One man’s ballot

There are many deserving candidates, but only 10 players can reach Cooperstown

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Before we get to this year’s Hall of Fame ballot, let’s consider Joe DiMaggio for a moment. The Yankee Clipper retired after the 1951 season, and at the time was widely (and rightly) viewed as one of the game’s all-time greats, there with Ruth and Gehrig and Wagner and the bunch. In those days there was just a one-year waiting period before a player went on the Hall of Fame ballot, so DiMaggio first appeared on the ballot in 1953.

There were two contrasting views of DiMaggio going into that Hall of Fame vote. There was the dominant view that DiMaggio would get elected with near-unanimous consent.

“Joe DiMaggio, the famed Yankee Clipper, seems almost certain to be elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility,” wrote the Associated Press’s Will Grimsley. “Early returns from among 300 writers indicate that DiMaggio, who retired after the 1951 season, is well out in front in the balloting.”

“It is the countrywide belief,” Grantland Rice wrote, “that Joe DiMaggio will be the next star to enter baseball’s Hall of Fame.”

“Not only is it likely that Joe DiMaggio will make the grade,” wrote Allan White of the Lima (Ohio) News, “but that he may draw more votes than any previous candidate.”

The minority view belonged to United Press, which wrote days before the election that DiMaggio had almost no shot of election.

“Should DiMaggio be elected, though the odds are against it, his election to the Hall of Fame would be the second-quickest in history. Lou Gehrig, the late Yankee first baseman who retired May 29, 1939, after playing in 2,130 consecutive games, was elected in that winter’s balloting. No player before or after Gehrig has ever been ushered into the shrine so quickly.”

Chalk one up to United Press. DiMaggio was not elected in 1953; in the end he was not even close. Dizzy Dean and Al Simmons were elected, Bill Terry just missed, and DiMaggio got only 44.3 percent of the vote, eighth among players on the ballot.

In the aftermath, there was a fine blend of outrage (“Even Red Sox fans would not argue with DiMaggio’s Hall of Fame credentials,” one particularly aggrieved sportswriter suggested) and relief. It seems many of the voters — more than half of them — believed that there was an unwritten rule that a player should have to wait five years after retirement to be elected to the Hall of Fame. They felt it was an affront that DiMaggio was put on the ballot so quickly and that people were so eager to vote for him before he waited five years.

As it turned out, the Hall of Fame agreed with the make-them-wait crowd. Later that year, they created the rule that a player could not appear on the ballot until five years after retirement. Not only that, but they also took a shot at the writers who DID vote for DiMaggio by saying that the rule was being put into place to avoid the “popularity contest,” of the 1953 DiMaggio vote.

DiMaggio was grandfathered on to the ballot in 1954, but again, he finished shy of election. In 1955 – after a four-year waiting period – he was elected, but with only 88.8 percent of the vote. DiMaggio would likely have received 97 or 98 percent of the vote under normal circumstances but even in 1955, there were writers bitter that DiMaggio was cutting in line.

The point? Baseball Hall of Fame voting has always been emotional in ways that don’t necessarily make much sense. Unwritten rules, weird allowances for history, differing views on what “character” means, writers standing on principles that aren’t entirely clear to others – this has been Hall of Fame voting more or less from the start.

This year’s ballot might be the most stacked since the original vote in 1936. There are fifteen players with 60 or more Wins Above Replacement. The career and single-season home run leader is on here and the only pitcher to win seven Cy Youngs is on here. You have perhaps the greatest left-handed pitcher ever, you have perhaps the pitcher with the highest peak ever, you have two of the greatest postseason pitchers ever. You have a guy with 3,000 hits, three guys with 500 home runs (not counting the all-time leader), a player with 800 stolen bases, two batters who hit .300/.400/.500 for their careers, a shortstop with a higher OPS than Derek Jeter, Cal Ripken or Honus Wagner, the all-time home run leader among second basemen, and let’s throw in perhaps the greatest hitting catcher in baseball history.

It’s almost a silly ballot, but then we are coming off the almost-silly Bud Selig Era which mashed together home runs and absurd numbers and tiny strike zones and chemistry and congressional hearings and a whole bunch of other things. I have already taken a look at the 16 players I predict will not get five percent of the vote this year.  Here are the other 18, including my prediction for the percentage they will receive and whether or not I would put them into my Hall of Fame. At the end, I will reveal my actual Hall of Fame ballot.

