More than a quarter of a century after getting my first ballot, the Hall of Fame selection progress just keeps getting more challenging.
Wednesday my ballot will be mailed with boxes checked next to the names of Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, Curt Schilling, Tim Raines, and Alan Trammell.
Six votes. I think it’s a personal high.
This means I am not voting for (among others on the ballot), Craig Biggio, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Mike Mussina, Larry Walker, Lee Smith, Carlos Delgado, and Nomar Garciaparra. Oh, and I also am not voting for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Gary Sheffield, Mike Piazza, and Jeff Bagwell.
Yikes. Imagine going into a seven-game series with a roster of the guys I’m not voting for: Piazza behind the plate. An infield of McGwire, Biggio, Nomar, and Bagwell. An outfield of Bonds, Sosa, and Sheffield. Edgar at DH. Clemens on the mound. Lee Smith in the bullpen. Mussina ready to pitch Game 2. Who wouldn’t take their chances with that team against any team?
So let it rip. Bring on the hate. Bring on the humiliation. Bring on the blogboy outrage. Bring on the analytic arrogance. Bring on the PED Hall Pass. It’s a tradition like no other.
Voting for the Hall is a great privilege. It’s the most important function of the vast lodge known as the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Some newspapers don’t allow their writers to vote. Thankfully, the Globe still lets us participate. Still, it has become almost impossible to be consistent with this ballot.
Voters in this election are baseball writers who were on the beat for at least 10 consecutive seasons. There are approximately 570 voters. We are allowed to vote for no more than 10 players. Players are not eligible until five years after they retire. A candidate must be selected on three-quarters (75 percent) of all votes cast to walk into Cooperstown next July.
In my view, Pedro, Johnson, Smoltz and Biggio will be announced as new Hall members on Jan. 6. None will be unanimous. No one has ever been a unanimous selection. You cannot get 570 baseball writers to agree that the earth is round. Since no one has been elected unanimously, some voters withhold to keep that stupid record intact. Brother Bob Ryan addressed this thinking nicely in a Nov. 30 Globe column. Look it up.
So don’t expect Pedro to be unanimous. His win total of 219 (accompanied by a mere 100 losses) will put off some voters, but Pedro (three Cy Young awards) should come in well north of 90 percent. Johnson is a 300-game winner (always Hall-worthy, unless you cheated), won five Cy Youngs, and ranks second lifetime in strikeouts (behind Nolan Ryan). Johnson is a lock. Smoltz gets in because he’s the only pitcher with 200 wins (213) and 150 saves (154) and he went 15-4 in the postseason. Biggio missed by only two votes last year. He has 3,000 hits, four gold gloves, and almost 300 homers. I would put him in the Hall of Very Good (only one 200-hit season), but that won’t matter. He’s going in. This year.
Raines and Trammell are problematic and I am guilty of inconsistency with their candidacies. Raines was a rare combination of power (170 homers) and speed (808 steals). He had six 100-run seasons. Trammell is going to be off the ballot soon, and won’t make the Hall with the BBWAA, but there’s lots of value in a shortstop who hit .300 seven times, won four Gold Gloves, and should have been MVP (he lost to George Bell) in 1987.
Schilling also is borderline. He won 216 games compared with 270 for Mussina. But Schill gets this vote because he went 11-2 in the postseason and was one of the great strike machines in baseball history. Who would you want on the mound in a big game — Mussina or Schill?
The Roids Boys are the greatest burden on voters. Some voters don’t care. Some cherry-pick the cheaters. Some turn away from anything that even looks dirty. Withholding votes for guys who cheated and guys who look like they cheated is unfortunate, sometimes unfair, and almost impossible to impose consistently.
Objection to the Roids Boys is gradually eroding. As years pass and new voters replace older voters, it is likely there will be increased leniency. Each year there are more voters who don’t care about PEDs. The thinking becomes, “This was the era. They were all doing it.’’ Or, “Bonds and Clemens were already Hall of Famers before they started cheating.’’
Sorry, I am not there. No votes for guys caught using. And worse — no votes for guys who just don’t look right. Bagwell and Piazza are the two players most penalized for this arbitrary crime. By any statistical measurement, Bagwell and Piazza are first-ballot Hall of Famers, yet their vote totals (62 percent for Piazza last year, 54 percent for Bagwell) remain considerably lower than their résumés merit.
This was a lot more fun when it was just Trammell vs. Biggio, Schilling vs. Mussina, or Jim Kaat vs. Don Drysdale. When it was about baseball.
Happily, none of the bad stuff ever touched Pedro. Long after the votes are counted and the arguments subside, Cooperstown in July is going to be a Boston baseball party.