Each year, lifetime members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, i.e. those who spent 10 or more consecutive years with the organization, are bestowed a unique honor: Together, they comprise the electorate for the National Baseball Hall of Fame. At MLB.com, we have 16 veteran writers who have earned the privilege to vote, and again they're sharing their ballots with you.
Ballot: Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Lee Smith
Among the newcomers to the ballot, Biggio was a splendid all-around player, with remarkable versatility, fully deserving of first-ballot Hall of Fame status. Piazza set a standard for offensive production as a catcher. That singular productivity sets him apart as a candidate for the Hall. Among the holdover candidates, Bagwell was another example of a multi-faceted player, and he put up prodigious numbers while playing much of his career in the Astrodome, Death Valley for hitters. Smith was a dominant closer, one of the few who maintained consistent effectiveness over a very long period.
Ballot: Barry Bonds, Biggio, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Piazza, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Jack Morris, Smith, Alan Trammell.
This ballot, as controversial as it is, wasn't very tough for me. I've always voted for the best players from their particular era, and this year is no different. Using all 10 slots, I voted for the all-time home run leader, a pitcher with 354 wins, the Astro with 3,060 hits, the catcher with the most homers ever at that position, the outfielder who produced three 60-plus-homer seasons, the first baseman with 583 homers, the man who hit 569 homers and amassed 3,020 hits, the pitcher with the most wins in the American League during the 1980s, the reliever with 478 saves and one of the best AL shortstops for 20 years.
GETTING OUT THE VOTE
A player must be named on at least 75 percent of the ballots in voting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America in order to gain election to the Hall of Fame. Sixteen MLB.com writers had a ballot in this year's election. Twelve of 16 votes is 75 percent. Here is how MLB.com's eligible writers voted:
Ballot: Morris, Biggio, Fred McGriff
This is the 43rd year I've had a vote for the Hall of Fame. I checked Morris, Biggio and, yes, McGriff on my ballot. I did not vote for Clemens, Bonds, Sosa, Palmeiro or McGwire. It has always been my philosophy that players tied to PED use will never get my vote. I've been voting for Morris for years because he was one of the most dominant pitchers of his era. He should be a slam-dunk this year, his 14th on the ballot. Biggio was an uncertain first-ballot choice. I finally checked his name because of his 3,060 hits, his seven trips to the All-Star Game, five Silver Slugger Awards and the fact he batted .300 or better four times -- even though it took him 20 seasons. My vote for McGriff is not only a testament to his career that included 493 homers and 1,550 runs batted in, but for a clean player who deserves recognition in an election where players suspected of PED use compiled much better numbers. McGriff's 493 homers are 111 more than Hall of Famer Jim Rice hit and the same number Lou Gehrig blasted.
Like Bert Blyleven, Morris has flaws (a 3.90 ERA for example). But he gets my vote for more than a decade of ace performance that included three 20-win seasons, Cy Young Award votes in seven seasons and MVP votes in five. As for players from the Steroid Era, I won't vote for any of them.
Ballot: Bagwell, Biggio, Edgar Martinez, Morris, Dale Murphy, Smith
I didn't decline to vote for the suspected PED users lightly. I heard every argument in their favor and changed my mind frequently over a span of months. Ultimately I went with my gut. I simply didn't feel comfortable rewarding them with a HOF vote. I'm open to reconsidering them in the future. Bagwell, you ask? I've always voted for him. Big change for me was adding Martinez. I loathe the DH, but if we can elect relievers to the Hall, then specialists at the plate also should be considered.
Ballot: Bagwell, Biggio, Bonds, Clemens, Morris, Murphy, Piazza, Smith
If I knew definitively who used steroids and who didn't, I would not vote for candidates who did. But I don't. Nobody else does, either. And I'm not going to turn my ballot into a guessing game. Further, the integrity clause is only one of the criteria listed, one that not all current Hall of Famers have been held to.
Ballot: Bagwell, Biggio, Bonds, Clemens, Martinez, Morris, Murphy, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Trammell
Among the first-timers, Bonds, Clemens, Schilling and Biggio are easy votes. It's still incredible to look back at numbers put up by Bonds and Clemens. If it was a juiced era, they were its best players. Bonds was a seven-time MVP and in the top 10 six other times. Clemens led his league in ERA seven times and won seven Cy Young Awards. Schilling was a 200-inning, 200-strikeout workhorse. Biggio and Bagwell defined an entire franchise in helping the Astros to six playoff appearances. Kenny Lofton and Piazza are also deserving, but I only had 10 votes. To those of us who covered the game closely in the '80s and '90s, Trammell, Morris, Murphy, Raines and Martinez probably are easy calls. All were among the dominant players of their time. Here's hoping there's a place for Fred McGriff and Lee Smith on enough future ballots.
