I started voting for the Baseball Hall of Fame more than 10 years ago, and all the while I've had a core philosophy to always vote for the 10 BEST players (assuming there are at least 10 Hall of Fame worthy players on the ballot). As you no doubt know, the Hall of Fame limits voters to 10 players. This was not an especially big problem when I started voting because in, say, 2006, there were not more than 10 fully qualified Hall of Fame candidates on the ballot.
By Jay Jaffe's JAWS -- which measures a player career/peak WAR against that of the average Hall of Famer -- the Top 10 candidates in 2006 were (in parentheses I put the player's JAWS and what I call JAWS+, which works like OPS+ and shows how he compares with the average Hall of Famer):
1. Bert Blyleven (73 JAWS, 118 JAWS+)
2. Goose Gossage (37 JAWS, 108 JAWS+)
3. Alan Trammell (57.5 JAWS, 105 JAWS+)
4. Andre Dawson (53.5 JAWS, 93 JAWS+)
5. Will Clark (46 JAWS, 84 JAWS+)
6. Jim Rice (41.8 JAWS, 78 JAWS+)
7. Orel Hershiser (48.4, 78 JAWS+)
8. Tommy John (48.4, 78 JAWS+)
9. Dale Murphy (43.6 JAWS, 75 JAWS+)
10. Dwight Gooden (46.1 JAWS, 74 JAWS+)
Now, admittedly there were other candidates on that ballot who didn't do well in JAWS but were widely viewed to be viable Hall of Fame candidates -- a couple of them have been elected. Bruce Sutter (72 JAWS+) was elected THAT YEAR. Jack Morris (62 JAWS+) got a lot of votes and was voted in by the veteran's committee this year. Steve Garvey (61 JAWS+), Dave Parker (66 JAWS+), Don Mattingly (71 JAWS+) all have received support at various levels.
But the point is that there were a handful (at most) of fully qualified Hall of Famers, and a whole bunch of boderline and really sub-borderline candidates to work with.
Now, look at this year's ballot -- this time I'll just use JAWS+ to keep it simple.
1. Barry Bonds, 221 JAWS+
2. Roger Clemens, 166 JAWS+
3. Chipper Jones, 119 JAWS+
4. Jim Thome, 105 JAWS+
5. Curt Schilling, 104 JAWS+
6. Scott Rolen, 103 JAWS+
7. Mike Mussina, 103 JAWS+
8. Manny Ramirez, 102 JAWS+
9. Edgar Martinez, 101 JAWS+
10. Larry Walker, 101 JAWS+
OK, there's your Top 10 -- and as you see every single one of them are, by JAWS, fully qualified, better-than-the-average-Hall-of-Famer candidates.
You see how in 2006 the Top 10 takes you all the way down to 74 JAWS+? If you want to go all the way to 74 JAWS+ now, you need to include Andruw Jones (94), Sammy Sosa (88), Vlad Guerrero (86), Gary Sheffield (85), Fred McGriff (81), Jeff Kent (80), Johan Santana (77), Kerry Wood (77) and Johnny Damon (77). That's NINE more players.
And if we do that we STILL have not mentioned Trevor Hoffman (70) who is, I would think, going to get elected this year.
We STILL have not mentioned Billy Wagner (70) who I think was every bit as good if not better than Hoffman.
We STILL have not mentioned Omar Vizquel (66), who is a Hall of Fame favorite for many.
I imagine you already knew this, already knew that because of the character clause backlog and because expansion has created many more qualified Hall of Fame candidates, the ballot is an absolute mess.
Which takes us back to the beginning: I've never voted quote-unquote "tactically." That is to say that when choosing my ballot, I have never chose players based on how my vote might help or hurt them; I have never left off one of my Top 10 players to help out someone who might need a boost. I didn't vote for, say, Kenny Lofton even though I thought he was viable Hall of Fame candidate and I knew that he needed every vote he could get just to stay on the ballot. I was tempted to do that, but there were in my mind 10 better players on the ballot and voting for the best players has been my basic Hall of Fame voting principle.
This year: I'm just not so sure.
Here's my problem: There are, in my mind, nine slam-dunk Hall of Fame candidates on this year's ballot. I won't tell you the nine because I'm about to start my "Write about every single player on the Hall of Fame ballot) series" at MLB.com on Christmas Day and don't want to give spoilers ... but I suspect you know the nine. That leaves me one vote for a great player who I think is worthy of the Hall. One vote.
There are NINE MORE players competing in my mind for that one vote.
Cutting it down further, there are THREE players in particular that I believe are very strong Hall of Fame candidates who should stay on the ballot for further discussion.
Three players for one vote. I suppose you could argue that voters SHOULD be forced to make these sorts of hard choices, that this is the Baseball Hall of Fame we are talking about, the highest honor, all that stuff, and that this means ruthlessly drawing lines and cutting off those who don't quite make the cut. I would agree with that in the larger sense which is why I have always voted the way I have voted.
But lately, the Hall of Fame has refused to acknowledge that things have changed. A couple of years ago, the BBWAA requested that the ballot be expanded to 12, a thoroughly reasonable request that, if anything, doesn't go far enough (I prefer Derrick Goold's binary ballot but I suspect that was a non-starter for the Hall of Fame).
The Hall of Fame denied the ballot expansion. I get it. The Hall of Fame takes particular pride in its standards, takes particular pride in being the most exclusive of all the sports Halls of Fame (even though that isn't EXACTLY true). But there are always unintended consequences, and in this case one of them is that by not expanding the ballot they are basically PLEADING with us to vote strategically so that we can do the most good with my votes. We all know generally how the other voters are going to vote. And we can specifically see how many people voted based on the columns they write and the essential Mr. Tibbs spreadheet, now up to 88 ballots.
They are basically pleading with me to, say, not vote for Chipper Jones. He doesn't need my vote. He will get elected easily, and so if I pass on him I can have TWO spare votes use on those borderline players I think deserve my support. I have my problems anyway with Chipper Jones, particularly his ghastly Newtown never happened Tweet, so why not just give his vote to someone who needs it a lot more.
But I also believe that's not the RIGHT way to vote because, let's face it, if enough people vote that way, suddenly Chipper Jones doesn't get elected. And Chipper Jones is one of the greatest players in baseball history.
It's messy. My friend Tom Tango has put up a poll on Twitter about this subject.
Am curious how this vote will turn out -- go on over and vote, if you can. We'll give you an update after the voting is done.