It is a barroom argument that never fails to spark heat. It is a sports radio topic guaranteed to light up the lines. And when you deliver speeches and yield the floor to questions, it's only a matter of time before someone asks about candidates for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
"Will you vote for David Ortiz?"
"Would you vote for Pete Rose if he ever gets on the ballot?"
"How do you feel about the steroids guys?"
"Why don't you vote for Edgar Martinez?"
"Do you think Ken Griffey Jr. will be a unanimous selection?"
Voting for the Hall of Fame and talking about the Hall of Fame was more fun when it was all about baseball. Comparing Player A to Player B. You remember . . .
"If Brooks is in, why not Ron Santo? If 300 wins is a standard for a starter, how can you not vote for Don Sutton? Who would you rather have in a big game — Catfish Hunter or Luis Tiant?''
It's changed a lot in the last couple of decades. Now it's all about cherry-picking cheaters and defending your ballot vs. those who insist they are right and you are a dunce. In the sacred words of the Hoodie, it's all about silly stuff, "trash cans and warm drinks.''
And woe is the old scribe who values things like wins and RBIs. Trust me when I tell you that hell hath no fury like the wrath of the Bill James Blog Boys toward any voter who fails to worship at the altar of Wins Above Replacement.
That said, it's still the greatest honor of membership in the vaunted Baseball Writers' Association of America: You get to vote for the Hall of Fame.
So, here goes:
The aforementioned Griffey is the lock of the year on the 2016 ballot. It's his first year of eligibility and he owns one of the strongest résumés of all time. He is a legitimate legacy, blessed with all five tools. You almost never see this combination of power, speed, and defense. There was never a whiff of PEDs about him. The worst thing anyone ever said about Griff was that he wore his cap backward during batting practice. Sparky Anderson didn't like that. And Sparky managed Griff's dad.
Griffey will not be unanimous. Get over it. Those who don't vote for him should publish their ballots, and be appropriately outed. We all know you cannot get 500 voters to agree that Friday follows Thursday. And if DiMaggio didn't get in on the first ballot . . . well, you know the drill.
The next best new name of this year's ballot is Trevor Hoffman. Sorry, no soup for him or his one million saves. Loved his brother Glenn, a Sox infielder, and his dad, a singing usher at the Big A, but I believe saves are overrated, especially in the era in which Hoffman pitched. Give me Fingers and Gossage, but not the estimable Hoffman.
The rest of the new guys don't get a sniff. And that doesn't make them bad ballplayers. This is the Hall of Fame. Not the Hall of Very Good. It's OK to hold out for the best of the best. I will never be one of those voters who wishes I could vote for 20 guys. The 10-vote limit is more than enough, even when you attempt to stand by guys you voted for in the past who have not made the cut.
This leaves me with votes for three guys I voted for last year who did not make the cut: Curt Schilling, Tim Raines, and Alan Trammell. They will not get the required 75 percent of the vote again this year, but I like to stick with guys until they are off the ballot.
Schilling got only 39.2 percent of the vote last year, which is unfortunate. Sure, his win total (216) is low for a Hall of Fame starter and he was mediocre in his early years. He's also a blowhard, but that matters not. Schilling's postseason numbers (11-2) are off the charts and he was one of the great strike machines of the 20th century.
"In a big game, you would want Curt,'' Jim Palmer told me last year.
I'm sticking with Raines because he scored 100 runs six times, stole 808 bags, hit 170 homers, and had more than 2,600 hits. This is his ninth year on the ballot and I haven't voted for him every time, but I'm staying with him now until he falls off. He got 55 percent of the votes last year, so there's always a chance.
My Trammell pick is a little sentimental. He got only 25.1 percent last year. He hit .300 seven times, won four Gold Gloves, and should have been MVP in 1987 (George Bell won). Consider it a PED backlash vote.
Ah, there's a topic. Remember steroids? I'm still holding the line on guys who cheated and guys who look as if they were dirty. This disqualifies all the best names (other than Griffey) on the ballot. It takes out Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Gary Sheffield, Mike Piazza, and Jeff Bagwell. Some of them were obvious cheaters, some we merely suspect, which is, of course, wildly unfair. Every voter has his or her own system/conscience.
The charge given to us by the BBWAA makes it almost impossible to be consistent. But trust me when I tell you that you are going to see a softening on the hard-line stand against PEDs. This is going to help Piazza (69.9 percent last year) and Bagwell (55.7) this year. I think Piazza is a lock this year. He is, after all, the greatest hitting catcher in baseball history.
For the record, I'm not withholding on Edgar Martinez because he was a DH. I just never thought of Edgar as a dominant slugger in his era. Mike Mussina is another tough omission. Moose won 270 games, but he always pitched for good teams, and when it comes to the big games we'd all take Schilling or El Tiante every time. While you're at it, take a good look at Fred McGriff and try to figure why he doesn't get more love from the voters.
Oh, and about Big Papi? . . . Come see me in six years when he's first eligible. THAT is going to be a doozy.