Here are the names I checked off on the Hall of Fame ballot:
Ideally, Alan Trammell and Barry Bonds would have been added. But you can vote for a maximum of 10 players. That required voting strategically, and the intent was to do the least damage to the process.
Trammell, unfortunately, was a victim because he received only 33.6 percent of the vote last season and was 12th on my list. It felt like voting for him would come at the expense of a candidate with a legitimate shot at being inducted.
The same was true of Bonds, who received 36.2 percent last season and was first on my list. He won't get close to the 75 percent required because of his connection to performance-enhancing drugs. That is also the case with Clemens, so I flipped a coin to decide which one to exclude.
I'll vote for Bonds and Trammell down the road, space permitting. I voted for both last year and wanted to again.
As for the issue of performance-enhancing drugs, the Hall of Fame offers no guidelines beyond instructions that "voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played."
Essentially the BBWAA voters are left to form their own standards. After a few years of waffling, I decided to vote based on a player's record on the field. The Hall of Fame is a museum that reflects what happened in the game and the Steroid Era can't be ignored.
Frankly, I don't think the BBWAA is equipped to decide who cheated. It's easy to point at Bonds and Clemens, certainly. But some of my colleagues exclude Bagwell and Piazza based only on suspicion. Meanwhile, there are almost certainly other players we all think are "clean" who did use.
Our votes shouldn't be influenced by who best concealed their drug use. The Hall is full of players of questionable character. The place won't collapse if Bonds and Clemens are inducted someday.
As for the votes (with some content repeated from last year):
Jeff Bagwell: The pride of the University of Hartford was durable, consistent, and productive. This was a player who hit for power, showed great patience, played an excellent first base, and even stole 202 bases. His WAR is seventh among first basemen all time. He's the one that got away for the Red Sox.
Craig Biggio: It's hard to argue against 20 seasons, 3,060 hits, 668 doubles, 55 triples, 291 home runs, 1,175 RBIs and 1,844 runs for a second baseman who also caught and played center field. Historically, Biggio is one of the best to ever play his position.
Roger Clemens: He is third in career WAR for pitchers and 11th in adjusted ERA. Clemens struck out 4,672 (third all time) and won 354 games. He's one of the top five starters in history. It's easy to denigrate the guy based on what he might have done. But everybody has to admit, we're missing what would be a heck of a speech.
Tom Glavine: The lefty from Billerica is one of the best No. 2 starters in baseball history. Pitching in the considerable shadow of Greg Maddux, Glavine was 305-203 with a 3.54 ERA over 22 seasons. Glavine struck out a modest 2,607 batters over his career. His game was to finesse batters into bad swings, not overpower them with a fastball. At his best, Glavine controlled the game by changing speeds and locating pitches. Few pitchers had more confidence in their changeup.
Glavine's performance in Atlanta's clinching Game 6 of the 1995 World Series (8 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 8 K) against a 100-win Indians team was legendary.
Greg Maddux: Some Hall of Fame voters make it a policy to never vote for a player the first time he is on the ballot. This sort of grandstanding (and, really, that's all it is) should be put aside for Maddux.
He had a 3.16 ERA over 23 seasons, 744 games and 5,008.1 innings. There were four Cy Young Awards, 3.371 strikeouts and countless teammates who hung on every word he uttered about pitching.
Maddux won 355 games, the most for a righthander since the 1940s, and appeared in 13 postseasons. All that came at a time when offense was booming. Maddux had uncanny command of his fastball and best demonstrated the art of pitching. There were few better days at the park than the days he started.
Former Braves manager Bobby Cox was voted in earlier this month. He should stand at Cooperstown in July with Maddux and Glavine.
Mike Mussina: Of all people, Johnny Damon makes the best case for Mussina.
Mussina, he points out, pitched from 1991-2008 in the AL East for the Orioles and Yankees. During that time, he was in a division that produced eight World Series champions and three other teams that reached the Series.
"Every year he faced the best teams, Damon said in 2008. "He was a No. 1 or a No. 2 starter in a great division his entire career."
Mussina also pitched in two hitter-friendly parks in Camden Yards and old Yankee Stadium. Yet he was 270-153 with a 3.54 ERA and finished 19th in career strikeouts. Mussina is Glavine without all the trophies.
Mussina has a better ERA+ than Glavine, more strikeouts per nine innings, a lower WHIP and a better strikeout-to-walk ratio. He won only 35 fewer games than Glavine in 144 fewer starts.
Mussina did not win a World Series or a Cy Young. He won 20 games his final season. He was an All-Star only five times. But if you look at the factors a pitcher can control, Mussina passes the test. Like Raines, Mussina requires a voter to dig deeper. But it's there when you look.
Mike Piazza: He is one of the best-hitting catchers ever, if not the best. He also played the bulk of his career in Dodger Stadium and Shea Stadium, two tough parks for hitters. Piazza hit .320/.389/.575 from 1993-2003 while catching. Piazza also was a better defensive player than he is generally given credit for. He had a flair for calling games and he blocked balls in the dirt very effectively.
Tim Raines: Simply put, Raines was the second-best leadoff hitter in history behind Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson. New statistical metrics showcase his value, and by those standards he deserves to be in Cooperstown. Not voting for Raines is not doing your homework.
Curt Schilling: It's popular to say that Schilling should get in because of his stellar postseason numbers. He was 11-2, 2.23 ERA in 19 starts with three rings, after all. But that diminishes his regular-season excellence. Schilling's 3,116 strikeouts are 15th all-time, he averaged 2.0 walks per nine innings and he finished second in the Cy Young voting three times. Schilling won "only" 216 games, but he is indisputably one of the best starters of his time.
Frank Thomas: The fact that "The Big Hurt" started 968 games at first base will aid his candidacy. He was a DH for much of his career but spent more time in the field than Edgar Martinez, who has yet to gain admission.
Offensively, there's not much question. Thomas hit .301 with a .419 on-base percentage and .555 slugging percentage. The .300/.400/.500 trinity is Hall material.
Thomas also hit 521 home runs, walked at least 100 times 10 years, and twice won the MVP. That he was a loud voice against PED use will help him gain votes.
Strongly considered: Jeff Kent, Edgar Martinez, Mark McGwire, Jack Morris, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, and Larry Walker were players who came close.
McGwire, Palmeiro, and Sosa were products of an era where offense came easy, and that has to be taken into account. Arbitrary standards like 500 home runs have to be erased.
Kent, Martinez, Morris, and Walker were close misses for me. Hall standards should be very high. Morris's candidacy has become a flashpoint between older members of the BBWAA and younger ones more willing to rely on advanced metrics.
Good memories: Hall of Fame voting is fun because you remember players you watched and dive into statistics and box scores to learn more. Kenny Rogers, for instance, was a lot better than you think and probably deserves to stay on the ballot. And Hideo Nomo was the player who opened the door to Japan for a lot of players.
It was amusing to see the likes of Jacque Jones and Paul LoDuca on the ballot. The Red Sox had a bunch of guys. In addition to Clemens, Schilling, and Nomo, there was Sean Casey, Eric Gagne, Todd Jones, J.T. Snow, and Mike Timlin.
Thanks: The wonders of Baseball-Reference.com made research painless. The work done by Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated was invaluable. Jay should be part of the committee that puts together the ballot.
It also was helpful to speak to other writers and assorted players, managers, and executives about the candidates.
There's no perfect ballot because baseball opinions are subjective. It makes for a good debate and whether you agree with my choices or not, I hope the feedback in the comments section is civil.