Also in this column: • The nine players on my ballot • Twenty-three players who fell short
Upon seeing my filled-out Hall of Fame ballot, some will call me lenient, say I'm a soft touch or maybe even claim I'm a little too giddy with spiked eggnog this Holiday season.
I've heard of some voters who hand in a blank ballot, yet mine is going to be nearly a full card -- nine "yes" votes, one short of the maximum allowed. Maybe I'm voting for more than anyone else and maybe I'm a little too nostalgic about the stars of my youth. But not only have I checked off nine names in the ballot that went out this week, I believe I could make a decent case for a half-dozen more that I'm going to leave off.
Ridicule my ballot if you want to, but there's one thing I can say in my favor: I believe it is steroid free.
If I'm saying "yes" more often than most, then I am saying "no" to steroids. No to Ken Caminiti, no to Jose Canseco and definitely no to Mark McGwire, who has Hall-worthy numbers and feats. Those who claim his accomplishments aren't Cooperstown caliber are only kidding themselves. The man hit 583 home runs, including a then-record 70 in a season, and would definitely be on my ballot if I weren't so certain he built his legend on a needle and its powerful contents.
Yes, I know he didn't confess. But by now, he should have. One thing I like better about Caminiti and Canseco is they were more honest about it. However, Caminiti and Canseco just don't have Hall of Fame careers, meaning I don't have to ponder the paradoxical question as to whether honest cheaters belong in Cooperstown.
It's true McGwire helped save baseball. But he also did things that could have sent the sport on a path to ruin. With eight years to learn and reflect, there's almost no doubt in my mind McGwire was not only artificially enhanced but that he was more enhanced than just about anyone else.
McGwire denied taking steroids for years, right up until the point he was placed under oath. Then, with the circumstances changed and the stakes higher, he took a powder.
The only plausible reason to refuse to comment or cooperate to Congress is that he had plenty to hide. There is no other way to explain his performance. His defenders will claim he had a bad day. But if that's true, what about the 21 months he's had since then to explain himself? He continues to remain scarce, a contrast to the larger-the-life figure he cut in his later ballplaying years.
This isn't a court of law and he isn't on trial. But the question isn't whether to punish McGwire, it's whether to honor him. I can think of no good reason to do that now.
Some will claim steroids were not disallowed at the time, and that, of course, is 100 percent false. There was no testing for them during McGwire's career, and no spelled-out punishment. But they were neither permitted in baseball nor legal in our society.
Some will say that everyone did them, and I'll agree that many did do them. But I will say first that not everyone did do them, and most who did got away with it. While McGwire has never failed a test or confessed, in my mind he is caught. So on my ballot, his box is blank.
Every vote requires thought and judgment, and it's hard to think any of other explanation for McGwire's 70 home runs or his no-comment stance beyond steroids. If anyone can come up with something else plausible, I'm all ears. Until then, McGwire doesn't get my vote. Below is my complete ballot:
1. Cal Ripken Jr. He's an obvious no-brainer choice for the Hall. But we love to make up debates nowadays, and one I heard was whether he'd be a Hall of Famer if he didn't play in 2,632 consecutive games. That is almost like wondering whether Hank Aaron would be a Hall of Famer without the 755 home runs. In any case, my answer is yes. Until Alex Rodriguez goes back to shortstop, Ripken is still the recordholder for most home runs at the position, by one.
2. Jack Morris. He doesn't receive nearly the support he deserves. Beyond being the winningest pitcher of the '80s, he made 14 Opening Day starts and was the ace of three World Series winning teams, not to mention the MVP of the 1991 Series, one of the best ever.
3. Goose Gossage. I agree with him when he says he is one of the greatest closers ever. While he doesn't have career stats a lot of voters look for, he was a dominant force on three World Series teams and saved 300 games after beginning his career as a starter. And this is at a time when saves often meant going two or even three innings.
4. Tony Gwynn. Eight batting titles makes him an automatic selection.
5. Dave Parker. A great all-around talent who practically goes unnoticed at this time every year, quite possibly because he used drugs (though not the performance-enhancing kind). He could do it all, placed in the top five in MVP voting five times and was a better all-around player than Jim Rice, who also makes my ballot.
6. Andre Dawson. A tremendous all-around talent who lasted 21 years on ravaged, wrecked knees, which was long enough to hit 438 home runs and steal 314 bases. While I don't believe he should have won the 1987 MVP as a member of the last-place Cubs, he'll always be a Hall of Famer to me. Unfortunately, not enough other voters agree.