Ballot: Bagwell, Biggio, Morris, Smith, Trammell
Smith was a huge, menacing and hard-to-beat closer for most of two decades. Bagwell was a great all-round player, a slugger who could get on base, run, field and lead. Biggio, another full-time Astro, not only had 3,060 hits but was a Gold Glove second baseman. Morris was a big-game pitcher and a horse with 254 victories and 175 complete games. In Trammell's 20 years with the Tigers, he was a superb, dominating player at the difficult shortstop position.
Ballot: Piazza, Biggio, Bagwell, McGriff, Raines, Smith
The boxes next to the names of Bonds, Clemens and Sosa weren't checked on my Hall of Fame ballot. You likely know why. I did vote for Piazza, Biggio and Bagwell. Yes, they joined Bonds, Clemens and Sosa as those rumored as guilty during the Steroid Era, but the whispers weren't as loud. Nobody ever has questioned McGriff's character and integrity, which are two of the guidelines for Hall of Fame voters. He also has Cooperstown numbers. The same goes for Raines and Smith. Thus my only picks this time around.
I added Raines and Trammell this year after discussions with players and re-examining their stats, specifically with the JAWS system. Biggio also fit the criteria using JAWS, and the fact he reached 3,000 hits. As for Bonds and Clemens, they passed my eye test. I did not want to miss Bonds' at-bats or Clemens' starts. When they played, MLB, the MLB Players Association, owners, GMs, managers, players, and the media all ignored the PED issue. I have a hard time punishing them now.
Ballot: Biggio, Bonds, Clemens, Piazza, Smith
My position has been consistent every year since McGwire first appeared on the ballot for the Class of 2007. Writers can't know who does what off the field, and I call on stubborn and confused peers to concede they've been wrong in playing moral judge. Put the greatest players in Cooperstown. Now. Looking at the full weight of greatness on this ballot, however, I declined to check Big Mac for the first time, as too many others are more worthy.
I'm not comfortable with the suspicions I have, so I'm voting for only Morris and hoping for a bolt of wisdom from Kenesaw Mountain Landis or Lee MacPhail. Perhaps a trip to Cooperstown will provide guidance. This is my first vote for Morris. I've been swayed by evidence presented this year about his complete games and innings. Moreover, the Giants' postseason pitching last year reminded me of Morris' brilliant performance against the Braves in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.
Sad part of this year's Hall of Fame voting is it doesn't seem likely that any of the votes are going to really matter, because there is a segment of the voters with an axe to grind. They want to turn this year's vote into the baseball version of the Salem Witch Hunt. And they have not only indicted and convicted Bonds and Clemens of wrongdoing in their minds, but are so intent on their anger toward Bonds and Clemens they will take it out on others and turn in blank ballots. Election to the Hall of Fame requires a player to be listed on 75 percent of the ballots cast. A blank ballot is a vote for no one but has to be counted if it is submitted. Each voter who turns in a blank ballot is not only expressing displeasure toward Clemens and Bonds, but also hurting the candidacy of every other eligible player. Nobody ever questioned Murphy's character, but he will suffer more than anyone else from the blank ballots because this is his 15th and final year of eligibility. There is no next year for him, like there is for the other candidates. The outrage over PEDs is the in-thing, but it is so inconsistent. My biggest challenge this year was trimming my list of candidates to 10 players, with apologies to Smith.
Ballot: Clemens, Bonds, Palmeiro, Biggio, Martinez, Smith, Walker
Clemens, Bonds, Palmeiro -- by any measure, they dominated their era when the playing field, even if tainted, was level. For Biggio, 350-plus games at three different positions and 3,000 hits are still an automatic Hall pass. Martinez was one of best righty hitters ever, and so what if it primarily came as a DH? He was so good at it they named the award after him. As for Smith, modern closers are still following in his footsteps. Walker, after his first couple formative seasons, had 1,192 RBIs vs. 1,004 strikeouts. Or are we going to add altitude to the list of demerits?
Next year, I'll use my head, weigh all the numbers. This year, I used my gut: Does this guy feel right? These were all Hall of Famers in my mind when they played. No questions asked. I gave weight to integrity and character, as directed by the process. I need more time to address the new names and questions surrounding them.
I decline the honor of sitting in judgment on the PED era, but I left McGwire off the ballot for the first time. I wanted to make sure I got Raines and Trammell on the ballot. Biggio should be a no-brainer and it's time for Morris to get his due as well.