Voting for the Baseball Hall of Fame is a complicated enough process. You spend weeks collecting your thoughts, poring over stats (real and analytic), researching as many conflicting points of view as you can find and sometimes just staring at the ballot in your hand.
Then you open your email one November day and Joe Morgan throws everything into a tizzy.
Yep, that Joe Morgan. Every Hall voter got a personally-addressed missive from the Hall's official account with a subject that said, "The Hall of Fame is Special -- A Letter from Joe Morgan."
And in more than 1,000 words over 23 paragraphs came a from-the-heart talk from Morgan, the longtime second baseman of the Cincinnati Reds and now one of the most powerful ex-players in the Hall. He serves as its vice chairman.
It was a plea to not allow steroid users in, clearly directed at Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.
"I care about how good a player was or what kind of numbers he put up," Morgan said. "But if a player did steroids, his integrity is suspect; he lacks sportsmanship; his character is flawed; and, whatever contribution he made to his team is now dwarfed by his selfishness."
Morgan also sent the darker message that longtime Hall members will stop coming to Cooperstown each summer if steroid users get elected. Imagine a Bonds or Clemens induction with no one sitting on stage behind them.
I get Morgan's point and it was interesting to note that this was the first official communication the Hall has ever given to writers on steroids/PEDs. But I've chosen the in-one-ear-and-out-the-other approach to Morgan's letter.
While I appreciate his passion and his points, why did the Hall allow one of its committees to induct Bud Selig last year? The former commish was the No. 1 man who looked the other way during the McGwire/Sosa party that brought baseball back in a big way in 1998. If he's in, I don't really see how the steroid guys can automatically be out.
And then there's the hypocrisy of Morgan's letter as well. The Hall's members include plenty of miscreants guilty of a variety of offenses. Plenty of players during Morgan's time subsisted on amphetamines to get through the schedule and those are now banned. We're not yanking them from the Hall.
The steroid question is a difficult one as it is. But the threat of walkout of ex-players is not going to decide my vote. Morgan's email was too little, too late. Should have come years ago. Certainly should have preceded any induction of Selig.
It's filed away for posterity. It's going to have no bearing on what I did.
I wish the Hall would listen to the writers and allow for a maximum of 12 players to make your ballot. That proposal continues to be shot down and we're still allowed a maximum of 10 choices from a ballot that was 33 players long this year.
There is no minimum. No write-in candidates (Pete Rose, for instance). You must receive 75 percent of the votes for induction. There are expected to be around 425 ballots cast, so a player will need in the neighborhood of 320 votes for induction.
Players are only allowed to stay on the ballot for 10 years and those that get less than five percent drop off the ballot, no matter what year they're on it.
Voting is done by qualified members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, who are vetted each year. You must be a member for at least 10 years to get a ballot and you only vote for former players in their first 10 years of eligibility. Writers do not vote for managers, GMs, owners or other contributors and are not responsible for snubs like former union boss Marvin Miller. Committees, like the Modern Era Committee that has already elected Alan Trammell and Jack Morris for induction this summer, elect all those contributors as well as players who were not chosen by the BBWAA.
Voting is done by mail. You get a ballot from the Hall and must return it in their self-addressed envelope to be postmarked by Dec. 31. The results will be announced live on MLB Network on Jan. 24.
The lone instruction from the Hall to voters: "Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played."
At least, that was the only instruction to come from Cooperstown until Morgan's email.
With that as the background, here's how my ballot broke down:
Easy first-ballot yes calls
Chipper Jones: One of the greatest switch-hitters of all-time. A former NL MVP who batted .303 with 2,726 hits and 468 home runs in 19 seasons for the Atlanta Braves. Also batted .287 with 97 hits and 13 home runs in 93 postseason games, making the October party in the first 11 years of his career.
Jim Thome: One of nine players to hit more than 600 home runs, albeit the only one to never win an MVP award. Had 12 30-homer seasons and six with 40-plus while serving as a key cog to the monster lineups the Indians put together from 1995-2001. Never a hint of PED use and one of the class acts in the game. Evan rehabbed with the Bisons during the 1998 Governors Cup finals against Durham.
Tough "no" calls
Trevor Hoffman: My non-vote aside, I'd bet he's going to get in this year and that's fine. He had 601 career saves, although I'm not huge on that stat and his postseason work was hardly Hall stuff (1-2, 3.46, four saves). As far as closers go, you have to be transformational like Mariano Rivera, Bruce Sutter or Goose Gossage to get this vote. Not many others will get the nod.
Omar Vizquel: Here's the one first-year guy who's going to get a lot of debate over several ballots. Is he a Hall of Famer or a compiler of stats through longevity? He's the all-time leader in games at shortstop (2,709) and fielding percentage. He played 24 seasons and had 2,877 hits. He won 11 Gold Gloves and I can report he's the greatest defensive shortstop I've ever seen as I covered virtually all of those Indians playoff games in the 90s. I could see Vizquel getting my vote in a future year. Just too tight a ballot right now.
Also nos but worthy candidates
Jeff Kent: A former MVP who hit an all-time record 351 of his home runs while playing second base. Not much of a baserunner or defensive second baseman, however.
Billy Wagner: See Hoffman for the closer explanation. A 2.31 career ERA with 422 saves and 1,196 strikeouts in just 903 innings. Other than the saves, his numbers are better.
Gary Sheffield: Had 509 home runs, 2,689 hits. Lots of walks, doubles and steals. But he was average defensively, was named in the Mitchell Report, and never seemed to be a superstar Hall type. He's Hall of Very Good.
