By rule everyone who plays 10 years or more in the major leagues will have his name appear on the Hall of Fame ballot at least one time five years after he retires. This year there are 19 such players, which is slightly more than half of the 36 names submitted to the voters.
It just so happens that three of those 19 are named Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas. If you aren't familiar with those names, you're reading the wrong part of the newspaper. Maddux and Glavine were pitchers who each won more than 300 games in the major leagues. Thomas was a slugger who clouted 521 homers and drove in 1,704 runs.
Dozens of lesser players have already been enshrined. These three should be elected overwhelmingly.
Normally that would be the end of the story. Three great players would comprise the Hall of Fame class of 2014. They would be enshrined along with three great managers, Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony LaRussa, who have already been voted in the Veterans Committee.
I won't be surprised if that's exactly how the story plays out, but things aren't that simple — at least not for this voter.
Remember, there are 17 holdovers on the ballot — players who last year were named on at least five percent of the ballots but fell short of the 75 percent required for induction. (A player who receives five percent of the vote will remain on the ballot for a maximum of 15 years).
Last year I voted for Craig Biggio, Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza and Tim Raines. So did a lot of other people because each of them were named on more than 50 percent of the ballots. I also voted for Lee Smith, Curt Schilling, Alan Trammell and Fred McGriff — players who came up short of 50 percent but are on the ballot again.
I haven't changed my mind about any of those nine players. I think they all deserve to be enshrined, but when I include Maddux, Glavine and Thomas, that's 12 names. Throw in Mike Mussina, a 270-game winner who is on the ballot for the first time, and I come up with 13 players I want to vote for.
According to the rules, I'm permitted to vote for only 10.
It's easy to start with Maddux, Glavine and Thomas. Where do I go from there?
I'll start with Biggio, a unique player who won four Gold Gloves as a second baseman but also played four seasons as a catcher and late in his career became a center fielder. While doing all this he amassed 3060 hits, led the league in doubles three times and in stolen bases once.
Next I insist on voting for two pitchers — Smith and Schilling.
Smith retired in 1997 with 478 saves, which at the time was the most in history. He has since been passed by two pitchers, neither of whom is yet eligible for the Hall of Fame ballot.
Schilling's numbers aren't quite as gaudy as those of some of the other candidates, but baseball is more than a game of numbers. Schilling was the ace pitcher on two pennant winners in Boston and one in Philadelphia. He was one of two ace pitchers on a pennant winner in Arizona. Everywhere he went, he was a winner.
Piazza won 10 Silver Slugger awards at catcher and five times drove in 100-plus runs in a season. It's true he was below average defensively, but with offensive numbers like that I can't leave him off the ballot.
Neither can I omit two other sluggers, Bagwell and McGriff. Bagwell's vote totals from past years show me that voters appreciate his achievements (1,529 RBIs and a .297 lifetime batting average). McGriff hit 493 homers and drove in 1,550 runs, but curiously seems to be overlooked. Last year he was named on only 118 of 569 ballots.
This year he's going to be named on at least one.
I've already put check marks next to nine names. Making that last pick is going to be the most difficult.
There's a temptation to use it for Morris, who is on the ballot for the final time. I've been voting from him for years and this is his last chance. But I have to push sentiment aside and ask myself if I think he's the best candidate left on the ballot. I can't honestly say that he is.
My final vote goes to Tim Raines, a player who stole 808 bases (fourth highest since 1900) and had enough power as a switch hitter to twice hit homers from each side of the plate in the same game. He's one of the best leadoff hitters I ever saw and, at least in my opinion, should have been enshrined years ago.
That's 10. I'm finished.
I just wish I weren't.