December 19, 2013 at 1:00 am

Lynn Henning

One writer's Hall of Fame ballot is a true shaggy dog story

Former Tigers shortstop Alan Trammell is on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot for the 13th year. (Otto Greule Jr / Getty Images)

This was decades ago, during one kidís days on a mid-Michigan farm. Life had its rugged moments, especially if you were the neighborís dog that had been trekking through a woods loaded with briars and cockleburs, all before it ran into a skunk as a bad experienceís grand finale.

The doggy returned home to a family that didnít quite know where to begin. Deodorizing the poor thing? Extracting burrs? It was a sorry mess of a job that, alas, had to be done.

Itís a bit how I feel in taking on this yearís Baseball Hall of Fame ballot.

Misery is immediate. The ballot has a 10-person limit. I have 11 people whom I think deserve induction.

In previous years, the 10-slot ceiling was no problem. Typically, you might have three, four, maybe five names worthy of enshrinement. But in recent years there has been a flood of new Cooperstown-caliber names. This deluge has been made more taxing by the most complicated issue Hall of Fame voters have faced in the 75 years Hall of Fame plaques have been hung.

Performance-enhancing drugs, which baseball quietly countenanced until serious drug testing began in 2005, for too long became the gameís trendy misdeed. How many dabbled in steroids and other muscle-expanders? How many benefited from it ó maybe to exceptional degrees that made for exceptional statistics?

Itís so difficult to accurately identify or measure guilt versus innocence, or, more critically, the extent to which those who did use it (probably far more than we know) received artificial advantages.

And, so, as with my neighbors and their dog, weíre left to deal with the stink and to pick through the tangles. Weíre left to make an afflicted entity something close to comfortable and even honorable.

Hold your nose and vote

Hereís how I decide, with no pretense that this is anything close to perfect science:

Believing that too many of the candidates probably had their sojourns with performance-enhancers, I prefer to look at career numbers and decide if the stuff they were applying or injecting might have tilted their stats disproportionately toward Cooperstown.

In other words: Mark McGwire, youíre out. Sammy Sosa, youíre out. Rafael Palmeiro, you miss the cut, as well. I believe the evidence they got help, and lots of it, enabled them to cross the Cooperstown threshold.

This rationale has its odious side, you bet. Proof of misconduct is anything but 100 percent clear. More painfully, I donít for a moment care to see Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens on that Hall of Fame induction dais. I believe they were serial users and that the evidence of such has long been established.

But I also am convinced ó and this makes their dalliances with PEDs particularly stupid and tragic ó they would easily have cleared the Cooperstown crossbar had they never touched a drop or dab of help.

As much as it makes me gag to place their names on the ballot, Bonds and Clemens qualify for the reasons detailed above.

Next in line are this yearís premier newcomers, three of whom make it: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas. Jeff Kent belongs, and Mike Mussina has his case, but given the crowded conditions, I will go this year with Maddux, Glavine, and Thomas.

The returnees from previous ballots are unchanged: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Edgar Martinez, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, and Alan Trammell.

Jack Morris misses for the same reason he has lost in previous years. He falls just shy, although not by much, as do Curt Schilling and Fred McGriff

So, thatís that. Except, of course, for one minor mathematical problem: There are 11 names for 10 spots on this yearís docket.

Tough choice

It brings us quickly to discuss why this arbitrary 10-person limit should be observed.

It should not. If a person belongs in the Hall of Fame, he should not be excluded because of an unnecessarily restricted ballot. Those who say a wider group would open the doors to more fringe people receiving votes are hung up on a meaningless aberration.

Let the backseat cast, or even someone fringe, get their votes, however many or few (tell me why Richie Sexson, Paul LoDuca, and Jacque Jones are on the eligible list). They ultimately donít count. They should have no bearing on the 75 percent approval needed for inducting legitimate candidates.

Leaving off a player deserving of a Hall of Fame vote ó when a career so noble has been forged ó is a negative exercise in what should be an inclusive process. Itís telling the Rhodes Scholar that Oxford is a bit full this semester.

So, what to do about 11 names for a 10-spot Cooperstown roster?

Iím going to do something cruel, and counter-productive, which in this context is what the restricted ballot is.

Iíll leave off a great hitter, Martinez, who, because of bad knees was forced to perform most of his career as a designated hitter.

But Iím going to do something else and hope that it doesnít invalidate my vote.

As a form of civil disobedience, and as a testament to Martinezís genuine candidacy, I will write his name onto the ballot beneath the 10 boxes otherwise checked.

And then Iím going to do what my neighborís dog did after the smell was subdued and its fur was smoothed: Iím going to get on with life, happily, and hope that itís at least 12 months until I again confront a mess of the kind I just experienced.

2014 Hall Of Fame ballot

PlayerSeasonsYears on ballot
Moises Alou1990, 1992-98, 2000-081st
Jeff Bagwell1991-20054th
Armando Benitez1994-20081st
Craig Biggio1988-20072nd
Barry Bonds1986-20072nd
Sean Casey1997-20081st
Roger Clemens1984-20072nd
Ray Durham1995-20081st
Eric Gagne1999-20081st
Tom Glavine1987-20081st
Luis Gonzalez1990-20081st
Jacque Jones1999-20081st
Todd Jones1993-20081st
Jeff Kent1992-20081st
Paul Lo Duca1998-20081st
Greg Maddux1986-20081st
Edgar Martinez1987-20045th
Don Mattingly1982-199514th
Fred McGriff1986-20045th
Mark McGwire1986-20018th
Jack Morris1977-199415th
Mike Mussina1991-20081st
Hideo Nomo1995-2005, 20081st
Rafael Palmeiro1986-20054th
Mike Piazza1992-20072nd
Tim Raines1979-20027th
Kenny Rogers1989-20081st
Curt Schilling1988-20072nd
Richie Sexson1997-20081st
Lee Smith1980-199712th
J.T. Snow1992-2006, 20081st
Sammy Sosa1988-2005, 20072nd
Frank Thomas1990-20081st
Mike Timlin1991-20081st
Alan Trammell1977-199613th
Larry Walker1989-20054th

lynn.henning@detroitnews.com
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