Manny Ramirez/Sammy Sosa: Unlike Bonds and Clemens, Ramirez got dinged for PEDs after testing. Too bad. He was one of the most feared hitters of his day and has a Hall-worthy bat. To this view, Sosa's career is a mirage with PED suspicion all over. Averaged 34 home runs a year from 1993-97 (ages 24-28). Averaged 58.4 home runs from 1998-2002 (ages 29-33). Not buying it. Others might.
Returning to my ballot
Barry Bonds/Roger Clemens: As I pointed out last year, if the Hall is going to let Selig in then it's open season for the writers to vote steroid guys in as they see fit. These are the dominant players of their era and a duo that had Hall-worthy careers before they became shrouded in PEDs.
Bonds had 762 home runs, a .607 slugging percentage, a 1.051 OPS and a Wins Above Replacement figure of 162.4 bested only by Babe Ruth. Clemens compiled 354 wins, 4,672 strikeouts and seven Cy Youngs. And let's not forget that he was hardly pitching against batters who were clean either.
You can argue against these two and you'd have a good case. There's no right or wrong here. I'm voting yes to both of them.
Edgar Martinez: He's the greatest DH of all-time, at least until David Ortiz gets on the ballot. And they might be the only two to make the Hall for a long while. A career .312 hitter with 2,247 hits and an iconic player for his franchise, which is an intangible that holds a lot of weight to me. When you think of the Mariners, you think of Ken Griffey Jr. Randy Johnson and Martinez.
Vladimir Guerrero: He should have made it last year but fell 15 votes shy. He should make it easily this time. A .318 hitter with 2,590 hits -- off so many bad balls -- and a cannon from right field. We should be all looking forward to seeing his son, Vlad Jr., playing for the Bisons, perhaps as soon as 2019.
Fred McGriff: He's not going to make the Hall, as he was at 21.7 percent last year and this is ninth year on the ballot. But I don't let chances of induction determine who I vote for. And I feel it's important to vote for McGriff and his 493 home runs. It's a bad look on the voters who ignore him, essentially saying he should have cheated to maybe get over 500 or into the 600 range.
Larry Walker: He's getting more support but I also think he will fall short as this is year eight. He was at 21.9 percent last year but the word is he will see a substantial jump this year. He had 2,160 career hits and 383 home runs and not all of them were at Coors Field, a common fallacy that rides his candidacy. Was a seven-time Gold Glove winner. I see no reason to change on him.
Mike Mussina: Had 270 wins, 2,813 strikeouts and won 20 games at age 39 for the 2008 Yankees. Could have easily kept going and added to those totals. Did all this at the height of the PED era in ballparks that favored hitters. I wonder if he ever gets in but he'll keep getting my vote.
The Schilling question
Curt Schilling's post-career behavior, especially on social media, has been reprehensible at times and I cited that last year as a reason to keep him off the ballot. Advocating the lynching of journalists wasn't getting a free pass from this corner. But I said it was probably just a one-year point I was making and I'm sticking to that promise.
Schilling gets my vote this year. He is the greatest postseason starting pitcher of our generation, probably of the last 50 years. Schilling was 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA in 19 postseason starts with a strikeout to walk ratio of 4.80.
And going past the numbers, think about his big moments: The Bloody Sock game against the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS, Game Seven of the 2001 Arizona-Yankees series (and he would have won Game Four had not Byung-hyun Kim famously blown the save), the brilliance of Game Two of the 2007 World Series against Colorado, a shutout for the Phillies in Game Five of the '93 World Series against Toronto.
Schilling is an unusual candidate, with only 216 regular season wins and a 3.46 ERA. But he had 3,116 strikeouts and just 711 walks. He never won a Cy Young Award, finishing second three times, never won an ERA title. He doesn't get in without his postseason numbers, but they are so spectacular that they tip the scales in his favor.
Schilling was at 45 percent last year. This is his sixth year on the ballot. My guess is he keeps climbing and makes it, perhaps as soon as next year.
Thanks for playing
It was easy to say no to the following 12 players: Salute them for fine careers and for making the ballot for the first time but they don't pass the Cooperstown test to these eyes: Chris Carpenter, Livan Hernandez, Orlando Hudson, Aubrey Huff, Jason Isringhausen, Carlos Lee, Brad Lidge, Hideki Matsui, Kevin Millwood, Jamie Moyer, Johan Santana, Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano. I would imagine none of them stay on the ballot.
It was not so easy to say no: Andruw Jones (10 consecutive gold gloves in center field, 434 home runs), Scott Rolen (2,077 hits, eight Gold Gloves at third base) and Johnny Damon (2,769 hits and postseason magic with the '04 Red Sox and '09 Yankees) are all nos -- for now. I would hope they get at least five percent to stay on the ballot for consideration in future years. My guess is Rolen does but that Jones and especially Damon are in trouble in that regard. They would be undeserved first-year knockouts in the same vein as recent ballot losers Carlos Delgado, Kenny Lofton, Jorge Posada and Jim Edmonds.
Still, the ballot is simply too crowded to give them a look this year. At 12 votes instead of 10, they would have had a much better chance.
The happy recap
With this section's title an ode to late Mets broadcaster Bob Murphy's signature phrase prior to his nightly postgame show, the alphabetical list of who got my 10 votes this year reads like this:
Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Vladimir Guerrero, Chipper Jones, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, Jim Thome, Larry Walker. See you next year, Mariano Rivera and Roy Halladay.