* * *

Jeff Bagwell

Will he get elected this year: No.

Predicted percentage: 59

In my Hall of Fame: Yes

I’ve written many times about my why I will vote for players who admitted or were essentially caught using drugs before baseball instituted drug testing. In my view, performance-enhancing drugs were a systemic problem in baseball – the way racism was a systemic problem in baseball before Jackie Robinson broke the color line, the way gambling was a systemic problem before Kenesaw Mountain Landis came down hard, the way amphetamines were a systemic problem before the lords of the game took it somewhat seriously.

By “systemic” I don’t mean that individuals shouldn’t bear responsibility. I mean that PEDs were quietly accepted throughout the game. There were undoubtedly PED users before the baseball strike of 1994, but after the owners and players tried to blow up the game, baseball was in desperate need of something exciting. Home runs had thrilled America when the game lagged in the past. And home runs thrilled America again.

Well, how do you get home runs anyway? Maybe you tighten up the strike zone a little bit. Maybe you juice baseballs a touch. Maybe you build ballparks that cater to hitters. And maybe, just maybe, you don’t test for steroid use. Maybe you don’t ask any questions when players come into camp with 30 pounds more muscle. Maybe you don’t say anything when you suspect a teammate is using something extra. Maybe you figure that if everyone seems to be doing it you better do it too.

Nobody knows who to blame for baseball’s blatant racism in the first half of the 20th century. Mostly you hear people say it was an American problem, not a baseball problem, and that’s true. But who takes the blame for the unwritten rule that prevented even one team from signing a black baseball player for a half-century? Every now and again, you will hear Cap Anson’s name thrown out there as the scapegoat; Ty Cobb is often singled out for his racism; Landis or one of the owners will get mention. But the large point is that a terrible injustice was being done – a much greater collective injustice than PED use – and the players, the owners, the management, the media and the fans did not stop it from happening.

With steroids, most have decided to blame the players – specific players in most cases, generally hitters who dared hit home runs – and they undoubtedly used PEDs. But just about every sign from the Commissioner’s Office, the player’s union, the manager’s offices, the owners’ suites, the press boxes and the bleachers spurred them on. I’m not endorsing what they did, and I’m not denying that they knew it was wrong. I’m saying that they were doing what they were paid and cheered to do.  I’m saying that almost nobody cared what they were taking; but everyone cared if they stopped hitting. There was an indistinct line between illegal PEDs and legal things like andro and creatine; people jumped that line and jumped back and jumped forward again. Then it got out of control, and too many home runs left the ballpark, and beloved records were broken, and then people started to get ticked off about it and went looking for who was responsible for taking Henry Aaron’s home run record.

Jeff Bagwell has denied using steroids, and there is no conclusive evidence I know that he used. Still, there is no question at all that he has fallen short of the Hall of Fame largely because a big block of voters suspect that he used. I think it’s a shame – not because I feel strongly that Bagwell did not use (I have no idea) but because this quixotic attempt to rewrite history is a doomed one. The Selig Era happened.

There is little doubt in my mind that there are players in the Hall of Fame who dabbled with steroids; heck we KNOW Mickey Mantle had an unfortunate steroid encounter in 1961. We know steroids were readily available in the 1970s and 1980s. We know Hall of Famer Pud Galvin back in the late 19th century somehow consumed monkey testicles. We know many players – including some of the most beloved in the game’s history – took amphetamines to pep up their games. So think about what we don’t know. This “one guy looks dirty, another guy doesn’t” parlor game is not just unfair, it’s pointless; it’s like Paul Newman says in “Road to Perdition: “There are only murderers in this room.”

In my view the best baseball players from the Selig Era should go into the Hall of Fame. The players who tested positive after the game made an effort to clean up – A-Rod, Braun and the like – I think they are a different conversation. But baseball was played a certain way in the 1990s and early 2000s. I think the Hall of Fame should include the best players from that time. For me, that definitively includes Jeff Bagwell.

