Here are the 10 players Marc Topkin voted for on this year's ballot: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Mike Piazza, Frank Thomas.
Part of baseball's beauty is how straightforward it can be. But voting for baseball's Hall of Fame has become increasingly convoluted, a series of contradictory thoughts, trap- door conclusions and blurred lines.
So, despite the opinion of the Twitter world, there are no right answers for the 600 or so of us 10-year members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America who have the privilege — and yes, despite all the whining, it is a privilege — to vote.
Last year the primary issue was the addition to the ballot of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, two of the game's best who were accompanied by the taint of performance-enhancing drug questions. While obvious for the extremist voters on both sides, that was problematic for those of us in the middle.
And this year, it became even more challenging with a staggering first-year class that includes three candidates with a legit shot at election — Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas — and two others who will get considerable support, Jeff Kent and Mike Mussina.
Though the election criteria is somewhat vague and guidance (specifically on the PED issue) lacking, there is one rule, printed right on the ballot that no more than 10 players can be voted for. And for me, that became a problem for the first time.
Having drawn admittedly squiggly lines last year, I had eight on my ballot, including Bonds, Clemens, Mark McGwire, Mike Piazza, and Jeff Bagwell, all of whom have been accused, suspected or rumored — and in McGwire's case, admitted — to have used PEDs. Simply put, evidence and innuendo aside, none were proven to have done anything against the rules at the time.
Also, none of us, voters or scientists, are smart enough to determine how much of their success was due to whatever help they may have had. And what they did was pretty special.
However, I did not (blurred lines, remember) vote for Sammy Sosa, who reportedly failed an anonymous test and used a corked bat, nor Rafael Palmeiro, who was caught knowing testing was in place and was defiant about it.
Tampa native and former Ray Fred McGriff, Craig Biggio and Lee Smith were also on my 2013 ballot. In deciding to add Maddux, Glavine and Thomas this year, one had to go, due to the 10-player limit.
I'm not as high on Biggio as others, but decided to keep him. That left me deciding between McGwire, McGriff and Smith. To me, McGriff is underrated for his consistency, and unfairly marked down for falling seven homers shy of 500, competing suspicion-free in an era of bloated stats.
McGwire was obviously one-dimensional, but a still impressive one, with 583 home runs. So that left Smith, whom I have long supported, cast aside with 478 saves that were the major-league most when he retired.
That said, here's my ballot, and some additional thoughts:
Jeff Bagwell: An impressive case with seven 100-run/100-RBI seasons, MVP award (plus 5 other top-10 finishes), Rookie of the Year, Gold Glove, .408 career OBP.
Craig Biggio: His 3,060 hits include the most doubles (668) of any right-handed hitter, was an All-Star at C ITAL and END ITAL 2B, 3 top 10 MVP finishes.
Barry Bonds: Clearly, one of the all-time best: 7 MVP awards, 8 Gold Gloves, 14 All-Star selections, .444 on-base pct., 762 home runs, 1,996 RBIs, 2,935 hits.
Roger Clemens: Another all-timer: 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).
Tom Glavine: It's a numbers game: 305 victories overall, 2 Cy Youngs (and 4 other top-3 finishes), 14 seasons with 200-plus innings, 6 with a sub-3.00 ERA, 5 with 20 wins.
Luis Gonzalez: Another Tampa product who had a very, very good — but not elite — career.
Jeff Kent: Having the most homers as a second baseman (351) means something, but not the Hall.
Greg Maddux: An automatic choice with 355 wins (including 17 straight seasons of at least 15) and four Cys, the question is whether he'll be the first ever unanimous selection. (Tom Seaver got 98.84 pct. In 1992.)
Edgar Martinez: A great hitter, but not a great overall player with 72 pct. of his plate appearances as a DH.
Fred McGriff: 493 homers the old-fashioned way should mean more for Tampa product.
Mark McGwire: Hit 70 homers in '98, is the all-time leader with one HR per 10.6 at-bats, had 10 90-plus RBI seasons, finished with 583 homers (10th most).
Jack Morris: A compelling case as a true ace and postseason star who is in his last year on the ballot, but there's still that 3.90 ERA that would be Hall's highest.
Mike Mussina: Very good numbers (270-153, 3.68) for a career spent in the AL East, just not good enough.
Mike Piazza: Being the best hitting catcher of all-time outweighs his defensive deficiencies.
Tim Raines: A very good player for a long time who had a few great years, just not a Hall of Famer.
Curt Schilling: A great October pitcher, but has only 216 wins, no Cy Youngs and a career 3.46 ERA.
Frank Thomas: Impressive offensive totals (.301, 521 HRs, .419 OBP) and consistency (7 straight seasons with .300 avg, 20+ homers, 100 RBIs, 100 walks), plus 2 MVPs and 7 top-10 finishes. And he played the field enough.
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays