Hall of Fame voting has become morality play
Steroid suspicions mean having to consider damage to game as well as other players
Start with Jack Morris.
Once again, I'm voting for the 254-game winner. The fact Morris has not been elected to the Hall of Fame in any of the previous 13 years he's been on the ballot is sacrilege.
After that, there's a check mark for Craig Biggio and finally, Fred McGriff. That's it.
More about McGriff later.
The Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot arrived recently, and in the 40-plus years I've had the privilege of voting, never has a ballot been so intriguing or been filled with so much controversy.
For the first time, the names of Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa appear. They're joined by the likes of Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire, holdovers from previous elections.
The possibility that Clemens, Bonds and Sosa enhanced their careers with steroids is much too strong, too overwhelming for them to get a check mark on my ballot.
Ditto for Palmeiro and McGwire.
I was asked by a reporter if I'd vote for any players tied to performance-enhancing substances. The answer was quick and emphatic -- no.
I've been reporting on baseball for most of my adult life. That has been a privilege, and with it comes a vote for the game's greatest honor -- Cooperstown.
To elect a player to the Hall of Fame who potentially tainted the sport is unthinkable. I have too much respect for the game and the thousands of players who have written baseball's enduring history.
That brings me to McGriff.
Tom Verducci, the talented Sports Illustrated senior writer, recently did a piece about McGriff.
Verducci wrote about how McGriff won home run titles in 1989 and '92, and finished in the top four in his league in five other seasons.
And there's this point: In 1999, McGriff ranked 38th in the Major Leagues in homers -- with 32. There was nothing wrong with McGriff, as he continued to hit "only" 30 or so homers. It was what other players -- those perhaps using PEDs -- were achieving.
McGriff is rarely mentioned as a leading candidate for the Hall of Fame. Last year, his third on the ballot, he received 23.9 percent of the vote. To be elected, a candidate must be named on at least 75 percent of the BBWAA ballots.
It also should be mentioned that any player who receives fewer than five percent in any given year is dropped from future ballots. Those who don't fall below that plateau remain on the ballot for up to 15 years.
My vote for McGriff is not only a testament to his career, which included 493 homers and 1,550 RBIs, but it's one for a player who deserves election for having played during an era in which presumed cheaters compiled much better numbers.
Fred's home run total is 111 more than that of Hall of Famer Jim Rice and is the same number that Lou Gehrig blasted. Take away the steroid suspects and McGriff likely would be on his way to Cooperstown.
Not only have Clemens, Bonds, et al, cheated themselves, their possible use of PEDs is also keeping the Hall of Fame from enshrining some of the game's greatest talents during their era. It's a huge minus on both sides.
That's what makes this so sad. Clemens won a record seven Cy Young Awards, Bonds won seven National League MVP Awards, Sosa was a seven-time All-Star and won an NL MVP Award, Palmeiro hit 569 homers and collected 3,020 hits, and everyone remembers McGwire shattering Roger Maris' 1961 single-season homer record.
In a perfect world, these players would be in Cooperstown. Instead, visitors to the shrine are being deprived, and will continue to be, of viewing plaques dedicated to these greats who, sadly, had more than enough talent to make it to the Hall of Fame without a boost.
Morris should be a slam dunk when results of the election are announced on Wednesday. He received 66.7 percent of the vote last year, when Barry Larkin was the lone player elected by the BBWAA. Morris fell 48 votes short.
Considering how close Morris came last year and the likelihood that the steroid suspects won't make it, this should be his year. Next year, which would otherwise be his last on the writers' ballot, would be much tougher. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Jeff Kent and Mike Mussina will all be on it for the first time.
For me, Biggio was an uncertain first-ballot choice. I finally checked his name because of his 3,060 hits, his seven trips to the All-Star Game, five Silver Slugger Awards and the fact he batted .300 or better four times -- even though it took him 20 seasons to get 3,000 hits.
Sadly, this year's ballot is more about moral judgments than numbers.
That's not the way it's supposed to be.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.