I do not have a Hall of Fame vote. I am not a member of the BBWAA, the prerequisite, along with ten years of membership, to having a Hall of Fame ballot. However, I do spend a decent amount of time thinking about baseball, including the Hall of Fame. As a result, I've decided to make my opinions known (I'm not the only one).
There are many problems with the Hall of Fame voting process at present. Allowing voters to only vote for ten candidates leaves deserving players off the ballot. Ken Rosenthal does a good job explaining those problems as well as taking issue with the rule change allowing just ten years on the ballot. The latter rule does not get as much attention, perhaps because some players were grandfathered in and allowed the full 15 years on the ballot. Unfortunately, the new rule does more to hurt should-be Hall of Famers never suspected of steroids than it does to hurt those suspected or like Mark McGwire, who admitted steroid use.
Players like Bert Blyleven needed the full fifteen years to earn his deserved election to the Hall of Fame. Players like Tim Raines, Mike Mussina, and Larry Walker would benefit from having a full fifteen years on the ballot. Players implicated in steroid use might not ever get elected regardless of the number of years on the ballot. Removing them from the ballot after ten years is principally an attempt to get people to stop talking about these players and the Hall of Fame. The rule does little to no good to help deserving candidates get in, especially with such crowded ballots over the next few years. Voting evolves and despite a player's statistics remaining the same, momentum is important in getting elected. Shortening the time on the ballot prevents that momentum. Voters who are not voting for players implicated in steroid use are still leaving players off the ballots who they would cast their vote for otherwise.
Delving too deeply into each individual case is cumbersome and fortunately unnecessary due to the work of Jay Jaffe at Sports Illustrated. He takes a careful look at every player eligible (Click here for an index to every one of his write-ups).
As for my criteria, I am a big hall person. The Hall of Fame is a celebration of baseball and I do not believe it should be reserved solely for the inner circle, no-doubters. There is a line. Of recent elections, I supported Bert Blyleven, but would not have done so for Jim Rice. I look at the body of work on the field. If a player is borderline, a high peak is important to me. Being one of the best players in the game for 6-8 years is more important than a complete above average career, although just 6-8 years is not enough. I don't care about steroids. It was a part of the game, a part of baseball's history and separating who used and who did not use is an exercise without very little facts, therefore not a lot of use. As a result, even those who have admitted use, due to the pervasive, acceptable use during that time period, should not be held out of the Hall of Fame. Also, I don't care about fame. Playing in a big market, having greater playoff exposure or staying with one team an entire career might help a candidacy for some voters because that player might feel or seem more like a Hall of Famer. Playoff greatness can be helpful, but it does not push a candidate over the top. It is a part of the body of their work. It does not define it.
Derrick Goold has proposed a binary ballot with every player getting a yes or no vote so voters are not forced to leave deserving candidates from the ballot. Before narrowing the ballot down to ten, I will go through the players I would vote for without restrictions.
Here are the first time no votes (sorted by bWAR): Gary Sheffield, Brian Giles, Nomar Garciaparra, Carlos Delgado, Darin Erstad, Tom Gordon, Jason Schmidt, Cliff Floyd, Jermaine Dye, Rich Aurelia, Troy Percival, Aaron Boone, Tony Clark, Eddie Guardado.
Sheffield is closest and he probably deserves another look down the line once we are further away from this era, but his value is derived solely from offense, leaving him a bit short of the Hall of Fame.
Holdover no votes: Lee Smith, Jeff Kent, Fred McGriff, Don Mattingly, Sammy Sosa.
I like Lee Smith, and think he compares favorably to Bruce Sutter and is better than Trevor Hoffman, but the reliever standard in the Hall of Fame should be extremely high. Kent was great on offense for a second baseman, but he was not all that good on defense and only had three great seasons. Sosa had home runs, but not much else. Mattingly did have a great peak, but was incredibly pedestrian for much of his career.
New Yes votes: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz.
Holdover Yes votes: Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Curt Schilling, Edgar Martinez, Alan Trammell, Mike Mussina, Mark McGwire, Larry Walker.
That's fifteen yes votes. In order to turn in a proper ballot, I would need to take five votes away. I have thought about how best to drop those five. Some have suggested not voting for Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez to keep others on the ballot. I have decided to vote for anyone with a realistic shot of getting elected, those whose time is coming close to an end, and those who are in danger of falling off the ballot. I decided on Randy Johnson because it is not worth the risk, no matter how small, that he would not be elected given what happened to Craig Biggio last year. Even doing this, there were difficult decisions to make.
Chance of getting elected this year (6): Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell.
Coming off the ballot soon (2): Tim Raines, Alan Trammell
In danger of falling off the ballot (2): Mike Mussina, Larry Walker
I thought hard about taking off Johnson and Pedro for Edgar and McGwire, but Edgar looks safe, and I am resigned to McGwire not getting in. This was a difficult task, and I'm not entirely confident that I did this correctly. That is likely because I was forced to keep out players who I strongly believe should be in the Hall of Fame. Hopefully more rules like the suggested 12-person ballot are enacted, giving players a better shot at election.