Craig Biggio (Getty Images)

Craig Biggio

Will he get elected this year: I’m pretty sure he will

Predicted percentage: 74-79

In my Hall of Fame: Yes

Biggio’s career demonstrates the weirdness of the Hall of Fame. On the one hand, he was a great and underappreciated player throughout the 1990s – you might have read Bill James in the New Historical Abstract making the case that, year-in, year-out, Biggio was a better player than the consensus best player in the game, Ken Griffey.

On the other hand, Biggio was a generally unhelpful player just clinging to a job the last six years of his career. He put up a 92 OPS+ those last six years (100 is league-average), didn’t get on base, played the outfield poorly and then returned to second base after he couldn’t handle the position.

So what’s weird? Well, it’s those last six years that will get him into the Hall of Fame. In those last six years he moved up the charts in all sorts of offensive categories so that he finished his career 15th in runs (1,844), fifth in doubles (668) and 16th in games played (2,850). More than anything, he passed 3,000 hits, which has long been a Hall of Fame trump card. Without 3,000 hits, I don’t think Biggio would have any shot at getting 75 percent of the BBWAA vote, though he would deserve it. Getting 3,000 hits has little to do with what made Craig Biggio a Hall of Fame player.

* * *

Barry Bonds

Will he get elected this year: No

Predicted percentage: 30-34

In my Hall of Fame: Yes

I think Bonds’ percentage will again go down this year.

Where would Barry Bonds rank all-time if his career had tapered off naturally? We’re guessing, of course, but let’s guess. The accepted storyline seems to be that in 1998 – while watching Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa win over America – Bonds made the decision to bulk up and show people what a muscle-bound superhero REALLY looked like.

He turned 33 that year. His career numbers at that point: .290/.411/.556 with 403 doubles, 411 homers, 445 stolen bases, 1,216 RBIs, 1,364 runs.

For his age he ranked fifth all-time in Wins Above Average, which is different from Wins Above Replacement and better, I think, in judging all-time greatness:

  1. Rogers Hornsby, 92.9 wins above average
  2. Babe Ruth, 90.3
  3. Ty Cobb, 79.6
  4. Willie Mays, 78.8
  5. Barry Bonds, 74.2
  6. Mickey Mantle, 73.9
  7. Lou Gehrig, 71.4
  8. Henry Aaron, 70.2
  9. Stan Musial, 67.4
  10. Tris Speaker 65.9

Bonds had a superb 1998 season, hitting .300, slugging .600, cracking 44 doubles and 37 homers, stealing 28 bases. In other words, he wasn’t exactly slowing down. Bill James in his Historical Abstract ranked Barry Bonds the 16th best player ever, and that was based only on Bonds’ career through the 1999 season. “When people begin to take in all his accomplishments,” James wrote then, before Meathead Barry Bonds became a video game character, “Bonds may well be rated among the five greatest players in the history of the game.”

I think Top 10 is pretty certain. He would have reached 500 homers, and might have reached 500 stolen bases. It’s hard to say how he would have aged. Mantle did not add much to his career value after his age 33 season, and Lou Gehrig was 36 when he realized he couldn’t go on. Meanwhile, Aaron was a great old player, so was Musial, and obviously the above list doesn’t include two of the greatest old players in baseball history, Ted Williams and Honus Wagner. Others like Joe DiMaggio are hard to judge because of World War II. I still feel confident Bonds would be somewhere in that Top 10. I think Barry Bonds was a criminally underrated player before he bulked up. Of course, nobody really cares about that now.

Barry Lamar Bonds (Getty Images)

Roger Clemens

Will he get elected this year: No

Predicted percentage: 30-35

In my Hall of Fame: Yes

Like Bonds, I think Clemens’ percentage will drop slightly this year.

Putting PEDs and everything else aside, Roger Clemens has the strongest case of anyone since Walter Johnson as the greatest pitcher in baseball history.

The Big Train is kind of in his own category because he pitched in a very different time. In the modern, post-Dead Ball era, here are the pitchers (other than Clemens) who I think have the strongest case as best pitcher ever:

— Greg Maddux

— Tom Seaver

— Pedro Martinez or Sandy Koufax

— Randy Johnson

— Lefty Grove

— Warren Spahn

Now compare those pitchers to Clemens. Lefty Grove is from a very different era – he began his career in 1925 — and it’s very hard to make any real comparisons. Grove has his points, Clemens has his points.

Pedro/Koufax are their own category – their peaks were so dominant and so short that it’s hard to make a real argument for those guys over Clemens’ entire body of work. Even season to season, people forget just how good Clemens was at his peak. Clemens’ 1990 season (21-6, 1.93 ERA, 211 ERA+), his 1997 season (21-7, 2.05 ERA, 292 Ks), his 1986 MVP season (24-4, 2.48 ERA, .969 WHIP) and a few other others rank close to the very best of Pedro and Koufax.

Warren Spahn and Tom Seaver were absolute wonders but look at their careers:

Spahn: 363-245, 3.09 ERA, 119 ERA+, 2,583 Ks, 1,434 walks, 92.6 WAR.

Seaver: 311-205, 2.86 ERA, 127 ERA+, 3,640 Ks, 1,390 walks, 106.3 WAR.

Clemens: 354-184, 3.12 ERA, 143 ERA+, 4,672 Ks, 1,580 walks, 139.4 WAR.

Clemens seems to be the clear choice there.

I have often tried to make the case that Maddux (my favorite ever pitcher) was as good or better a pitcher than Clemens. I can fake a pretty convincing case, but Clemens had a lower ERA, a better ERA+, his fielding independent pitching numbers (which rely on walks, strikeouts and home runs) are better.

So how do I make the argument? I say that Clemens simply aged better than Maddux and it’s quite possible that PEDs had something to do with that.

Here are Maddux and Clemens through their age 36 season:

Maddux: 273-152, 2.83 ERA, 3.03 FIP, 146 ERA+.

Clemens: 247-134, 3.04 ERA, 2.94 FIP, 147 ERA+.

Close. Very close. You could still argue that, in context, Clemens was better, but it’s an argument.

Randy Johnson pitched 800 fewer innings than Clemens, had a higher ERA, a lower ERA+ and his fielding independent numbers are not quite as good. He was incredible. I think Clemens was a little bit better.

Clemens is also is the only one of this group who may never go into the Hall of Fame. I don’t think the BBWAA will ever vote him in. Then it will be the Hall of Fame’s move.

* * *

Randy Johnson

Will he get elected this year: Resoundingly

Predicted percentage: 97

In my Hall of Fame: Yes

I don’t know how anyone could leave the Big Unit off their Hall of Fame ballot. Was there ever a more fun pitcher? Why even be a voter if you can’t enjoy checking the box next to Randy Johnson’s name?

* * *

Jeff Kent

Will he get elected this year: No

Predicted percentage: 13-18

In my Hall of Fame: No

Jeff Kent hit more home runs than any second baseman ever. He and Rogers Hornsby are the only second basemen to slug .500 for a career. Kent also won an MVP Award. As such: He has a viable and easy to make Hall of Fame case.

He falls just short for me – I always thought Kent was a below-average defender (though his defensive statistics show him to be about average), he wasn’t a great baserunner and wasn’t especially good at getting on base. His case is power, and he played in the greatest power era in baseball history. In context, I don’t think he stood out quite enough.

* * *

Edgar Martinez

Will he get elected this year: No

Predicted percentage: 22-27

In my Hall of Fame: Yes, right on the line

Edgar Martinez was a great hitter. I think his Hall of Fame case is a slightly fuller version of the Tony Oliva case. Oliva won three batting titles, Martinez won two. Oliva led the league in doubles four times and hit the ball as hard as anyone in his generation. Martinez led the league in doubles twice, in runs once, in RBIs once and hit the ball as hard as anyone in his generation. Oliva was a lifetime .304 hitter in an era dominated by pitching. Martinez was a .312 hitter in an era dominated by hitting, but he also walked a lot more.

I think their cases are similar in a large sense. Martinez played 400 or so more games than Oliva, had much higher on-base and slugging percentages; he has a more compelling offensive case. But Oliva has his plusses too. He was pretty fast as a young man, a good baserunner and was seen as a good outfielder for much of his career (he won a Gold Glove). Martinez meanwhile was slow, and was mostly overmatched as a defensive third baseman; he played 70 percent of his games as a DH.

I think Oliva will get elected at some point by the veteran’s committee. I think Martinez will probably have to wait for a veteran’s committee to get his Hall of Fame nod.

