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Hall of Fame voting a challenging task

MLB.com @feinsand

A year ago, I sat down with my first ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame and agonized over it for weeks.

Who should I vote for? What would I do with players who tested positive -- or were even suspected -- of using performance-enhancing drugs? How would I choose my final 10?

A year ago, I sat down with my first ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame and agonized over it for weeks.

Who should I vote for? What would I do with players who tested positive -- or were even suspected -- of using performance-enhancing drugs? How would I choose my final 10?

With no personal voting history to fall back on, I first came to the decision that I would vote for players regardless of whether they had ever been connected to PEDs. From the moment they arrived in the Majors, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Manny Ramirez were three of the best players I had ever seen, and the idea of not voting for them seemed implausible.

I respect any voter who chooses to punish players associated with PEDs, but given that we don't know exactly who was or wasn't using drugs prior to the implementation of testing in 2003, I'm not about to draw any such lines. Agree or disagree, that's where I stand.

So last year, once I narrowed the ballot down from 34 to 17, I whittled it down to 10 from there. The final two spots were the toughest, with Gary Sheffield and Fred McGriff making the cut ahead of Edgar Martinez, Curt Schilling, Larry Walker and Jeff Kent.

After Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez -- all of whom I voted for -- were elected last year, I figured some of the players I was forced to leave off would find their way to the top of my 2018 ballot.

Video: Chipper Jones is Hall of Fame 2018 candidate

I forgot about those pesky first-timers: Chipper Jones and Jim Thome were no-brainers for me, and while Omar Vizquel's defensive wizardry was second to none, I wasn't ready to vote for him ahead of many of the other eligible players.

Returning on my ballot from last year were Bonds, Clemens, Ramirez, Sheffield, Vladimir Guerrero and Mike Mussina. Eight spots down, two remaining.

McGriff was the only other player left from my 2017 ballot that I had not checked off again. The moment I sealed my ballot and mailed it in last year, I regretted not voting for Martinez. He finished 11th on my list, thanks in part to the fact that he played about 70 percent of his career games at designated hitter. I absolutely considered him a Hall of Famer, but you can only vote for 10.

Tweet from @Feinsand: After many hours of thought and research, here���s my 2018 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. I thought filling out my debut ballot last year was difficult; it wasn���t any easier the second time around. Have at it. pic.twitter.com/p6aMps2lnH

This is where Hall of Fame voting gets tough -- strategic, even. To me, the process should be a simple, binary question: Is he a Hall of Famer? Vote yes or no for each player, regardless of how many you vote for.

Instead, we must ask that question first, then pare it down to 10 names if we believe there are 11 or more that warrant a vote. There were 17 names on the ballot this year that would have received serious consideration from me if I could vote for more than 10, and while it's unlikely that I would have voted for all 17, I probably would have checked off 14 or 15 boxes.

So while I voted for McGriff ahead of Martinez last year, I felt they were both deserving. They're each in their second-to-last year of eligibility, and while McGriff hasn't garnered more than 23.9 percent of the vote in any of his first eight years, Martinez and his absurd .312/.418/.515 slash line made it to 58.6 percent a year ago.

If I believe both are Hall of Famers, I owe it to Martinez to vote for him since he has a legitimate chance to earn the required 75 percent in one of his final two years on the ballot. Unfortunately for the "Crime Dog," a vote for him feels like a wasted vote.

With that decision made, my final spot came down to Schilling, Kent and Walker. I gave careful consideration to Hideki Matsui, Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones and Johnny Damon, but none had a case convincing enough to move past the first three. I hope they collect at least 5 percent of the vote so I can consider them again, though there's a chance they fall off the ballot the same way Jorge Posada, Jim Edmonds, Carlos Delgado and others have in recent years.

Video: Schilling's early years in Philly established legacy

I ultimately chose Schilling, whom I would have voted for a year ago if not for a series of anti-journalist comments he made that rubbed me -- and nearly everybody in my profession -- the wrong way. It was enough to put voting for him off for at least a year when there were clearly more than 10 other deserving players on the ballot.

Schilling's career was brilliant; Hall of Fame worthy, for certain. He was 70 games over .500, had eight seasons with 15-plus wins (including three 20-win campaigns) and struck out more than 3,000 batters while posting the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the game since the mound was lowered.

Then there's his postseason success. Like a modern-day Jack Morris, Schilling pitched three franchises into the World Series: the Phillies, Red Sox and D-backs.

Although he didn't win a ring with the Phillies, he pitched great that postseason. In Arizona, he pitched as well as anybody could, going 4-0 with a 1.12 ERA to lead the D-backs to a stunning World Series title. The numbers weren't quite as dominant with the Red Sox three years later, but his impact on that 2004 Boston team was unquestionable, while his "bloody sock" game will go down as one of the most memorable games in history.

Overall, Schilling was 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA in 19 postseason starts, including a 4-1 record and a 2.06 ERA in four World Series. That's Hall of Fame in my book, no matter how much I might disagree with him on non-baseball issues.

Video: Guerrero spent six great seasons with the Halos

So that's my 10: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Vladimir Guerrero, Chipper Jones, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling, Gary Sheffield and Jim Thome.

Whether your choices would have been the same, somewhat similar or completely different, there's one thing we can all agree on: baseball is great. Why else would anybody care about any of this?

I can't wait to do it all over again next year.

Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.