I placed my envelope, bound for Cooperstown, N.Y., in one of the last mail collections before Christmas. Even at this frenetic time of year, the letter should reach its idyllic destination in the next day or so -- if it hasn't already.And when Jack O'Connell, secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers'
I placed my envelope, bound for Cooperstown, N.Y., in one of the last mail collections before Christmas. Even at this frenetic time of year, the letter should reach its idyllic destination in the next day or so -- if it hasn't already.
And when Jack O'Connell, secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, and Ernst & Young partner Michael DiLecce formally examine my third ballot as a Hall of Fame voter, they will see that I checked the boxes beside 10 names:
Bonds and Clemens lead my ballot alphabetically -- and rhetorically. So, let's start with them.
I was among the writers who received Joe Morgan's letter last month. On behalf of "many" Hall of Famers, Morgan wrote, "We hope the day never comes when known steroid users are voted into the Hall of Fame. They cheated. Steroid users don't belong here."
I appreciated Morgan's sentiments, because of how much I respect the man who wrote them, and the manner in which they focused my reflections on this year's ballot. I asked myself a question I'd never fully considered before: To whom does the Hall of Fame truly belong?
The Hall of Famers themselves? The Hall's board of directors, of which Morgan is vice chairman? Major League Baseball? All MLB players, enshrined or not? Fans? Sportswriters?
Certainly not sportswriters.
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Ultimately, I concluded, the Hall belongs to history, with a capital H. The Hall ought to honor the greatest players of every generation, judged within the unique context of each era. And so I voted for Bonds and Clemens, just as I did in each of the previous two years.
Morgan wrote, from an official Hall of Fame email address: "Players who failed drug tests, admitted using steroids, or were identified as users in Major League Baseball's investigation into steroid abuse, known as the Mitchell Report, should not get in."
I agree -- at least where "players who failed drug tests" are concerned. I've always drawn a thick line at the 2005 season, when MLB began suspending Major League players for performance-enhancing drug violations. I have not supported, and do not intend to support, candidates suspended for PED violations from 2005 onward.
But I have a difficult time using the Mitchell Report as a litmus test, particularly when former senator George Mitchell himself recommended to then-Commissioner Bud Selig -- 10 years ago this month -- that he "forego imposing discipline on players for past violations of baseball's rules on performance enhancing substances, including the players named in this report," except in extraordinary cases.
Bonds and Clemens were mentioned in the Mitchell Report but never suspended by MLB for PED use. Why should they be punished now, a full decade after appearing in a report that wasn't authored with retroactive discipline in mind?
Another issue with the Mitchell Report is that Mitchell's inquiry was confined by the investigation's access to a relatively small number of direct sources in the PED chain. Unfortunately for Clemens, Brian McNamee was among those who cooperated.
I believe it is likely the Hall of Fame already includes at least one player who used PEDs; he was (or they were) more fortunate than Clemens in which trainers/suppliers granted candid interviews to Mitchell's team. Given that omniscience will elude every Hall voter, fairness is the next-best policy. And the 2005 suspensions are a reasonable place to start.
On other, less morally involved matters:
• Walker belongs in the Hall of Fame, and I'm excited that I had room for him among this year's group of 10. I voted for Walker on the 2016 ballot, but removed him last winter in favor of Hoffman, in an effort to nudge the deserving Hoffman over the 75 percent threshold. Another consideration for me last year: Hoffman, second on the all-time list with 601 saves, is more historically significant among closers than Walker is among outfielders. But Walker's seven Gold Glove Awards and 141 OPS+ (tied with Jones, ahead of Guerrero, according to Baseball-Reference.com) show that there is little doubt as to his Cooperstown worthiness.
• The elections of Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez -- all of whom were on my ballot last year -- gave me room for three new candidates. Jones and Thome were locks, leaving Walker vs. Omar Vizquel as my major dilemma. Vizquel is a Hall of Famer, especially if one compares his career to that of Ozzie Smith, but he's early enough in his eligibility timeline that I wanted to prioritize Walker. That rationale may be unsatisfying to some observers, but it's a reality of the 10-person and 10-year limits.
• This bears repeating: While the right-handers have different career profiles, Mussina and Schilling are Hall of Famers by virtue of their consistent excellence in a hitter-friendly era. Schilling's 3,116 strikeouts and postseason dominance make him a clear choice for the Hall, as does Mussina's 270 wins while pitching entirely for American League East clubs.
• It's difficult to find room for two closers on a 10-person ballot, so perhaps Billy Wagner's momentum will build if Hoffman is elected in January. I would have no trouble supporting Wagner next year. His 0.998 WHIP is the second lowest in Major League history for any pitcher who's thrown at least 900 innings; Addie Joss, whose last game was more than 100 years ago, holds the record.
• Jeff Kent's 377 home runs are the most by a player who's played at least 1,000 games at second base. He belongs in the Hall of Fame, but he's about to hit the midway point of his eligibility and has yet to breach the 20 percent mark. Kent could see a bump in the 2018-19 cycle if a big class is announced in January ... but next year's first-timers will include Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, Andy Pettitte and Todd Helton.
Jon Paul Morosi is a columnist for MLB.com.