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Why this will be my final baseball Hall of Fame vote


Dear Hall of Fame.

You hold a special place in my heart. I will always cherish our time together, walking through your hallways, connecting with your history, seeing your exhibits. When I stepped in front of the Sandy Koufax plaque, I did not want to leave. When I saw Babe Ruth’s bat and Hank Aaron’s jersey and Shoeless Joe Jackson’s … shoes!, I wanted to take them all home with me. You sit in this perfect hamlet of Cooperstown in upstate New York and, after all these years, you still look good, kid. But it’s time for us to go our separate ways. It’s not you, it’s me.

Sincerely, Ballot No. 386.

I’ve thought about this since the names Bonds, Clemens and Sosa first appeared on the ballot four years ago. Baseball is a sport long steeped in numbers – 56, 714, 755, 61, 4,256, 27 up and 27 down — and some of those statistics morphed into cartoons during the steroid era.

Roger Maris’s long-time former record of 61 homers in the 1961 season now ranks seventh on the career list behind mutant totals put up by Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, who turned themselves into chemistry experiments, then took a sledgehammer to records at a time when baseball’s owners, union leaders and and commissioner were desperate for improved TV ratings and revenue streams. The message: Check your conscience at the door.

Bonds, McGwire and Sosa have yet to smudge the Hall walls. Bud Selig was just given a pass. So I think I know what’s coming around the bend.

And so, I’m done. This will be my final year of voting for the Hall of Fame.

It’s a deeply flawed voting system. There are too many voters. But the bigger issue is the lack of direction from the Hall on how voters should view past PED users. Votes will always swing on a person’s beliefs and potential biases. But being given a directive like, “You should (or should not) take XYZ about PEDs into consideration” would add some clarity to the system.

Should all steroid users be voted in? Should none of them? What if they were going to be all-time greats regardless? What if there’s no physical proof of use, just testimony? What if they deny, deny, deny, yell at accusers, seek to ruin others’ lives, then suddenly one day break down in tears for Bob Costas and admit it all (McGwire)?

But voters are given nothing. So we have this debate every year. I’m tired of waiting. With Selig being voted in by a special committee, it has added another layer of frustration for me.

This vote has changed from something I embraced to something I dread. I voted this year because, frankly, I mailed my completed ballot last week before starting to type this column, then realized I was at the end. Originally I was just going to give you my yeas and nays and remind you of the recent words of Hall of Famer John Smoltz, who said he opposed Bonds and Clemens going into the Hall of Fame: “I feel bad for the guys trying to make judgment calls, as the writers do, and not having the full information or the right to know who did what. … It’s a character issue. If you can’t play the game at a level where you have put yourself at risk to say, ‘I’m either good enough or not,’ that to me has crossed the line, where I can’t have a lot of respect for you.”

I’ll continue to celebrate those who I believe deserve to be celebrated. I will go to Cooperstown should my bosses ask me to cover the induction of Braves past. I just won’t be part of the voting process.

Below is my final ballot.

VOTED YES

Lee Smith (15th year on ballot): I’ve voted for Smith every year. But too many voters seem to view closers and designated hitters like football voters view kickers — like part-timers. Smith pitched for 18 seasons, ranks third on the all-time saves list (holding the career record from 1993-2006 until being passed by Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera), led the majors four times and made seven All-Star teams. This is his final year of eligibility.

Tim Raines (10): This also is his last year of eligibility but, at 69.8 percent last year (75 is required) he has a good chance of getting in. How a seven-time All-Star, four-time stolen base champion (fifth all-time) and former battle title champ hasn’t made it before is beyond me.

Edgar Martinez (8): I doubt he’s going to make it — the DH thing — but two batting titles, five Silver Sluggers, seven All-Star Games and a career slash line of .312/.418/.515 over 18 seasons says Cooperstown to me.

Fred McGriff (8): 493 home runs, two home run titles, 1,550 RBIs, five All-Star Games, three Silver Sluggers and a career .886 OPS is a great argument. But I was one of only 92 who voted for him last year (20.9 percent).

Jeff Bagwell (7): It’s the first time I’m voting for him. The credentials have never been an issue: 2,314 hits, 449 homers, 1,529 RBIs, MVP. It always has been about “steroid suspicion.” My previous stance: Wait until their final year of eligibility before voting yes, allowing time for all potential evidence to come out. But I reversed field this year in the belief enough time has passed.

Curt Schilling (5): I’ve gone back and forth on Schilling. It has nothing to do with his politics or that he praised as “awesome” a T-shirt endorsing the lynching of journalists on Twitter. He never won a Cy Young (but was a six-time All-Star). His career 216 wins and 3.46 ERA aren’t overwhelming. But he had 3,000-plus strikeouts and was one of the greatest postseason pitchers ever: 11-2, 2.23, three World Series, two postseason MVPs.

Mike Mussina (4): Probably more like the Hall of Very Good but he’s in my top 10 on ballot with 270 wins, five Gold Gloves and seven All-Stars.

Trevor Hoffman (2): See: Lee Smith. Second on the all-time saves list (601) with seven All-Stars.

Billy Wagner (2): See: Smith and Hoffman. Sixth on the all-time saves list (while playing mostly for Houston) and seven All-Stars.

Vladimir Guerrero (1): One of the great underappreciated players of his generation. Career slash line: .318/.379/.553. Also 449 homers, 477 doubles, one MVP, nine All-Stars, eight Silver Sluggers.

NO

PED suspicion: Barry Bonds (5), Roger Clemens (5), Sammy Sosa (5), Gary Sheffield (3), Manny Ramirez (1), Ivan Rodriguez (1).

Other nos: Larry Walker (7), Jeff Kent (4), Casey Blake (1), Pat Burrell (1), Orlando Cabrera (1), Mike Cameron (1), J.D. Drew (1), Carlos Guillen (1), Derrek Lee (1), Melvin Mora (1), Magglio Ordonez (1), Jorge Posada (1), Edgar Renteria (1), Arthur Rhodes (1), Freddy Sanchez (1), Matt Stairs (1), Jason Varitek (1), Tim Wakefield (1).



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