays All-Star Randy Winn, nice guy but …), the bulk of the other 31 candidates warrant considerable debate.
In some cases, that is a good thing, a prompt for legitimate baseball arguments that make the privilege of voting for the Hall worthwhile, and the evolution of additional statistical information fascinating, along with the reminder, via the beauty of social media responses, of how passionate some fans are on the subject.
• How much you discount the contributions of a DH as a less-than-complete player factors into whether you vote for Edgar Martinez. (I didn't.)
• Should Mike Mussina's 3.68 ERA and other numbers be graded on a curve since he spent his whole career in the rugged American League East? (In a word, no.)
• How highly you value the limited but integral role played by a closer determines where you stand on candidates Trevor Hoffman (yes), Lee Smith (yes) and Billy Wagner (no for now, more on that later).
• Did Tim Raines' run as a dominant player of his era, as the best leadoff hitter not named Rickey Henderson, last long enough? (Not quite).
But once again those talking points are minimized by the bigger, more pressing topic that casts a shadow, if not a pall, over the whole process: What to do with the players associated — and in this context we will use that word very loosely — with the use of steroids and other PEDs.
Those who admitted to wrongdoing before it was wrong (Mark McGwire, Gary Sheffield), to those accused and associated by off-field individuals and legal entities (Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens), to those tainted merely by rumor and innuendo (Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza), all have had their candidacies impacted.
And it's becoming a more pressing matter.
By not providing any guidance, beyond an outdated "character" clause, Hall officials are leaving voters — 10-year members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America — to apply their own beliefs and suspicions, some admittedly based on hearsay and even flimsier evidence, as well as morality, resulting in some taking hard-line stances against all such players.
And by recently shortening a candidate's time on the ballot from 15 years to 10, as well as declining a BBWAA suggestion to expand the number of voting slots from 10 to 12, the Hall directors seem to be making it tougher for the "steroid era" candidates to get in since the window is shorter and the competition for votes robust.
(And if doing so by design, that conveniently would appease the group of hard-line Hall of Famers who, wanting to limit the exclusivity of their club, have suggested they don't want to add any potentially tainted members.)
It will be interesting to see what effect the changes have in the totals, specifically as I've noticed several writers admitting to coming off their previous staunch stances of not voting for any of the players in question.
Also, because others have taken to "gaming" their ballots, not voting for players who are either obvious inductees (or at least in no danger of falling below the 5 percent needed to stay on the ballot) or are lost causes, in order to make their votes "count" more for others.
I've taken, as regular readers know, a somewhat open approach on the "steroids guys," not as much morally as pragmatically, casting my votes based on what a player did on the field, evaluating primarily on how dominant a player was in his era.
My thinking, in much shorter explanation than the incessant arguing that went on in my head to get there, is something like this:
• That I can't determine what percentage of a player's performance could be attributed to possible drug use, so I look at his whole career;
• That I won't exclude a player who did something that MLB didn't consider wrong at the time, or one based on suspicions or accusations;
• And that I believe the Hall is a museum to tell the story of the game's best and most successful players, not a cathedral to deify those deemed worthy by arbitrary holier-than-thou standards. (With the accompanying assumption that the Hall already contains players who did PEDs, or things worse.)
I do, though, draw the line at players who failed MLB drug tests and/or were otherwise caught cheating, such as Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro.
So where, besides with an annual throbbing headache come ballot time, does that leave me?
As you can see below, with the maximum 10 candidates on the ballot, I filled in eight spots fairly quickly and restored two that I had to bump off in past years, McGwire and Lee Smith, due to better candidates. That left no room to add Wagner and a ballot that looks like this (players I vote for have an X, comments on a few others):
Complete player with seven 100-run/100-RBI seasons, MVP award (plus five other top-10 finishes), Rookie of the Year, Gold Glove.
Seven MVP awards, 8 Gold Gloves, 14 All-Star selections, .444 on-base pct., 762 home runs, 1,996 RBIs, 2,935 hits need to count for something.
Seven Cy Young Awards (plus five other top-6 finishes), 354 wins, seven ERA titles, two triple crowns, MVP award (plus five other top-10 finishes) should, too.
x-Ken Griffey Jr.
The Kid made it look so easy, compiling 630 homers (sixth all-time), 1,836 RBIs (15th), 5,271 total bases (13th), 13 All-Star selections, one MVP award (and four other top-5 finishes), 10 Gold Gloves, seven Silver Sluggers.
Second all-time in saves, after being first to reach 500 and 600. Led NL twice, had 30-plus in 14 of 15 seasons. Four top-10 Cy Young finishes, two top-10 MVP finishes.
Was a great hitter (.312 avg. .933 OPS), but not a great overall player; 72 percent of his plate appearances as a DH.
There's still a spot on this ballot, and should be in the Hall, for someone who hit 493 homers the old-fashioned way, averaging 30.55 over 15 seasons.
Beyond the 70 homers in '98 that just helped save baseball, he hit 583 total (10th most), averaging an all-time best 10.6 at-bats per homer. Also had 10 90-plus RBI seasons.
The 270 wins look good, the 3.68 career ERA and 1.192 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) not so much.
Being the best-hitting catcher of all time (.308 career average, 427 HRs, .922 OPS) outweighs any defensive deficiencies or other alleged issues.
Supporters, who have launched an aggressive social media campaign, posit him as the second best leadoff hitter to Rickey, and he was a very good player who had a few great years in a long career. Just not a Hall of Famer.
A great postseason pitcher, but has only 216 wins, no Cy Youngs and a career 3.46 ERA.
A bit of a compiler, but his 478 saves were No. 1 when he retired, and still are third most all-time. Had 13 seasons of 25 or more, led his league four times in a dominant 11-year run.
Menacing batsman totaled 509 HRs and 253 steals (one of only four with 500-250), won a batting title (career .292 avg., .393 OBP). Ask pitchers who they feared facing.
Perhaps a victim of the success of others he played with, but just doesn't quite measure up.
Never led his league, but his 422 saves are second most for a lefty, fifth overall. Better is his 0.998 WHIP, best of all relievers with 500 innings, and 2.31 ERA. May get in as competition for ballot space lessens.