Pedro Martinez (Getty Images)

Pedro Martinez

Will he get elected this year: Yes

Predicted percentage: 92-96

In my Hall of Fame: Yes

I don’t see how anyone could leave Pedro Martinez off their Hall of Fame ballot. Was there ever a more fun pitcher? Why even … oh, wait, I already said all this in the Randy Johnson comment. Let’s put it another way: The Hall of Fame was basically invented so that one day Pedro Martinez would be in it.

* * *

Fred McGriff

Will he get elected this year: No

Predicted percentage: 15-20

In my Hall of Fame: No

McGriff was a fine hitter whose offensive numbers line up pretty well with Hall of Famer Eddie Murray. But Murray was great for a bit longer, he won Gold Gloves, he was a better all-around player. McGriff’s best case seems to be that he hearkens back to the time before PED use, when 35 home runs was sometimes good enough to lead the league (like in 1992). That’s nostalgia, and it’s an important part of baseball. I’m not sure it’s enough for McGriff.

McGriff, like Kent, does have a compelling case. He’s just seven home runs shy of 500 and the 500-homer club used to be like a passport to Cooperstown. He’s right on the border for me, but I pass because right now there are a handful of hitters — guys like like Dick Allen, Will Clark, Dwight Evans – who I would put in Cooperstown first.

* * *

Mark McGwire

Will he get elected this year: No

Predicted percentage: 3-8

In my Hall of Fame: Yes

Realistically, Big Mac could fall off the ballot this year. There’s nothing more to be said about him except that I wish people would have embraced his steroid admission and apology more. I understand that many felt it wasn’t sincere enough, but to date he’s really the only viable Hall of Fame candidate from the era who came forward in a very public way, admitted using steroids and apologized for it. People say, “Well he just did that so he could become a hitting coach.” Like being a hitting coach is a glamorous life. McGwire wanted to be part of the game, and though he’s a generally inarticulate man he came forward and spoke from the heart. I admire him for it.

McGwire’s home run chase in 1998 was one of the most dazzling shows I’ve ever seen. Maybe it was partly an illusion. But it was thrilling.

* * *

Mike Mussina

Will he get elected this year: No

Predicted percentage: 25-30

In my Hall of Fame: Yes

See comment on John Smoltz.

* * *

Mike Piazza

Will he get elected this year: I don’t think so

Predicted percentage: 66-71

In my Hall of Fame: Yes

The wait is almost over for Piazza – who has his case as the greatest hitting catcher ever – but I think the wait lasts one more year. He got 62 percent of the vote last year; I don’t think he can get all the way to 75 on such an overstuffed ballot. That said, I think the wind is at his back now and, unlike Jeff Bagwell, he is a lock to be elected in the next couple of years. Bagwell’s future is quite a bit murkier.

* * *

Tim Raines

Will he get elected this year: No

Predicted percentage: 53-58

In my Hall of Fame: Yes

Raines slid back last year for some reason, but I think he will rebound in the voting. Many of us have made his case religiously using Tony Gwynn as a mirror. Raines was a different kind of player from Tony Gwynn, but they were about equal in value. Gwynn did it with batting artistry, Gold Gloves and smart baserunning. Raines did it with an uncanny ability to get on base, a knack for scoring runs and the most perfect base-stealing technique the game has ever seen.

They were both such wonderful players. They should both be in Cooperstown.

* * *

Curt Schilling

Will he get elected this year: No

Predicted percentage: 40-45

In my Hall of Fame: Yes

See comment on John Smoltz.

Curt Schilling (Getty Images)

Lee Smith

Will he get elected this year: No

Predicted percentage: 17-22

In my Hall of Fame: No

For a time, Hall of Fame voters fell in love with closers. In the 2000s, the BBWAA did not vote in a single starting pitcher, but they voted in closers Dennis Eckersley (mostly, he was a closer), Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter. Before that they elected Rollie Fingers.

If the closer role had not been invented, baseball writers would have found it ludicrous to elect pitchers with fewer than 2,000 innings pitched. Even Koufax had more innings than that. The only starter with fewer than 2,000 innings pitched in the Hall is Dizzy Dean, and he was essentially done at 27.

