Filling out the Hall of Fame ballot always tends to be a trying process.
I think about it a lot, look things up, talk to others, weigh arguments for and against, revisit past decisions, ponder new math. Then when I finally decide on what I'm going to do, I usually change my mind 3-4 times. And wish I could again. It's rewarding, frustrating, humbling, thought-provoking and anxiety-causing, all on one sheet of 8½-by-11 paper.
But this year, in between getting my son through recovery from surgery to repair a broken collarbone (he won't be in the skateboarding Hall) and getting my daughter ready to leave for a college semester in Spain (she may make the shopping Hall), I was left feeling something new and different: Conflicted.
It has been a couple of days since ending the monthlong debate in my head, marking the six X's and sliding the sheet into the fax machine. I'm still unsure, and uncomfortable, with a couple of the decisions I made. And may always be.
• How is it I can vote for Fred McGriff in part because I feel he hit home runs the right way, the natural way, with no chemical enhancements, but also vote again for Mark McGwire, who is widely suspected of having done it the other way?
Short answer: McGriff should be rewarded for what he did and how he did it; McGwire wasn't the only one (allegedly) doing so and shouldn't be penalized until we know more about what impact it (allegedly) had.
• How is it I don't vote for Edgar Martinez, who's considered the best DH ever, because he didn't play the complete game, but I consistently vote for Lee Smith, who basically worked an inning a game, and did for Dennis Eckersley, Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage?
Short answer: The innings Smith and the other closers worked were usually the most intense and important; Martinez just hit four times a day, the situation determining the significance, and wasn't in position to help his team half the time. (His case may improve with age, however, just as closers eventually became more accepted by voters.)
• How is it I can vote for Barry Larkin, Mc-Griff and others based in part on their professionalism and the respect they showed for the game but also vote for Roberto Alomar who — even if it was just one horrible moment — spat in the face of an umpire and, metaphorically, the game? (And twisting my own thinking even further, why do I seem to consider past transgressions when evaluating Dave Parker and Tim Raines? And, thus, why don't I give more consideration to "good guys" like Alan Trammell and Dale Murphy?)
Short answer: Wow, even I'm confused by that one. But this is the personal part of the vote process — no "right" and "wrong" answers, precedents only if you want them, no numbers (or, excuse me, advanced metrics) to show the way. As offensive as it may be to the statheads, gut feeling is part of it.
(Remember, the only guidance for voting is to consider "the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.")
No matter how angst-inducing, filling out the ballot is an honor and a privilege afforded to the 575 or so 10-year-plus members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (active and honorary). Ballots are mailed out in early December, returned by Dec. 31, and results announced shortly thereafter (this year, at 2 p.m. Wednesday), with a player needing 75 percent of the vote to be elected.
My process, in seeking to honor the players who were truly dominant in their era, is not overly complex. First eliminate the obvious "No's" — the Kevin Appiers, Pat Hentgens, Mike Jacksons, Ray Lankfords, Shane Reynoldses, etc., who for whatever reason get past the screening committee. Then lock in on whom I consider the obvious "Yesses" — Alomar, Andre Dawson, McGwire and Smith.
That leaves the hard part, the "Are They or Aren't They" group that for me included McGriff, Larkin, Bert Blyleven, Jack Morris, Raines, Trammell.
Here's my ballot (you can vote for up to 10) and some of the thoughts that went into it:
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Roberto Alomar: 12 consecutive All-Star appearances, 10 Gold Gloves at 2B, .300 career average. (Unfortunate how it ended, retiring as a Ray during a dismal 2005 spring.)
Harold Baines: Probably deserves a little more consideration for his 2,866 hits. Just a little.
Bert Blyleven: Annual debate seems to come back to this: 287 wins vs. 250 losses.
* Andre Dawson: An MVP award plus three top-7 finishes, eight All-Star selections and Gold Gloves, plus the rep of playing the game hard and right.
Andres Galarraga: Interesting thought, at least, with six top-10 MVP finishes.
* Barry Larkin: 12-time All-Star, '95 NL MVP, three Gold Gloves, first SS to hit 30-30 mark.
Edgar Martinez: As good as he was, had only 2,247 hits and 309 homers.
* Fred McGriff: For 15 seasons, he was an amazingly consistent slugger. The seven homers he's short of 500 shouldn't matter.
* Mark McGwire: Unless there's a scientific way to determine which homers were legit and which weren't, all 583 count.
Jack Morris: Toughest decision each year — he dominated the 1980s and was tough in doing so; it's just hard to get past a 3.90 ERA that would be Hall's highest.
Tim Raines: Deserves more consideration than he gets with 2,605 hits, 808 steals, seven All-Star appearances and top-20 MVP finishes. Just not quite enough.
* Lee Smith: Say what you want, but 478 career saves (including 13 straight years of 20-plus) says plenty.
Alan Trammell: See Raines, but with 2,365 hits, six All-Star games, three top-10 MVP finishes.