Some within the Baseball Writers' Association of America have grown disenchanted with the Hall of Fame voting process. They are anguished by ballots including players with documented (or rumored) performance-enhancing drug use. They feel embittered by the Hall's restrictions, including a maximum of 10 votes per ballot and 10 years of consideration per player.
I am not one of those people.
I love voting for the Hall of Fame. I relish the rigor of it, along with the inevitable criticism that follows. If anything, the ethical dilemmas make the experience more worthwhile. As judgments become more nuanced and complex, I'm honored to be part of an organization that wields profound influence on the way baseball history is remembered in Cooperstown.
With that, here's the second ballot of my tenure as a Hall of Fame voter:
Jeff Bagwell, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Tim Raines, Ivan Rodriguez, Curt Schilling.
Some context on my decisions:
• First, I'll state my position on performance-enhancing drugs: I draw a sharp line at the 2005 season, when Major League Baseball began suspending players for PED use. To me, Rafael Palmeiro (no longer on the ballot), Manny Ramirez (eligible for the first time), Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun have disqualified themselves from consideration.
There is substantial evidence that Bonds and Clemens used PEDs. Steroid suspicion has followed Bagwell and Rodriguez. But rather than surmise who used -- because an educated guess is all we have in some cases -- it's most reasonable to vote for the players who truly excelled in a flawed era. Bonds, Clemens, Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez did that.
Sammy Sosa, by contrast, ranked ninth among position players on this year's ballot with an OPS+ of 128, just ahead of J.D. Drew and Magglio Ordoñez. Yes, Sosa hit 609 home runs. But he did so during a PED-tainted era, in which the skill of hitting home runs became less historically significant.
Rodriguez won 13 Gold Glove Awards at catcher. Bagwell won one. Sosa? Zero. And Bagwell's OPS+ (149) was much higher than Sosa's.
• In considering Hall of Fame candidates, I ask myself if each player deserves classification as one of the greatest ever at a given position or area of performance. And that is why I made the difficult decision to drop Larry Walker from last year's ballot in favor of Hoffman.
To be clear, I continue to believe Walker is a Hall of Famer based on his five-tool prominence, even if he compiled many of his offensive numbers at altitude. But is he truly one of the greatest outfielders ever? I'm less certain of that. Hoffman and Martinez, meanwhile, are so ingrained in the game's history that their names grace year-end awards for closers and designated hitters, respectively.
I understand many will take issue with dropping a seven-time Gold Glove Award winner who posted a career OPS of .965 in favor of a pitcher who mostly threw one inning per game. But if there ever was an appropriate time to recognize the importance of a relief pitcher, it is following the 2016 postseason. Hoffman was the first pitcher to surpass the 600-save milestone, and he did it while living with one kidney since infancy.
Raines is one of the greatest in a different way: He's the only player in Major League history with 800-plus stolen bases, 1,300-plus walks and 100-plus triples.
Guerrero? He's one of five Major Leaguers to have hit 400 or more home runs and struck out fewer than 1,000 times while maintaining an OPS+ of at least 140. The others are Ted Williams, Mel Ott, Lou Gehrig and Stan Musial. That's a Hall of Famer.
• Mussina and Schilling are clear Hall of Famers on this year's ballot, just as they were in the 2015-16 cycle. Mussina and Schilling both stood out among their peers while pitching in the Steroid Era. Among 74 Hall of Fame pitchers, as listed by Baseball-Reference.com, only 13 struck out more batters than Schilling's 3,116. Mussina's 270 victories and lifetime 3.68 ERA -- all while pitching for American League East teams -- represent a convincing argument for his enshrinement in Cooperstown.