But there was something compelling about closers, something satisfying – closers came into the biggest situations, and they faced down the opponents’ last, most desperate attempts at victory. Writers liked that. It was dramatic. We liked the save statistic. We liked building up these guys. We started giving closers Cy Young Awards, even MVP awards, and then we started voting the best of them into the Hall of Fame even though they didn’t approach the level of production that we expected from Hall of Fame starters.

Lee Smith held the save record for a pretty good while, and because of this he debuted with an impressive 42.3 percent of the Hall of Fame vote and, soon after, passed the magical 50 percent. At that point he looked like he would get elected.

But now that the ballot is overcrowded with great starters like Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling, who are having trouble getting any traction, the Lee Smith love fades. He dropped to 30 percent last year, and I think he’ll probably drop another 10 points or so this year. It’s weird – he has exactly the same Hall of Fame case that he does when he retired after the 1997 season. But since then Mariano Rivera has smashed his record, and new relievers like Craig Kimbrel and Greg Holland show a new kind of dominance, and voters have fallen out of love with the old-fashioned closer.

* * *

John Smoltz

Will he get elected this year: Yes

Predicted percentage: 88-92

In my Hall of Fame: Yes

OK, so there are three starting pitchers on this year’s ballot – Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina and John Smoltz – who have very similar Hall of Fame cases.

Schilling’s case: Best strikeout-to-walk ratio in baseball history, dominant postseason performances, 3,000 strikeouts, SI Sportsman of the Year in 2001.

Mussina’s case: Won 270 games and retired after winning 20 – so did not just stick around to get 300. Most wins above replacement (82.7) of the three pitchers. Seven-time Gold Glove winner. Top 20 all-time in strikeouts, strikeout-to-walk ratio, and various more involved statistics like Win Probability Added.

Smoltz’s case: Won the Cy Young as a starter, finished third in the Cy Young as a closer, twice led the league in wins and once in saves, his 15-4 record in the postseason is one of the best in baseball history.

If you put their numbers side by side, it’s hard to choose between them:

Schilling: 216-146, 127 ERA+, 3,116 Ks, 711 walks.

Smoltz: 213-155, 125 ERA+, 3,084 Ks, 1,010 walks, 154 saves.

Mussina: 270-153, 123 ERA+, 2,813 strikeouts, 785 walks.

So why is John Smoltz going to coast into the Hall of Fame first ballot while Schilling and Mussina can’t get any traction at all?

Everyone has a theory. In mathematical form it seems to look like this:

Smoltz + saves > Schilling.

Smoltz + postseason greatness > Mussina.

My theory is that it comes down to the Eck factor. Dennis Eckersley coasted into the Hall of Fame first ballot even though there had never really been a viable Hall of Fame candidate quite like him. He was a perfectly fine starter for a dozen years comparable to, say, Dan Haren or Burt Hooton. He then became a one-inning closer deluxe – for five years, he posted a 1.90 ERA, almost won the Cy Young Award in 1988 and won both the Cy and MVP award in 1992.

What do you do with a two-headed monster like that? It’s really a subtle question. He was clearly not a Hall of Fame starter. And nobody could get into the Hall of Fame for being a very good closer for five years – heck, Doug Jones had six years. But if you put it all together, tack on a few years where Eck collected a lot of empty saves, well, the voters enthusiastically voted him in first ballot with 83.2 percent of the vote. The voters did not have a precedent so they set one.

Now that precedent is set. Smoltz was a much better starter than Eckersley, but he wasn’t as good a closer. More to the point, I don’t think he was as good a starter as Mussina or Schilling, so you have to ask how much do those three years as a closer add to his overall case? I think the voters in general will give Smoltz too much credit for those seasons. By WAR, he only added 6.7 WAR in those three seasons combined … that’s one very good year as a starter or two pretty good ones.

In my Hall of Fame ranking, I have them like so: 1. Schilling; 2. Mussina; 3. Smoltz.

But I readily concede almost everybody disagrees with me. Anyway, I have all three as clear-cut Hall of Famers.

* * *

Alan Trammell

Will he get elected this year: No

Predicted perecentage: 18-23

In my Hall of Fame: Yes

On Sunday, I asked this football question: Would you rather your team have a quarterback who is clearly terrible and must be replaced or a quarterback like Andy Dalton who has shown the ability to maneuver the team in the playoffs but, unless he proves otherwise, does not seem good enough to win games in the playoffs.

