As we did for award season, the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America is currently casting ballots for the Hall of Fame.
Before I get into my own ballot and reasoning, I should point out that this is merely an exercise. IBWAA ballots have no influence on the Hall and our electees won't be inducted. Nevertheless, the IBWAA has quite a number of major baseball writers as members and perhaps someday the Hall will consider our input.
The voting is being held in the same timeframe as the BBWAA balloting, due by December 31, and the IBWAA vote will be announced on the same day as the BBWAA Hall vote, January 9. There are a few differences between the two organizations' voting procedures:
The IBWAA ballot compares identically to the BBWAA ballot, with the following exceptions: 1. Craig Biggio’s name does not appear on the IBWAA ballot because he was elected by the group in 2014. 2. Mike Piazza’s name does not appear on the IBWAA ballot because he was elected by the group in 2013. 3. Barry Larkin’s name does appear on the ballot because he has not reached the 75% threshold in an IBWAA election. Per a group decision in 2013, the IBWAA allows members to vote for 15 players, instead of the previous 10, beginning with this election. Players’ names link to their respective pages on Baseball-Reference.com.
The last point is important. Many BBWAA writers have complained that they are forced to leave certain "obvious" inductees off their ballots because of the 10-vote limit. Both ESPN's Buster Olney (ESPN Insider link) and Lynn Henning of the Detroit News wrote that they won't be submitting ballots this year largely as a protest of that rule. During the Winter Meetings, the BBWAA voted to recommend to the Hall of Fame that the limit be raised from 10 to 12. Of course, it's up to the Hall to accept that or not, and so far they have given no indication that they will.
The following 33 players comprise the IBWAA ballot:
Returning candidates: Jeff Bagwell, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Jeff Kent, Barry Larkin (elected by BBWAA in 2012), Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Mike Mussina, , Curt Schilling, Lee Smith, Sammy Sosa, Alan Trammell and Larry Walker. First-time candidates: Rich Aurilia, Aaron Boone, Tony Clark, Carlos Delgado, Jermaine Dye, Darin Erstad, Cliff Floyd, Nomar Garciaparra, Brian Giles, Tom Gordon, Eddie Guardado, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Troy Percival, Jason Schmidt, Gary Sheffield, John Smoltz
Having been given the opportunity to vote for 15 players, I'm not going to reach that limit.
For now, I am not going to vote for PED-linked players. I just can't do it. I might change my mind in the future, and eventually I think the Hall is going to have to recognize these individuals. Many of them produced Hall-worthy numbers before they were alleged to have used a single PED. For me, we don't have enough passage of time nor perspective on the Steroid Era for me to do that.
So my IBWAA ballot will consist of, in alphabetical order: Jeff Bagwell, Randy Johnson, Barry Larkin, Pedro Martinez, Mike Mussina, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Lee Smith and John Smoltz.
A few thoughts on each of my votes:
Jeff Bagwell: I said I was going to avoid PED-linked players and Bagwell has been PED-linked by some. The sum total of the PED argument against Bagwell appears to be "He was muscular." I think that's nonsense.
Randy Johnson: Dominant for close to a decade, key playoff performer, second all-time in strikeouts.
Barry Larkin: Acknowledging his status as one of the greatest shortstops in history and the fact that the Hall has already officially inducted him.
Pedro Martinez: A no-brainer. Pedro had two of the greatest individual pitching seasons in major-league history, part of an incredible seven-year run through the peak of a top offensive era and has the second-fewest walks (760) of anyone who struck out 3,000 or more.
Mike Mussina: No one talks about him in this context because he never dominated, but had he stuck around just two more years -- and he could have as his final season was excellent -- he'd have put up the key counting milestones of 300 wins and 3,000 strikeouts. Key contributor to nine playoff teams.
Tim Raines: He's been underrated for years. Dominant for most of a decade, fifth all-time in steals, 69.1 career WAR (more than HoFer Tony Gwynn) and a productive bench player in his 40s.
Curt Schilling: Yes, he's kind of a jerk. But he struck out over 3,000 and has the fewest walks (711) of anyone who did so, and was a key player on two World Series champions.
Lee Smith: A prototype of the modern closer, he still ranks third all-time in saves (and probably will for a very long time). One of only three pitchers (Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman are the others) with 12 or more seasons of 30 or more saves.
John Smoltz: Had 3,084 strikeouts despite missing five seasons as a starter in the prime of his career -- might have approached 4,000 if he'd remained a starter, and close to 300 wins. Instead he became a lockdown closer, posting three 40-plus save seasons (as many as Smith), and co-holds the N.L. single-season save record (55).