Explaining my Hall of Fame ballot

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As I stared at my Hall of Fame ballot last week, just before I sealed the envelope and headed for the post office, I was struck -- and saddened -- by this thought:

The Hall of Fame is broken.

Broken.

Isn't it obvious?

Think about it. A man who won more Cy Youngs than any pitcher who ever lived -- Roger Clemens -- has no shot at being elected on Wednesday. None.

A man who hit more home runs than any hitter who ever stepped into a batter's box -- Barry Bonds -- has as much chance of being elected as Jacque Jones.

A guy who hit 609 home runs ( Sammy Sosa) might not even collect enough votes to stay on the ballot. Ditto for a once-proud member of the 3,000-Hit, 500-Homer Club ( Rafael Palmeiro).

Look, I get why that is. We all get it. But even if we understand the reasons the Hall of Fame finds itself in this mess, it's still a sad commentary on the sport these men played -- and on the beautiful museum that was built to celebrate it.

At least we know that, unlike last year, the writers who cast these votes will elect somebody this time around. Phew. Greg Maddux ought to be unanimous (but won't be, for no sane reason). Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas ought to be first-ballot locks.

Craig Biggio's time, after 3,060 hits, should finally come. It's possible that Jack Morris is about to become the third player ever elected in his 15th (and final) year on the ballot -- although I wouldn't bet my '91 World Series DVD on it.

But beyond Maddux, there's no reason to feel confident about the fate of any of those men. Just take one look at the list of luminaries who weren't elected last year. That will tell you all you need to know about how confused voters seem to be these days about what a Hall of Famer is supposed to look like.

I've been a Hall of Fame voter for 25 years now. For most of those years, I looked at that as a privilege, as an exhilarating and enlightening experience, as an opportunity to plunge into an energizing debate about where the greatest players of modern times fit into the fabric of baseball history.

Anybody out there still remember that debate? Yeah, I thought so. Good times.

Yes, once, Hall of Fame time really did involve an actual baseball conversation. Then it became a PED conversation. And now, it's just a flat-out train wreck.

I used to pride myself on my consistency as a voter. I didn't change my mind from year to year, or play favorites, or try to orchestrate who got in when. All I aspired to do was look at the names on the ballot and decide: Was this player a Hall of Famer or not?

And if I decided he was, I was going to vote for him every year -- because he either was or wasn't. Any other philosophy on how to vote felt like game-playing, or agenda-building. And that wasn't for me.

But now, we live in an age where -- in the eyes of Jay Jaffe, one of America's great Hall of Fame historians -- the number of qualified candidates on this ballot has swelled "beyond anything seen in the previous 25 years." Beyond 10 names. Beyond 15 names. To the point where some voters now have 20 players they'd like to vote for.

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