It's Hall of Fame time. Can't miss this one.
As we all know, this year's ballot for the real voters is unlike any normal one: instead of being about which marginal guys deserve to be in, it's about dealing with the strategy of what to do with far more deserving players than the rules allow. There was a bit of this last year, but now it's getting silly.
So. Some sorting is in order. Last year I had nine easy choices: Bonds, Clemens, Biggio, Piazza, Schilling, McGwire, Raines, Trammell, and Bagwell, all of whom are back this year. Then I had three bubble guys, and said I would have voted for Palmiero for strategic reasons.
That's not going to work this time, because the nine easy ones all return, joined by Maddux, Mussina, Thomas, and Glavine. So that's thirteen guys who, to me, are obvious HOFers. There's also Jeff Kent, who for now I'll say joins the bubbles, with Palmiero, Sosa, and Edgar Martinez (and McGriff, although last year I concluded that he was a stretch).
What do we do with it?
There's no good solution. One way to go after it would be to forget strategic issues and just pick the best ten. Another way, and I think the way to go, is to worry mostly about ballot strategy.
There are really, I think, three issues. One is to support guys who are in danger of falling off the ballot: that would be, I think, Palimiero, Sosa, McGwire, and Kent. I've said in the past that I think Palmiero and McGwire are over my line; I haven't really decided on Sosa or, now, Kent.
The second is to support the guys who are relatively undervalued by HOF votes. For me, that's McGwire, Trammell, Bonds, Clemens, Raines, and maybe Piazza and Schilling -- all (to me) clear, easy, HOFers, but all having trouble with the voters.
The third is to put guys over the top in order to help clear the gridlock. Who is going to be right around the line this year? Biggio, I think, is the only obvious one. I'm guessing that Maddux makes it easily, and that the other three new ones fall short, although maybe the Hurt comes close.
Unfortunately, as you may have noticed, strategies two and three conflict with each other.
Still, I think that organizes things enough. Drop Maddux, who gets in anyway. Drop Bagwell -- he's not going to make it this year, but he's in the safe zone. And then drop...I don't know, Mussina, I guess, on the theory that he's less likely to make it this year than Glavine.
And, reluctantly, drop the bubble guys. Maybe I'd feel differently if I had a real ballot...I'm awfully tempted to include Palmiero, Sosa, Kent, and maybe even Edgar just to make sure they all stay on the ballot, although I suspect that Kent and Martinez are relatively safe.
So that gets me: McGwire, Trammell, Bonds, Clemens, Raines, Piazza, Schilling, Glavine, Biggio, Thomas.
And one main point: if you think that McGwire (or Palmiero or Sosa) is a clear HOFer, then you really should find room for them on your ballot this year.
Note too that at least as far as leaving Maddux off is concerned, this would be strategic voting which depends on other voters following different logic. As far as I'm aware (and I've seen Hank Schulman's ballot, but otherwise I missed most of the debates while I've been on vacation), no one is thinking of leaving Maddux off for strategic reasons, but if I was a real voter I'd be paying closer attention and, if I thought Maddux was going to have a close call for induction this time, switch to him (over, I suppose, Glavine).
By the way, leaving Maddux off is not intended as a comment on his surgical enhancement.
Update (OK, not technically an update since I hadn't posted yet, but I don't feel like going back and editing): it seems that I was probably correct on Maddux, but that McGwire is probably safe.
Oh, also, might as well link to Joe Sheehan on the HOF electorate. I hadn't really thought about the demographic issues he raises...my general sense is that the HOF has been pretty happy using the BBWAA, and that they're unlikely to change -- instead, what they'll do, as they've always done, is resort to ad hoc rules changes and special committees (and both) to rectify problems that arise, which (as Bill James pointed out) for the BBWAA basically means any interruption of a steady flow of new inductions. But Sheehan makes some good points about why the current system may not prove stable over time.
Obviously, I'm skipping the part where I argue about why the 13 easy picks are actually clear HOFers, and why the bubble guys are bubble guys, and why the rest shouldn't be in. I've argued all of this in the past except for the new guys, so my apologies for skipping it (if you really want to know, click the link above to last year's post, and work back from there). Anyway, my basic view is that I prefer a fairly generous HOF size, and I really don't think any of these guys are close calls at all; better to focus on the more interesting stuff.