The envelope comes every December, with a gentle reminder to vote by Dec. 31, but the reality for many members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America who cast ballots for the Baseball Hall of Fame is that the debate never ends.
A baseball game, of course, is never decided by time or a clock. Some games never seem to end, and perhaps baseball purists don't mind if those same rules apply to the annual HOF debate.
Bruce Miles, one of our veteran baseball writers, is absolutely correct when he says that no other sports hall of fame evokes or inspires as much debate as the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The game's vast history has something to do with that, as does the voting process itself, which is far from perfect but always passionate.
Have too many players gained induction, or are there too few? How should voters deal with candidates from the "Steroid Era"? Or should it even matter whether they've admitted use or not?
The questions are as endless as the debate, and it's not easy to find common ground, even in our own newsroom as you'll see here as we present the decisions of four Daily Herald writers who cover baseball and cast BBWAA ballots each year: columnist Mike Imrem, columnist Barry Rozner, White Sox beat writer Scot Gregor and Cubs beat writer Bruce Miles.
We asked them to share the criteria they use and explain their votes, and we invite you to go online at dailyherald.com and share your view with us via the comment link with this story.
Final results of the BBWAA voting are expected to be announced Jan. 9.
Changing a Hall of Fame vote from one year to the next is stupid, right? If a player doesn't belong in Cooperstown one year, why would he the next?
A retiree doesn't hit any more homers or strike out any more batters or make any more spectacular fielding plays, does he?
So only once have I not voted for a player and then changed my mind. That was Gary Carter, who happened to get in the Hall the year I flipped on him. Glad I could help, Gary.
Sometimes you see the light, or at least see a player in a different light.
This is a long way around to saying I didn't vote for Jeff Bagwell last year but did this year. Why? Because a closer look at his body of work convinced me that he is a Hall of Famer.
To be honest, I don't even remember Bagwell being on the ballot in 2010. However, the information packet the Hall of Fame sends out insists he was.
So, my check marks on this year's ballot went like this:
That probably categorizes me as a stingy voter because some in the electorate vote for 10 players every year.
If I reached the maximum of 10 and one of my old standbys had to be taken off, it would be Smith. Next would be Bagwell. Next would be McGwire. Next would be Morris.
Players on the cusp who didn't receive my vote this year are, in order of worthiness: Tim Raines, Barry Larkin, Larry Walker, Juan Gonzalez and Edgar Martinez.
They won't get a single basehit next summer, but one might get my vote next December.
Meanwhile -- who knows? -- Jeff Bagwell might not.
The steroid era has made voting for the National Baseball Hall of Fame complicated, and continues to become more so with each passing year. The rules insist that "integrity'' and "character'' are part of the consideration, so that makes it difficult to overlook those who cheated.
I exclude those who have been caught or are strong suspects. This is not a perfect result and in some cases perhaps unfair, but Major League Baseball -- by promoting the use of performance-enhancing drugs for a long period of time -- has put me in a position where I must take this approach.
My ballot for this year:
Raines was the second-best leadoff hitter of his generation behind Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson and one of the best baserunners and basestealers in the history of the game. He swiped 808 bases (fifth all time) and was caught only 146 times, good for an amazing 84.7 percent success rate.
That's better than the four men ahead of him on the stolen base career list (Henderson, Lou Brock, Billy Hamilton and Ty Cobb), all of whom are in the Hall of Fame. Raines reached base more times than Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn and scored 188 more runs. Raines is 51st all time in runs (1,571), and nearly every player on the list ahead of him is in the Hall or will be.
Smith retired as the all-time leader in saves (478) and still ranks third in that category behind Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman, both of whom are locks for the Hall. He also retired as the all-time leader in games finished (802) and is currently third behind Rivera and Hoffman.
Morris is a tough case but ultimately his status as the best pitcher for a decade is one I frequently use and therefore he gets my vote. Morris collected 162 victories in the '80s and no other starter was close.
He threw a no-hitter and his extra-inning shutout for Minnesota in the last game of the 1991 World Series is the only such performance in baseball history. He also had 2 complete-game victories in the '84 World Series, and he was the Game 1 starter for three teams that won World Series. He won four World Series rings and finished top five in Cy Young voting five times.
I look at this year's Hall of Fame ballot and see only one candidate -- Barry Larkin -- that truly deserves to be enshrined in Cooperstown this summer.
And for as good as he was, Larkin is no lock.
You need 75 percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers' Association of America to make the Hall of Fame. Last year, his first on the ballot, Larkin checked in at 62.1 percent.
I suspect the former Cincinnati Reds star gets in this year.
After that, it is retread city.
Jack Morris is back for the 13th season, and he is running out of time. Morris has three more years on the ballot.
It took Bert Blyleven 14 tries before he finally made the HOF cut last year. Blyleven has 287 career wins; Morris has 254. Conversely, Blyleven has 250 career losses; Morris has 186.
As for other familiar candidates such as Lee Smith, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Edgar Martinez, they were all standout players. You have to be great to make the Hall of Fame, in my opinion, so I'll stick with Larkin and Morris.
Suspicions of using "performance enhancing drugs" weigh heavily on my decision to leave off productive players such as Bagwell, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Juan Gonzalez.
This has become an annual problem, and we voters receive no guidance on the PED issue. Until there are clearer guidelines, suspected players will not be getting my vote.
The rules for voting for the Baseball Hall of Fame are wonderfully simple: "Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played."
That's it. As a writer who has fully embraced the "sabermetrics" revolution that has changed the way the game is covered, I take a hard look at statistics and give them the most weight.
But I'm voting for the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Stats, so I also take seriously the other qualities the Hall requires us to consider. With that in mind, I checked these names on my ballot:
In my mind, all have the stats, including Morris and his 3.90 ERA. What Morris has are 254 wins (yes, I place a good measure of weight on wins), including 162 during the 1980s, most of that decade. If you had asked Tigers manager Sparky Anderson which pitcher he'd hand the ball to in a key game, the answer would be Morris every time.
Bagwell, Larkin and Trammell, in addition to having put up good numbers, were the face of their respective franchises for a combined 54 years.
Raines was behind only Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson as a leadoff hitter in their days. Smith was a dominant closer with 478 saves, third in history. You may or may not like the designated hitter, but as long as we have one, Martinez has been the best.
As far as the Steroid Era goes, I cite the Rolling Stones' line of, "Time is on my side." In other words, I want more time and information before I vote for the likes of Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro.
So far, I can't bring myself to vote for either.