I ask because I wonder who got the better deal, Alan Trammell or Lou Whitaker.

They were practically one player when they were the Tigers double-play combo – Alan Whitaker and Lou Trammell, Allou Trammaker, they are linked in the mind like Abbott and Costello, Guns ‘N Roses, Jack and Diane.

Whitaker got 15 votes the one year he was on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2001 and quickly fell off. He deserved a better hearing. Whitaker really was a sensational player who was overlooked because his greatest skills – he got on base, he hit with steady but not flashy power, he was staggeringly consistent – tend to be underrated.

Trammell, meanwhile, had many of those same skills, but he had a couple of standout years – he probably should have been the MVP in 1987 – and so has stayed on the ballot for 13 years now.  A couple of years ago, he even got 37 percent of the vote.

You would think Trammell got the better deal, but I’m not so sure. He will not get elected by the BBWAA. So what’s the point? Every year, his name comes up, many people say nice things about him, but others make the point how he was not a Hall of Famer  … and then 70 or 80 percent of the electorate leaves him off their ballot. Is it really an honor to be turned down year after year? Maybe it’s better to be Whitaker … there are people who still push his case, but he doesn’t get the yearly reminder that he’s not a Hall of Famer.

* * *

Larry Walker

Will he get elected this year: No

Predicted percentage: 5-10

In my Hall of Fame: On the line, but yes

Here’s another weird Hall of Fame thing: Larry Walker’s career numbers were boosted by playing so many games at Coors Field. But, at the same time, Coors Field hinders his Hall of Fame case because people don’t take his numbers seriously.

Walker was a very good player before he joined the Rockies. In 1994, in just 103 games, he hit .322 with 44 doubles – if they had played that whole season he might have challenged Earl Webb’s single-season double record of 67. He was a ferocious line-drive hitter, a tremendous right fielder, an excellent base runner, a wonderful all-around player.

Then he went to Coors Field when the place the place seemed to have the same gravitational pull as the moon, and he put up loony numbers.

Well, just look at his Coors Field numbers:

1995: .343/.401/.730 with 24 homers

1996: .393/.448/.800

1997: .384/.460/.709

1998: .418/.483/.757

1999: .461/.531/.879

Yeah, he hit .461 and slugged almost .900 at home in 1999. These are cartoonish statistics and my suspicion is that rather than enhance Walker’s case, they have confused it. What was real? What was altitude? Walker’s career was a bit short, so it’s hard to get your arms around his Hall of Fame case.

For me, his case is this: Few players in baseball history have been good at everything – hitting for average, getting on base, hitting for power, stealing bases, running the bases, playing good defense, throwing brilliantly. Walker did all those things. He wasn’t Stan Musial, even if his numbers in the mid-to-late 1990s looked like Stan the Man’s. But he was a lot like Andre Dawson only he got on base more … I think he’s a Hall of Famer. But he, like McGwire, is in danger of falling off the ballot this year.

Larry Walker (Getty Images)

OK, enough stalling, it’s time for my ballot. If you were paying attention, you will notice I would put 15 of these 18 players would be in my Hall of Fame. There were a couple of others I mentioned in my last article – Sammy Sosa, Gary Sheffield – who I would strongly consider. So that’s 17. And I could only vote for 10.

So, what to do? Well, there are numerous strategies a voter could employ. The voter could vote strategically – that is, for example, vote for Sheffield to try and keep him on the ballot and leave off someone like Randy Johnson, who is certain to get in, or Barry Bonds, who is certain not to get in. I did think about that. I thought about voting for Biggio because he needed my help more than, say, Raines who won’t get elected this year.

But after asking around, I decided to stick with what Bill James advised: Vote for the 10 best players. “I don’t believe in trying to outsmart the system, no matter what the system is,” Bill said. “I think it backfires on you much more often than it works.”

So, here are the 10 players I voted for:

— Bonds

— Bagwell

— Clemens

— Johnson

— Martinez

— Mussina

— Piazza

— Raines

— Schilling

— Smoltz

I offer deep apologies to Craig Biggio, who might really need my vote. But at the end, it came down to Smoltz, Piazza and Biggio for the final two spots, and Biggio was third of the three for me.