Difficult duty remains for baseball Hall of Fame voters

With few guidelines to go off of, writers must decide who is worthy on their own.

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St. Paul’s Jack Morris is on the writers’ ballot for the Hall of Fame for the 15th and final time.

A Baseball Hall of Fame ballot filled with legitimate candidates — including first-time eligibles Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, both 300-game winners, and slugger Frank Thomas, plus top holdovers Craig Biggio and Jack Morris — should create some excitement in the middle of this frigid winter when the honorees are announced Wednesday.

Well, at least we hope.

There has been increased scrutiny in Hall of Fame voting in recent years, especially after the 569 members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America could not agree on a single candidate to elect last year. It was the first time since 1996 and the eighth time overall that no one was elected by the writers.

That made it abundantly clear that voters are having a difficult time deciding just who is a Hall of Famer these days.

Writers who have been members of the BBWAA for 10 consecutive years earn Hall of Fame voting rights. Last year was the third-highest number of ballots cast in Hall of Fame history.

And, I must admit, we are a strange group with a wide range of beliefs. How could Bob Gibson be left off 64 ballots the year he was elected? And where did that one vote for Aaron Sele come from last year?

Some voters are anti-closers, which makes it tough for someone like Lee Smith, who had 478 saves in his career, to get the 75 percent of votes needed for enshrinement. The candidacy of Mariano Rivera in five years — he retired after last season — almost certainly will be treated differently.

Designated hitters are apparently viewed differently as well. Edgar Martinez was as tough an out as there was during his career, but he received just 35.9 percent of the vote last year, his fourth on the ballot.

But Frank Thomas, who is one of the favorites to be elected this year, played more games as a designated hitter (1,310) than he did as a first baseman (969). David Ortiz also could challenge this thinking once he becomes eligible to be voted in.

That brings us to the biggest challenge voters face today — defining the steroid era. Who was clean and who wasn’t? Who got away with cheating? Do we withhold votes for Jeff Bagwell or Mike Piazza just because they looked the part? Is that really fair? Do we vote them all in because cheating hitters were facing cheating pitchers? The Hall of Fame is not an all-saints club, after all, even though a player’s integrity and character are considerations for eligibility.

The Hall of Fame has been steady in its stance to not provide any further guidelines on how to deal with players from the era. That has left voters to make decisions based on available facts. Regardless if there’s 59 voters or 569, you’re going to get a wide range of interpretations of those facts. So the cases of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and others remain up for debate.

While we try to figure out how or how not to vote for suspected cheaters, they linger on the ballot despite career numbers that once would have made them locks for enshrinement. With no one voted in last year, most of them are back on a crowded 2014 ballot that also includes first-time eligible players Thomas, Maddux and Glavine. While those three have been mentioned as the biggest new names on the ballot, Mike Mussina and Jeff Kent are also first-timers who are expected to receive some support.

So you have the steroid era players, a strong class of newcomers and candidates such as Biggio, who received 68.2 percent of the vote last year and could get the call this year.

Where does that leave Morris, on the ballot for the 15th and final time? Last year, St. Paul’s own was selected on 67.7 percent of the ballots, only 42 votes shy of the magical 75 percent mark. As part of a loaded ballot, Morris could the victim of bad timing.

For the first time in 10 years as a Hall of Fame voter, I have submitted a ballot in which I had to leave off someone I selected the year before.

Ballots had to be in the mail by last Tuesday. I voted for eight candidates last year. This year, Maddux, Glavine and Thomas are eligible and, in my mind, are all worthy. Since we can’t vote for more than 10 candidates, I had to take someone off my ballot. Don’t worry, you will find out Wednesday — the day of the announcement — forwhom I voted. But it was not a comfortable feeling being forced to leave someone I think is Hall worthy off a ballot.

The current process for voting players into Cooperstown creates excitement — and a few arguments — at this time of year. But that doesn’t mean some things can be altered, and we’re staring at a possible logjam of candidates over the next few years.

The BBWAA met last month in Orlando during the annual winter meetings. It was my first meeting since being appointed BBWAA president in October. We decided to appoint a committee to look into the 10-person limit on the ballots and determine if it should be expanded. The organization is not afraid to change, and if the committee comes up with other suggestions, we will consider them and they will be voted on.

  • class of 2014

    What: Announcement of Baseball Hall of Fame voting results.

    When: 1 p.m. Wednesday.

    TV: MLB Network.

    Magic number: Candidates need at least 75 percent of the vote to be elected.

    Last year: No one was elected by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America for the first time since 1996, and for only the second since 1971.

    Induction day: July 27 in Cooperstown, N.Y.

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