And how did we get to this point? Because we keep forgetting to elect most of those "qualified candidates" anymore. That's how. Only four electees in the past four years. Just seven in the past six years.
So now, because of the pointless rule that says we can vote for only 10 players, it's no longer possible for someone like me to vote the way I've always voted. Which meant that, from the start, I resigned myself to the fact that, no matter how I filled out this ballot, I was going to boil over in frustration at the look of it and the feel of it.
But I've always believed in being as honest, as open and as transparent about my ballot as I can be. So here's a look at the 10 players I voted for, how I got there and how frustrating a process this became. I don't expect you to agree with all of these choices. All I can pledge is that I spent many painful days and weeks contemplating what turned out to be an impossible challenge.
First up, you should know the names of the 10 players I voted for: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Mike Mussina, Jeff Kent, Craig Biggio, Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza and Jack Morris. Now let's discuss how I settled on those 10.
I knew, from the moment I first eyeballed this ballot, that this was a puzzle with too many pieces, a question with too many answers. I knew because I started this journey with 14 players I'd voted for in the past. Fourteen. And only 10 slots to put them in.
But then came all the first-year players with enough Hall of Fame credentials to merit a long, serious look -- especially Maddux, Glavine, Thomas, Mussina and Kent. So that got me, potentially, to 19 names for 10 spots. Nineteen.
You should know that I don't believe in dismissing any first-year candidate. But as I took my customary long look at players like Luis Gonzalez and Moises Alou, I actually started feeling sorry for them.
Alou had a .516 career slugging percentage and an .875 OPS (amazingly close to Willie McCovey's .515/.889). Gonzalez got 2,591 hits and finished a 19-year career with an .846 OPS (an almost exact match for Reggie Jackson's 2,584/.846). And those two men were going to be lucky to get five votes apiece on a ballot this overcrowded.
So how was I going to find a reason not to vote for as many as nine players who I thought were Hall of Famers? If you have a good answer to that question, let me know.
I tried ranking them -- by wins above replacement, by Jaffe's invaluable JAWS computations, by OPS-plus and ERA-plus, and by my own personal standards, which have long blended numbers with a small, but perfectly legal, dose of gut feelings. But when I looked over all of those top-10 lists, none of them felt right.
The WAR top 10 included Bonds, Clemens, Larry Walker and Palmeiro. The ERA-plus rankings placed Lee Smith above Glavine and Schilling. The OPS-plus top 10 included McGwire, Fred McGriff, Palmeiro and Sosa. So were those lists guiding me or confusing me further? Or maybe a little of both?
Other than Smith, every one of those players passed my Hall of Fame litmus test. And yes, that includes a bunch of players with assorted PED stains. If you'd like to know more about why I vote the way I vote on the PED crowd, here's last year's column.