One Man's Full Hall Of Fame Ballot Starts With Maddux

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Greg Maddux

Greg Maddux was perfection and efficiency, and should be on every Hall of Fame ballot. (Phil Velasquez / Chicago Tribune / October 3, 2003)

My 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, Jack Morris, Curt Schilling, Tim Raines and Edgar Martinez.

That means, for myriad reasons, no Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Mike Mussina, Alan Trammell, Larry Walker, Fred McGriff, Lee Smith, Jeff Kent or Don Mattingly

There have been few things in recent years that have given me more joy as a sports writer than putting a check next to Maddux's name before the voting deadline earlier this week.

At a time when the Hall of Fame cannot decide what to do with the druggies, at a time when the the Baseball Writers' Association of America voters seem to be under siege from a number of different directions, Maddux has made it easy on us. He won 355 games. He won four Cy Youngs. He had a 3.15 career ERA, including 2.15 during an amazing seven-season stretch in the Steroid Nineties. Over more than two decades, there were zero hints of performance-enhancing drugs. On the contrary, as he stood at his locker with his wire-rimmed glasses, you swore he was about to take off to teach high school chemistry.

Maddux was the great athlete-artisan. He painted the corners of the plate like he was painting the corners of the Sistine Chapel, mesmerizing hitters and umpires. As he walked off the mound, 92 pitches, 70 strikes over 7 2/3 innings, the word maestro would come to mind.

If I had to pick one word to describe Maddux, it would be precise. And that, of course, is the last word I would pick to describe the Hall of Fame voting. It is messy. It is argumentative, and as the Internet terrorists have gained a larger and larger foothold, fun arguments have turned unnecessarily ugly. Good people, voters I respect, are called idiots for not voting for someone that they say should be in Cooperstown.

If you come off casual, as if the vote isn't the end of the world, you are accused of being slothful, not giving a damn. If you take the "character" clause in the voting guidelines too seriously, you are accused of being a self-righteous blowhard. Who died and made you the gatekeeper for morality? If you use what are deemed the wrong statistics — and that's an ever-evolving dynamic — you stand accused of being out of touch.

I'm content now that the Hall of Fame voting, like democracy, is messy. And you know what? After those clever rapscallions of sporting anarchy at Deadspin got some clown to sell his Hall vote to them, I'm now convinced that messy can be good.

Let me start. There are probably 20-25 players who should have been unanimous selections, and nobody in history has been. Cy Young, Rogers Hornsby, Yogi Berra, Carl Hubbell, Lefty Grove, Jimmie Foxx — they weren't even first ballot Hall of Famers. Joe DiMaggio didn't make it until his fourth appearance.

How did 45 people not vote for Frank Robinson in 1982? How did 23 not vote for Stan Musial in 1969? How did 43 not vote for Mickey Mantle? How did 11 not vote for Babe Ruth in the first election in 1936? How much did 20 writers have to hate Ted Williams not to vote for him? Sixty-one didn't vote for Bob Gibson, 65 didn't vote for Warren Spahn and by the time I got to the fact that 23 didn't vote for Willie Mays — the greatest five-tool player in history — I was furious.

Withholding a vote in the first year of eligibility or refusing to recognize absolute locks: That's how writers damage their credibility. If somebody purposely keeps Maddux off the ballot and votes for a lesser player, because he knows Maddux will get elected, well, that's disingenuous. It's wrong.

Look, you can certainly disagree with the system, disagree with votes, but skewering people like me, calling them fools for voting for Jack Morris, is ridiculous. Find me the guy who leaves Maddux off the ballot and votes for Paul Lo Duca, go after him. Otherwise, argue with a modicum of respect.

The 15-year voting window is not a weakness. It's a great strength. Look, it's easy to vote for Maddux. Done. It's a lot harder to decide on Morris, Martinez and Raines. The evolving debate, the reflection over advanced numbers, is entirely healthy. I talk to other voters. I talk to fans. I read everything I can. I love Jay Jaffe of SI.com. He has terrific information. It doesn't mean I have to vote every way he argues.

Every voter must set his own Hall of Fame bar. In fact, considering positions, hitting, pitching, fielding, postseason, every voter must set a number of bars. Statistics calibrate, but by themselves they do not assure perfect choices. I started voting in 2009, voted for Jim Rice in his last shot and, when he made it to the Hall, was rewarded by letters that assured me that Roy White was statistically superior to Rice. Having seen both play at least 500 times, that taught me something: Trust your eyes, too.

I was conservative at first, voting for two or three players. I went to five last year, and with such a backlog, to the maximum of 10 this year. I put more weight than many others on postseason heroics. I'm also not prepared to consider the PED guys without MLB and the Hall making a separate wing or some sort of special designation for the cheaters. [I don't want to belabor my old arguments, beyond saying that Palmeiro never gets my vote].

That doesn't mean I'm not open to change.

For years, I kept Raines barely off my ballot. In his prime, he was a magnificent AstroTurf leadoff guy, a great base stealer. The WAR numbers document his great five-year run in the '80s. But those great numbers didn't last long enough for me. After absorbing more, however, seeing how he compared favorably with Tony Gwynn [an absolute Hall lock], I voted for Raines this time. It wasn't a huge leap, mind you, not Lo Duca to Mays. I just kept looking at how Raines (2,605) had 536 fewer hits than Gwynn (3,141), but 540 more walks. Their OBP and OPS+ are very close, and Raines had all those stolen bases (808).

Clearly a DH has to be a superior hitter, but how much more superior to a position player is not an exact science. My vote for Martinez is more of a result of trying to come to terms with that. Thomas, with 521 homers, two MVPs and a zillion walks, was a DH for 58.2 percent of his career. His .301 lifetime average, .419 OBP and .555 slugging percentage demand that he be in the Hall. The fact that the Big Hurt screamed for drug testing a long, long, long time ago is a bonus.

David Ortiz has DH'd more than 85 percent of his games. It is the consideration of Papi and Thomas that forced me to readdress Martinez. Here are a couple of things that persuaded me to push Edgar, DH for 68.2 percent of his career, over the bar. He has the 21st best on-base percentage in history, 41st in OPS+ and 34th in OPS. Only 17 retired players had an average above .300, an OBP above .400 and a slugging above .500.

I was skewered in some quarters for withholding a vote for Bagwell. I wanted to wait for a period to see if further revelations came out or if the Hall gave some further direction on the PED issue. Suspicions. No proof. I began voting for him last year, his third year on the ballot. I'm not saying my course was 100 percent correct, but I am generally comfortable where my moral compass took me.

The new argument is that the writers are hypocrites for leaving Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, etc., out of the Hall of Fame when manager Joe Torre and Tony La Russa, who played those guys, were allowed. Well, the writers didn't put the managers in, the veterans committee did.

Despite the warts, the writers have done a good job of getting the greatest players into the Hall of Fame since 1936. Having said that, the conflicting votes on the PED guys is causing an enormous backlog. Remember, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Gary Sheffield are on deck next year. I do not support lowering the 75 percent needed to get into the Hall. Should voters be allowed more than the maximum of 10? Should the rule under which a player is eliminated if he doesn't get 5 percent of the vote be eliminated? Without a solution on the PED guys, something I continue to beg for, a good argument can be made.

In the meantime, let's hope Maddux gets every vote.

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