10 for Cooperstown – one fan’s ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame

Alan Trammell and Jack Morris were teammates from 1977 to 1990 with the Detroit Tigers.

Alan Trammell and Jack Morris were teammates from 1977 to 1990 with the Detroit Tigers.

There are 36 players on the 2014 National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. Members of the Baseball Writers Association of America can vote for only ten.

I’ve never understood why there is a limit on the number of players who can get votes each year. Shouldn’t the only criteria be this: who is deserving? And why, for so many writers, does that determination change from year to year? After all, the players on the ballot have been done with their careers at least five years. Either they deserve to be Hall of Famers, or they don’t. Nothing that happens after their retirement should matter — especially who else is on the ballot from year to year.

This year there are probably well over a dozen players on the ballot who have the chops to be in Cooperstown. There’s a logjam, partially due to voters last year “punishing” players who used or were suspected of using steroids.

I don’t get a vote. But if I did, here’s how I would use it this year:

Barry Bonds 
He’s a liar and a cheat and a despicable person who hurt the game — and one of many who took advantage of commissioner Bud Selig’s willingness to look the other way when every owner, player, and fan with half a brain knew exactly what was going on. Bonds was a Hall of Famer long before he started using steroids. In my opinion, he’s a slam dunk: one of the greatest hitters in MLB history — and until he bulked up, a good defender with great speed on the bases too. He belongs in Cooperstown — as do Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson — on merit. If we’re going to judge primarily on character, are we going to retroactively boot out Ty Cobb? Of course not.

Roger Clemens
Much as I loathe this man, he was one of the greatest pitchers in history, PED use aside. Just like Bonds.

Greg Maddux
Myself and almost everyone who is a baseball fan loves this man, he’s one of the greatest pitchers in history even. A ton of brains and guts transformed mediocre stuff into gold. A no doubter.

Alan Trammell
Had he and Lou Whitaker played in New York, they both would have been inducted years ago. That Tram is still a long shot in his penultimate year of eligibility speaks volumes for the bankruptcy of the current system of voting. He was a better shortstop than his contemporary Barry Larkin, who’s in the Hall of Fame.

Craig Biggio
He got 68 percent in his first year on the ballot last year and deserves to get the remaining 7 percent he needs. There should be no argument for spurning this catcher-second baseman-outfielder: oh, except for the fact that he played all 20 years of his career in Houston, not New York or L.A.

Tim Raines
Somehow, he’s spent six years on the ballot and yet still barely gets over half of the vote. He’s Exhibit A for how ignorant many of the older voters are: .294 batting average (the old-school measure of offense) but .385 on-base percentage (a much better stat). And 808 stolen bases, great defense, and an all-around great player. Should be a no-brainer.

Mike Piazza
A victim of “suspected” steroid use? That’s the assumed reason he got less than 60 percent in last year’s debut on the ballot. Piazza is one of the very best hitting catchers ever — so good that his subpar defense can be overlooked. I mean, even as a first baseman or designated hitter he would deserve to be in the hall with that gaudy .922 OPS.

Frank Thomas
And here is that DH — with 521 homers and a .974 OPS to boot. The best hitter in the game for much of his long career, the Big Hurt deserves to be elected in his first year on the ballot.

Jeff Bagwell
He has a .948 OPS , 449 homers, and actually was an excellent fielding first baseman over his long career. What’s keeping him as a runner-up? Houston again?

Jack Morris
If Bert Blyleven is in the Hall of Fame, why isn’t Jack Morris? It’s not clear, but this is his last year on the ballot, and he got 67 percent of the vote last year. The debate is whether his 3.90 ERA (compare to Blyleven’s 3.31) was influenced by his habit of “pitching to the score.” To Morris, one of the last of the old-school bulldogs, the only stat that mattered was the team W.  If getting it meant 10 innings on the mound under World Series Game 7 pressure, don’t dare try to take the ball out of his hands. If he was ahead 7-1 with no one on in the ninth, it meant throwing a strike over the middle of the plate and not worrying about whether the ball went over the fence. Ignore all the other stats: Morris was a Hall of Famer.

So isn’t it amazing that I have to leave off the ballot the likes of Larry Walker, Tom Glavine, Mike Mussina, and Curt Schilling, who are all Hall of Famers — and not even consider Fred McGriff and Edgar Martinez, for whom there is a good case for considering too. And all because some voters play favorites and yield to personal distaste rather than fairly evaluating the actual careers of the players on the ballot. You don’t think that happens? Well, one thing is sure: you can bet there will be at least a few votes for the likes of Sean Casey, J.T. Snow, Todd Jones, and Hideo Nomo. There always are votes like that, year in and year out.

There’s got to be a better system.

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About Michael Betzold

Author of Queen of Diamonds: The Tiger Stadium Story and other books, former Detroit Free Press reporter Michael Betzold always wore #4 to honor his first hero, the "Sunday Punch," Charlie "Paw Paw" Maxwell.