There are very few things I do every year that are more nerve-wracking.
There are also very few things more interesting. Or important. Or generate more fan reactions – both good and bad.
I’m talking about voting for the Baseball Hall of Fame as a member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America for at least 10 consecutive years. My ballot has been completed and put in the mail.
Some people will like the ballot. Others will not. However, I can assure both camps that I take this honor and privilege seriously.
The voting results will be announced on Jan. 23 by the Hall of Fame.
So, who did I vote for?
Let’s start with eight of the 12 first-year candidates I eliminated: Jose Bautista, Bartolo Colon, Adrian Gonzalez, Victor Martinez, Brandon Phillips, Jose Reyes, James Shields and David Wright. All good players but not good enough, though on a personal note, I had a good relationship with Bautista throughout his career and it pained me not to vote for him.
Two newcomers I considered were Matt Holliday and Chase Utley. However, the electorate is limited to voting for no more than 10 players, and neither Holliday nor Utley fit on my ballot. I reserve the right to change my mind in future elections.
The two first-timers I did vote for were Adrian Beltre and Joe Mauer.
Beltre was an easy choice even if he never won an MVP award – he was second in the National League voting in 2004 – and was selected to just four All-Star Games in his 21-year career. Yet Beltre’s career statistics are undeniable, and he was one of the top five third basemen in baseball history with 3,166 hits, 636 doubles, 477 home runs and 1,707 RBIs.
The case of Mauer is not so clear-cut.
He won three American League batting titles as a catcher and was the AL MVP in 2009 while appearing in six All-Star Games. However, Mauer was never the same after a string of concussions forced a full-time move to first base in 2014.
However, I feel Mauer did enough in his 10 seasons behind the plate to warrant a spot in Cooperstown.
Now for the holdovers on the ballot.
Two players who fail to meet my standards are Mark Buehrle and Torii Hunter. They were good players and good guys, but not Hall of Famers.
Bobby Abreu, Andruw Jones, Andy Pettitte and Jimmy Rollins all merit at least some consideration. Yet I have never checked any of their names on my ballot because of a combination of not quite measuring up and/or having no room on my ballot.
That leaves eight players that I have voted for in the past and did so again this year — Carlos Beltran, Todd Helton, Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, Francisco Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Omar Vizquel and Billy Wagner.
Beltran, Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, Sheffield and Vizquel all have controversy attached.
Ramirez and Rodriguez were suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs and Sheffield was linked to steroids, though never banned. Beltran was the only player named in the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. Vizquel was accused of domestic violence, though never charged.
I’m not a morality policeman, though. I’m just a baseball writer, and all five should be in the Hall of Fame for me. Rodriguez was one of the greatest players in history, Ramirez and Sheffield were feared sluggers, Beltran was a fabulous all-round player and Vizquel is the best defensive shortstop I have ever seen and played more games at the position than anyone in baseball history.
I had long held high standards about voting for relief pitchers but relaxed them somewhat last year. Francisco Rodriguez and Wagner are two of the best closers of all-time and should not be overlooked.
That leaves us with Helton, who gets dinged by some voters for spending his 17-year career with the Colorado Rockies and playing his home games at Coors Field. Yet his .316/.414/.539 career slash line screams Cooperstown.
So, to recap, here is my vote:
Let the debates begin.