For decades, my Hall of Fame ballot invariably had fewer names on it -- sometimes zero -- than there were players elected. My belief was and is that the Hall of Fame is for the truly great, not the truly good -- although I’ve veered from that on occasion.
I didn’t vote for, among others, Bert Blyleven, Barry Larkin, Jim Rice and Tony Perez. I don’t vote for someone just because he might be better than a player already enshrined. I do my homework -- which does not include WAR or JAWS. Usually, but not always, it comes down to this simple test: If you have to think about the player, he doesn’t belong.
This year, for reasons beyond my control, my ballot will have the maximum number of 10 on it. I’ve gone from extremely discriminating to the type of voter I used to laugh at. My excuses for this behavioral twist? My colleagues made me do it. The Hall of Fame made me do it. MLB made me do it.
I will not leave a player off my ballot because he is tainted by the performance-enhancing drug scandals of the 1990s and that includes those annually rejected by well more than a majority of the voters. If MLB or the Hall of Fame, which is a separate entity, don’t want a player to be enshrined then do what was done to Pete Rose. Take him off the ballot.
I will not leave off a player tainted by the drug scandals and vote for a player who is not tainted when for all I know that player was a bigger cheat. I choose not to serve as the judge and jury on alleged cheaters of the steroids era.
There is a tendency to suspect players who experience a sudden increase in their numbers, be it home runs or strikeouts. How could, for example, Craig Biggio have the two best home-run years of his career at ages 38 and 39? It makes no sense. Biggio, some would suggest, battled declining skills with performance-enhancing drugs. Maybe he did. Maybe he didn’t. It’s not my concern and it did not affect my vote.
But how’s this for a near-unprecedented level of improvement? The year before Roger Maris hit 61 home runs he hit 39. The year after he hit 33. Those were the second and third-best home run totals of his career. Does that make 61 look suspicious? And, yes, I know he hit 61 in the expansion year of 1961. But that thin expansion pitching didn’t improve so much in one year as to cause the squeaky-clean Maris to hit 28 fewer home runs in 1962.
The Hall of Fame has long embraced cheats. Gaylord Perry was a self-proclaimed cheater. He wrote a book about it -- ‘Me and the Spitter: An Autobiographical Confession’ -- while he was still playing. Rather than being ostracized he was celebrated. He was enshrined in his third year on the ballot.
Amphetamines, very much a performance-enhancing drug, long were a clubhouse staple. They gave players an edge. My holier-than-thou brethren in the Baseball Writers Association of America, whose 10-year members comprise the electorate, somehow have managed to look past that decades-long period of cheating.
That’s my story. Here are, in alphabetical order, the 10 players on my ballot:
Jeff Bagwell: He passes the first test: Year-in-and-year out one of the best. His batting line of .297/.408/.540 -- .948 makes him HOF worthy. Drove in 82 or more runs in 14 of his 15 seasons.
Barry Bonds: A seven-time MVP, an eight-time Gold Glove winner and the all-time home-run leader. How’s this batting line: .298/.444/.607 -- 1.051
Roger Clemens: Seven Cy Young Awards, seven years with the best ERA in his league, 354 wins, six 20-win seasons. Either he or Greg Maddux ranks as the greatest right-hander since Walter Johnson, if not ever.
Tom Glavine: A career with 300 wins is tough to overlook. When it comes with two Cy Young awards -- along with two second-place and two third-place finishes -- and five 20-win seasons, it is impossible to overlook.
Greg Maddux: Four Cy Young Awards, 355 wins, 18 Gold Gloves and the admiration of just about every player or fan who watched him pitch. He has a chance to go in unanimously or, at least, break Tom Seaver’s record of 98.4 percent of the vote.
Mark McGwire: Not only 10th all-time with 583 home runs, but first in home runs per at bat at 10.61. Babe Ruth was second (11.76) and Bonds third (12.92).
Rafael Palmeiro: One of four players with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. The others, Henry Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray, are all enshrined. Palmeiro will be better remembered for his brazen, finger-pointing lying in front of Congress than for his hitting.
Mike Piazza: The greatest offensive catcher in the history of the game -- 427 home runs, 1,335 RBI and a slash line of .308/.377/.545. Was a 12-time All-Star.
Tim Raines: Because his career ran almost simultaneous with that of the great Rickey Henderson, his similar accomplishments have been too overlooked. Fifth all-time in steals, but far ahead of the other leaders in how infrequently he was caught. No Rickey, but Hall worthy.
Frank Thomas: Only seven players in MLB history with more than 10,000 at bats have a slash line of .300/.400/.500 or better. Thomas is one of them -- .301/.419/.555.