In addition to the thrill of participating in the process and of seeing at least some of your picks get elected, this adds to the pleasure of it all: The voting isn't complicated. For one, I, along with the other 500 or so voting members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, often know which candidates are worthy of Cooperstown long before receiving the official ballot. For another, there was the omniscient way in which the voting instructions were written from start during the mid-1930s.
Think the United States Constitution. Our Founding Fathers were savvy enough during the 18th Century to write it as a definitive document. Well, in the minds of many. Those folks are called "strict constructionists," because they believe everything in the Constitution means exactly what it says. In contrast, our Founding Fathers also wrote the Constitution as a breathing document for those who wish to view it as flexible. Those folks are called "loose constructionists" since they believe you should adjust the Constitution to the times.
Neither side is right or wrong. They've weaved their viewpoints together through the decades to form a stronger union.
See where I'm going? The voting rules for Cooperstown are as simple as saying, "The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each state." According to those rules to Baseball Hall of Fame 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."
That's it. So Baseball Hall of Fame voters have the choice of operating as Cooperstown's version of strict constructionists or loose constructionists, especially regarding "integrity" and "character." Which brings us to the baseball debate of our time: Should any of the candidates heavily tainted by performance enhancing drugs reach Cooperstown?
I'm a strict constructionist as a Baseball Hall of Fame voter, but only with an asterisk. Before I get to the asterisk, here's my bottom line: As long as the rules for Cooperstown say you must consider "integrity" and "character," you can't vote for folks who blatantly cheated to change their body in a way to give them an advantage over their peers. No doubt, loose constructionists among Baseball Hall of Fame voters have a different interpretation of "integrity" and "character" than me, but it all makes for a stronger baseball union.
If nothing else, a stronger Baseball Hall of Fame.
More specifically, I was among those who didn't vote for Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens on this year's ballot. They are the poster children of the PED era when it comes to Cooperstown. They both had overwhelming credentials for entry into the Hall, but they also both had more than a few high-profile controversies involving PEDs. We're back to "integrity" and "character." Everything I said about Bonds and Clemens also applies to Mark McGwire, whose otherwise Cooperstown-worthy career was tainted by PED use that he eventually confirmed.
My asterisk in this regard involves Gary Sheffield. During his two years with the Braves through 2003, when I first became acquainted with the slugger, he spent a brief period training with Bonds during an offseason. The workouts were noted for their intensity. While aching one day, Sheffield said Bonds enticed him to rub some cream on his legs, and Sheffield said he later discovered the substance contained PEDs without his knowledge.
I believe Sheffield. Not only that -- unlike Bonds, Clemens, McGwire and the rest -- there isn't anything close to heavy smoke around Sheffield regarding PED use to suggest a burning inferno. In addition, he ended his 22 Major League seasons with 509 home runs while keeping an overall batting average of .292 and never striking out more than 83 times in a season.
As to the others on my ballot: You had the no-brainers of Johnson, Martinez and Smoltz. Biggio? He was a tough one for me, but after waffling over his worthiness last season, the thought of his 3,000-plus hits finally pushed me over the edge. I also continued my yearly habit of voting for Tim Raines, Lee Smith and Fred McGriff.
Yes, Raines once had cocaine issues, but unlike steroid users, cocaine users mostly hinder their performance instead of enhance it (see his dramatic slide with the Expos in 1982 before entering a rehabilitation center). Smith was one of the most dominate closers of his time, and if others such as Bruce Sutter and Rollie Fingers are in the Baseball Hall of Fame, why not Smith?
Then there was McGriff, Mr. Consistency, along the lines of Tony Perez, who already is in the Hall of Fame.
McGriff hit .284 and averaged 32 homers and 102 RBIs over 19 seasons. He also was as clean as they come. So no problem there with "integrity" and "character."
I told you this was easy.
For the most part.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.