About a month before Christmas, I open my mailbox, spot the familiar manila envelope that contains my Hall of Fame ballot and place the ballot on my desk for the next month. As I decide which players to choose for the Hall, I like to have the ballot sitting prominently on my desk as a daily reminder of just how important this duty is.
For the last two decades, I’ve been eligible to vote for the Hall. It’s a tremendous honor, a task I take seriously. While I still have joy and excitement about voting, there is a lot of stress and angst involved in the process, too. I spend hours reviewing each candidate’s career and interviewing people who played with or against him. I like to remind people that there is no such thing as a perfect ballot. There is only each voter’s individual ballot.
On my 2021 ballot, I voted for Todd Helton, Jeff Kent, Scott Rolen, Curt Schilling, Billy Wagner and Andruw Jones. I have voted for the first five players on previous ballots, but this was the first year that I added Jones to my ballot. Before I explain why I voted for those six men, I should first explain why I left some players off my ballot.
In compiling my ballot, I don’t vote for players who have failed performance-enhancing drug tests, who were mentioned in the Mitchell Report or who had substantive connections to PEDs. I was a reporter during the Steroid Era and I’ve had numerous conversations with players about the significant impact that steroids had in giving certain players an advantage.
To me, the easiest thing to do would be to vote for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, who are among two of the greatest players of all-time. Check the box and move on, right? I know the Steroid Era was an uncertain period and we don’t know who did what in terms of PEDs. Many of my respected colleagues have decided that it’s too complicated to try and determine who cheated, and that it’s unfair to target specific players.
Really? I disagree. I’m a reporter and it’s difficult to ignore the evidence that mounted around players like Bonds and Clemens. I like to use this analogy: If a student was on a path to become the valedictorian and there were strong suspicions that he cheated in his senior year, would the school still blindly honor him and act like nothing ever happened? I doubt it. When someone influences the action on the field to give themselves an advantage, that’s difficult to overlook.
By the way, Bonds and Clemens only have themselves to blame for being immersed in this awkward situation. Obviously, they should have been first-ballot Hall of Famers. But their actions have created doubts in the minds of some voters and they’re now in their ninth years on the ballot, still trying to get to 75 percent. If they don’t make it into the Hall, it’s their fault, not the voter’s fault. It’s also worth noting that Bonds and Clemens are already represented in the Hall with artifacts from their career. Obviously, they haven’t been honored with a plaque, the ultimate honor.
Once I give a player my Hall vote, I’m loathe to take it back and that’s why I continued to vote for Schilling. I’m not naïve about Schilling’s divisive and appalling comments. When he supported the idea of lynching journalists, I thought about not voting for him. But, again, voting for a player is meaningful to me so I have kept Schilling on my ballot. In a way, it’s apt to say that I have treated my vote for Schilling with more care than he’s treated his own candidacy.
After Schilling received 70 percent of the vote last year, he should have been able to waltz into the Hall on this ballot. But he has continued to spew his negativity, and I’m not so sure he’s going to reach 75 percent. If Schilling doesn’t make it this year and is on the ballot next year, I am likely to break from my own routine and remove him from my ballot.
After conversations with a couple of players who competed against Jones, I elected to add him to my ballot. Regarding his candidacy, I don’t love that he hit .254 and didn’t collect 2,000 hits. But he hit 424 homers and he won 10 Gold Gloves at a premium position in center field, and that combination of power and defense resonated with me.
Do you know what else resonated with me? According to Ryan Spaeder, Jones had four seasons in which he bashed at least 25 homers and also had 25 defensive runs saved. That only happened two other times in baseball history.
I’m encouraged to see that three players who I have voted for in the past (Todd Helton, Scott Rolen and Billy Wagner) are all seeing early percentage increases on Ryan Thibodaux’s voting tracker. Helton had 2,519 hits, 369 homers, a .316 average and also had nine seasons in which he had more walks than strikeouts. Yes, he dominated at Coors Field with a slash line of .345/.441/.607, but his road slash line (.287/.386/.469) was comparable to Hall of Famer Ken Griffey, Jr.'s (.272/.355/.505).
Rolen was a superb two-way player who won eight Gold Gloves and made seven All-Star teams. His 2,077 hits and 316 homers might seem thin for the Hall, but, when I watched him, I knew I was watching a Hall of Famer. The same is true for closer Billy Wagner. Although he only pitched 903 innings, he is the all-time leader in strikeouts per nine innings at 11.9 and in opponent’s batting average at .187. He wasn’t Mariano Rivera, but Wagner was dominant. Kent has more homers than any second baseman in history with 351 and, despite his defensive flaws, I’m surprised he hasn’t received more robust support.
In the waning days of 2021, I will walk to the mailbox, see that familiar manila envelope and place my Hall of Fame ballot on my desk again. I will review every candidate, including the players who I haven’t voted for, like Bonds and Clemens. Then I will check the boxes beside the players I consider Hall of Famers. You might not agree with my picks, but, trust me, I have reasons for all of my decisions.
And, like I said, it’s an honor to vote for the Hall, a task I take seriously.