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Baseball Hall of Fame voting: How Marc Topkin came up with this ballot

Derek Jeter and Scott Rolen joined the list, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are still there, Curt Schilling still isn’t
Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter laughs with teammates during Monday's game against the Rays at Tropicana Field. [JAMES BORCHUCK   |   Times] [Tampa Bay Times]
Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter laughs with teammates during Monday's game against the Rays at Tropicana Field. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times] [Tampa Bay Times]
Published Jan. 20
Updated Jan. 21

There’s only one thing really certain about the Hall of Fame voting results that will be announced at 6 p.m. Tuesday – Derek Jeter is getting in.

There is, though, the question, for those to whom this matters, whether the longtime Yankees star will become the second ever, and first position player, after ex-mate Mariano Rivera last year, to be elected unanimously.

But otherwise, the signs aren’t clear to know what is coming.

Marc Topkin's Hall of Fame ballot. [Tampa Bay Times]

Larry Walker and Curt Schilling have a chance to join Jeter, at least based on early public disclosure of about half of the roughly 420 ballots cast.

So, too, in what would be bigger news, do Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, despite the shadow and stain of PED use.

The bar for election is high, 75 percent of cast ballots. Bonds and Clemens were above 70 in the public ballots, though, curiously, in previous years support for both dropped off considerably from voters who didn’t share early.

Voting, done by 10-year members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, had a bit of a different feel this year. With 20 players elected in the last six years, the stockpile of worthy candidates has cleared a bit, creating more “room" on a ballot that, somewhat archaically, is limited annually to 10.

For some voters, that has created space to add fringier players (their Nos. 11, 12, 13, etc.) who had been bumped in previous years, or to give more consideration to others for the first time. For others, it meant turning a ballot with less than 10 candidates, which after years of stacked classes, felt odd, but also right.

For me, it was a bit of both, as I voted for Bonds, Clemens, Jeter, Scott Rolen (for the first time), Gary Sheffield, Billy Wagner and Walker. And, for various reasons, not for Todd Helton, Andruw Jones, Jeff Kent, Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa, Schilling and Omar Vizquel, among the others.

After an unprecedented and tumultuous week of debate following the fallout from the Astros cheating scandal, baseball folks can get back to some traditional arguing, yelling and social media-shaming over Hall of Fame voting.

The process is a privilege and an honor, one to be taken seriously, executed thoughtfully and shared transparently. But it is also a personal one, with no true right or absolute wrong. Here are my thoughts on 10 names as I filled out and mailed (yes, mailed) my ballot:

Barry Bonds

As I’ve admitted annually, my line on “PED guys’’ is squiggly. Some voters say no to anyone ever speculated to have used, others have thrown open the doors. I pick and choose a bit. Bonds, despite rampant speculation and apparent evidence, never failed a drug test, meaning he officially didn’t do anything wrong by baseball’s rules. There is no way to determine how much of what he accomplished was due to talent and skill, and how much whatever he may have taken. Or how many others already in the Hall used. And he is the leading home run hitter of all time, plus a seven-time league MVP (also voted by the BBWAA). In short, he belongs. Let the Hall determine if there should be an explainer or an asterisk on his plaque.

Roger Clemens

See above, but sub in being among the greatest pitchers ever, with a record seven Cy Young awards, 354 wins, seven ERA titles, an MVP award (plus five other top 10 finishes).

Derek Jeter

You can make the case, as colleague John Romano tried, that Jeter was somewhat overrated because of lax defense. And you can make a joke, as some Twitterers have, that when a road by Yankee Stadium is renamed Jeter Street going left won’t be allowed. But, still, Jeter was one of the best, and for a long time.

Fred McGriff

Tampa’s own isn’t on this ballot, dropped off after his 10th and final try, never getting more than last year’s 39.8 percent. His 493 homers were obviously not enough for some, and in 2021 he gets consideration from the Today’s Game era committee. That’s the group that voted in Harold Baines, and if he is in, McGriff certainly should be, too.

Carlos Pena

I didn’t vote for the ex-Rays slugger, who hit 286 home runs with seven teams, and no one else may. He is certain to be among the “one and dones” dropping off the ballot for not getting the requisite five percent. But the joy in his voice when I called in November to tell him he had made the ballot was a great reminder of how significant an honor it is just to be considered.

Scott Rolen

One of the candidates that with ballot space I further considered, and added. The numbers make a very good case. As did the reply when I asked a respected colleague who covered much of Rolen’s career about voting for him: “I did. I have. I always will.’’

Curt Schilling

What he did in the postseason was remarkable. What he did in the regular season was very good, though not necessarily among the all-time great. What he has done since — said, written and posted — raises serious issues with the character clause. I’m with those just saying no.

Gary Sheffield

PED issues, character questions and an absence of defense have kept the Tampa product from getting much due, not even 14 percent of the vote. But 509 homers and a legacy as one of the most feared hitters in the game should count.

Billy Wagner

Compared to some, I clearly over-value closers. But Rivera, Trevor Hoffman and Lee Smith are in, and Wagner should join them given his 422 saves, fewer walks and hits than innings pitched (0.998 WHIP), nearly 12 strikeouts per nine innings.

Larry Walker

Injuries limited his playing time and offensive totals, but the biggest knock on Walker, now in his last year of eligibility, is that too much of his hitting success came at Coors Field, where he made 31 percent of his plate appearances. But we have ways to show his numbers elsewhere were still really good, and his top-notch defense and baserunning played everywhere.

Times sports columnist John Romano’s ballot:

John Romano's Hall of Fame ballot. [Tampa Bay Times]

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays

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