And you thought last year's Hall of Fame ballot was problematic.
Welcome to the Class of 2014.
Last winter, members of the Baseball Writers Association of America elected no one in the first big ballot containing players from the so-called steroids era in major-league baseball. Left off were former Cub Sammy Sosa, pitcher Roger Clemens and home-run king Barry Bonds.
Oh, the puffed-up elephant is still in the room and will be for years to come. But this year, electors have a new problem: finding enough ballot spaces.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum allows BBWAA members to vote for up to 10 candidates on the yearly ballot. This year's ballot includes three new names whom many feel are surefire first-ballot Hall of Famers: Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas and Tom Glavine.
Even without the "steroid guys," it's a crowded ballot with many worthy players to consider. Craig Biggio was last year's top vote-getter, with 68.2 percent of the 75 percent of the vote needed for enshrinement in Cooperstown. Jack Morris, now facing his final year on the BBWAA ballot, was next, with 67.7 percent.
If Maddux, Thomas and Glavine pile up the votes, what happens to not only Biggio and Morris, but Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Lee Smith, Curt Schilling, Edgar Martinez and Alan Trammell?
If a voter believes 12 are worthy, sorry, he or she gets only 10 choices.
As a reminder, the Hall of Fame's instruction 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. Nothing about steroids or no steroids, no OPS or OPS-plus and no WHIP or WAR. The Daily Herald has four longtime Hall of Fame electors: Cubs beat writer Bruce Miles, White Sox beat writer Scot Gregor and columnists Mike Imrem and Barry Rozner.
Here is how each voted this year:
Here is the list of players I voted for this year:
The assumption is that Greg Maddux and Frank Thomas will be inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame in 2014, the first year of eligibility for each.
Having these two Chicago giants make it to Cooperstown reminds that this game is the stuff of dreams and fantasies.
Every time I cast a ballot it's accompanied by a dream that every summer into eternity, ultimate fantasy teams will play pickup games at Cooperstown.
This year I imagine a matchup in which Maddux, a former Cubs' pitcher, is on the mound working the corners and Thomas, a former White Sox' slugger, is in the batter's box working the count.
The outcome is in the mind's eye.
A longtime Cubs fan probably envisions Maddux inducing Thomas to take a third strike on the outside corner. A longtime Sox fan probably envisions Thomas sending that same pitch over the right-field fence.
Deploying only players that made my ballot this year, Barry Bonds might dig in against Tom Glavine and Sammy Sosa might face Curt Schilling.
Yes, sorry, I still vote for several players like Bonds and Sosa that were either confirmed or suspected of cheating during the steroids era.
If my fantasy lineups offend you, go back through history and assemble your own, perhaps with Babe Ruth homering off Sandy Koufax and Willie Mays robbing Ted Williams of an extra-base hit.
That's baseball, the most romantic of all team sports, and Cooperstown, the most fantastic of all fantasy camps.
My ballot retains all I voted for last year, plus 4 new candidates:
Maddux, Glavine and Thomas should all be first-ballot locks, but you never know anymore. Another up for the first time is Mike Mussina, often underrated and overlooked as a player. Some rankings that might surprise you about him: No. 57 all-time in WAR, 24th in WAR for pitchers, 33rd in wins, 33rd in games started, 63rd in Cy Young shares, 19th in strikeouts, 21st in adjusted-pitching wins, 15th in strikeout-to-walk ratio, 10th in base-out wins saved, and second to Schilling since 1900 in strikeout-to-walk ratio for pitchers with at least 3,000 innings.
Schilling, who got only 38.8 percent last year in his first try, is No. 26 all-time WAR for pitchers, was second in Cy Young voting three times, top 14 MVP voting four times, top eight WAR for pitchers 11 times (top four eight times), top 10 ERA nine times, top six in WHIP 11 times, top 10 in strikeouts per 9 innings 10 times, top 10 strikeouts-to-walks ratio 11 times (first five times), and one of four pitchers with 3,000 strikeouts and fewer than 1,000 walks (Maddux, Fergie Jenkins, Pedro Martinez). His postseason is spectacular, going 11-2 with 2.23 ERA in 19 starts and 133 innings. He won three World Series rings and his "bloody sock" start in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS was no myth. He also won Game 4 of the '04 World Series with a tendon temporarily stapled, allowing him to pitch and leading to a medical procedure known as the "Schilling Tendon Procedure." Boston won its first World Series in 86 years in 2004. In the 2001 World Series, he pitched in 3 games as Arizona beat the Yankees in 7 games.
For this year's ballot, I could have checked 12 boxes. But I had to keep it to no more than 10, so here are my choices:
Left off my ballot were Trammell and Martinez, two players I had voted for in the past and for whom I will do so again once ballot space permits.
Maddux, Thomas and Glavine are first-ballot no brainers. My annual vote for Morris gets a little blowback from some in the sabermetrics crowd who contend that wins (Morris had 254) are overrated, but I contend it's called the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Stats and that Morris has more than enough going for him to be elected. Ask any American League manager in the 1980s whom they'd like to have the ball if they had one game to win and they'd say Morris.
Biggio and Bagwell were the faces of the Houston Astros franchise for a long time in addition to having the numbers.
Big Lee Smith has been overlooked for too long, as has Raines. Piazza and Schilling have numbers that are definitely Hall worthy. Only Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan recorded more seasons with at least 300 strikeouts than Schilling, who had three 20-win seasons and made six all-star teams.
There wasn't much of a party atmosphere with nobody elected on the regular ballot last winter. If Maddux and Thomas can join former White Sox manager Tony La Russa in the Hall next July, Cooperstown could well have a real Chicago-style party in July.
While the Baseball Writers' Association of America failed to elect any players to Cooperstown last year for the first time since 1996, that is going to change this year -- at least I hope it is. First, here is my ballot:
I thought Biggio was a lock last year, considering he has 3,060 career hits. The former Astros great fell short of the 75 percent vote total needed at 68.2. He shouldn't have to sweat out induction this year, and Thomas, Maddux and Glavine all deserve to easily get in on the first try.
Of course, nothing is easy anymore when it comes to Hall of Fame voting. The PED cloud is still hovering over the entire process, and fair or not, every candidate seems to be a suspect.
That's going to keep players such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro out -- likely forever -- but I'm guessing the first four names on my list are going to be deemed talented and untainted enough to make it to Cooperstown.
In addition to Biggio's credentials, Thomas batted .301 over a 19-year career spent mostly with the White Sox. He ranks 10th all-time in walks, 18th in home runs, 19th in on-base percentage and 22nd in RBI.
Maddux, who broke in with the Cubs, is baseball's career leader with 17 straight season winning at least 15 games. Let that one sink in a bit, along with the 18 Gold Glove Awards.
Glavine won 20 or more games five times, pitched 200 or more innings 14 times and had a sub-3.00 ERA six times.