7. Rice. The one player I've changed my mind on. His six top-five MVP finishes reflect that he was one of the game's best players for a decade. He was fairly one dimensional and didn't play long enough to crack 400 home runs, but I'll give him a "yes" for the second time.
8. Steve Garvey. A consummate winner, at least during his playing days. It's a wonder he doesn't get more support, what with a record 10 All-Star appearances at first base, eight .300 seasons and a litany of fielding records and NLCS hitting records.
9. Dave Concepcion. He wasn't the player A-Rod or Derek Jeter is, but in his time he was the standard for shortstops, making nine All-Star teams and quietly helping the Big Red Machine be what it was.
10. Don Mattingly. It's not a bad case. He had a very similar career to Kirby Puckett and was one of the game's best for at least a half-decade before a bad back sapped him of his greatness. Mattingly also was one of the finest-fielding first basemen of all-time, not to mention a legend in New York (and very likely the next manager of the Yankees).
11. Alan Trammell. The best argument I have heard for Trammell is this question: Would the Tigers ever have traded him straight up for Ozzie Smith? While the answer probably is no, Smith gets extra points for fame, acrobatics and probably being the greatest ever defensively.
12. Tommy John. The man lasted forever, and he won 288 games, which is certainly Hall-worthy. He also gets an extra point for being the guinea pig for the game's most famous surgical procedure. He was not among the best often enough during those 26 years, though.
13. Dale Murphy. He was a back-to-back MVP with 398 career home runs who could also field and run. I'm a little surprised he doesn't get more support. But then I can't argue too strongly since I don't vote for him either.
14. Orel Hershiser. An excellent pitcher who was the best in the world in 1988. I can't imagine how he finished as low as sixth in MVP voting that year. But I just can't make it up to him here.
15. Bert Blyleven, Stat freaks love this guy. It's true that his 3,701 strikeouts (fifth all-time) and 287 career victories are numbers that are generally good enough for enshrinement, but unlike a lot of those stathounds, I saw the entirety of his career and he was rarely one of the best. Had only one 20-win season at a time they weren't so rare and only four years with Cy Young votes.
16. Lee Smith. Another excellent compiler, he pitched long and effectively enough to set the saves record at 478. He was very consistent and very good, but not a Hall of Famer. Not on my ballot, anyway.
17. Harold Baines. Yet another consistent compiler who played 22 seasons and was good in just about every one of them, just not great. He never finished higher than ninth in MVP balloting.
18. Paul O'Neill. A fine all-around player who was a productive member on a stunning five World Series winners but never finished higher than fifth in MVP voting and doesn't have the type of career stats to make it.
19. Devon White. One of the greatest center fielders ever and probably one of the greatest baserunners, he helped the Blue Jays win two World Series titles and also played for the 1997 world champion Marlins. He only received MVP votes one time in 17 seasons, however.
20. Eric Davis. He posted seven 20-20 seasons and was one of two players to have a 20-80 season. A great talent who just wasn't a star long enough.
21. Bret Saberhagen. Any chance he had ended with his disappointing tenure in New York.
22. Bobby Bonilla. His status as the highest-paid player at one time is testament to timing and former superagent Dennis Gilbert's skill, not Bonilla's.
23. Jay Buhner. He made one All-Star team, won one Gold Glove, once finished in the top 10 in MVP voting and broke one heart (George Steinbrenner's) with one of many ill-conceived Yankees trades of the '80s.
24. Tony Fernandez. Five-time All-Star who was better than most remember, though not good enough.
25. Wally Joyner. His career never quite lived up to the promise of two brilliant seasons.
26. Dante Bichette. Great guy, nice numbers in Colorado, but not even a second's thought to reject him.
27. Scott Brosius. One superb year, a couple of memorable moments, many fine defensive plays, probably zero votes.
28. Bobby Witt. My only speculation is that a family member did the screening.
29. Albert Belle. He was such a bad seed that I am thankful he didn't quite do enough good things or last long enough to make me have to think about it.
30. Ken Caminiti. He admitted his steroid use in a Sports Illustrated article. Nice fellow who played through pain, but even with the artificial help, he had only 239 career homers and 983 RBIs.
31. Jose Canseco. He went from early superstar to belated whistle blower. I believe most of what he wrote but he loses credit since he did it for profit and revenge.
32. McGwire. Canseco's bathroom stall buddy will get more votes than he deserves, but not enough for election ... I hope.