Henning: 11 are Hall-worthy, so I'm not voting again
This should have been easy. It always was in decades past.
Baseball's Hall of Fame ballot would arrive about the time Salvation Army bells began ringing. And, in that same spirit of hope and responsibility, a handful of names were check-listed and returned to New York for tallying and hermetic sealing ahead of a January unveiling of the coming year's Hall of Fame plaques.
But then it got complicated. Necessarily and unnecessarily so, it seems.
Baseball's steroid era made selection of worthy players uncomfortable, if not impossible, at least in terms of certitude. Who used? Who didn't? How did helping oneself to various bottles and injections of performance-enhancers affect career numbers?
Not an inviting quiz game, that one.
A second issue, truly silly and easily remedied, increasingly became a problem the past three years:
There have been too few ballot slots for worthy Hall of Famers. It's because Cooperstown is hung up on the self-crafted sanctity of the number 10. You can vote only for 10 players, even if your experience and convictions -- and some overwhelming historical comparisons – support a broader collection of plaque-worthy men.
So, reluctantly, and with the same sense of exasperation that since 2013 has become part of this process, I've decided, for a second consecutive year, no go. There will be no returned ballot. To do so would mean leaving out a player who has passed, in this view, the only threshold necessary for extraordinary career distinction: that he's a true Hall of Famer.
Here, in alphabetical order, were the 11 who made one voter's cut:
Jeff Bagwell, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Ken Griffey Jr., Jeff Kent, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Alan Trammell.
Eleven names. Ten reservations.
Nope, not having one of them sit at the bar while everyone else dines at the big table.
This really is, for lack of a better word, dumb.
Of course, you don't want Cooperstown diluted with marginal candidacies. But that's not the case in December 2015. It wasn't true the past two years. It simply came to be that traffic got unusually heavy, which isn't anyone's fault.
In previous years, the 10-limit ballot was hardly an issue. There were Decembers when one, three, maybe five, slots were ample. The cast was tight and fairly easily defined.
It's no one's fault that a surplus of great players happened to crowd the aisles in recent winters. It's a testament to baseball and to an era when magnificent athletes, quite apart from the PED plague, made a game richer.
But the Cooperstown brass wants no part of an expanded ballot, even if it would do nothing but ensure that proper recipients would advance to July's enshrinement at a reasonable and responsible pace.
The Baseball Writers Association of America, whose members vote and who have helped make baseball's Hall of Fame the best and most respected of all such museums, have asked for a relaxation on the 10-man limit.
Cooperstown has said no.
It is sad obstructionism, perhaps motivated because the HOF's suit-and-tie elite aren't wild about seating two notorious members of the PED era, Bonds and Clemens, at the July coronation.
In fact, some of us aren't wild, either, about honoring those particular gents. It's the most entangled aspect of HOF voting, the PED question.
It has left many of the voting bloc with no choice but to draw our own lines of morality and fairness with respect to an issue exhaustive and unsatisfying in terms of treatment.
A personal philosophy honed over too many years: Given the tacit acceptance of steroids by big-league baseball, and absence until late in the game of any effective testing when PED use was clearly widespread, there has seemed no better choice than to decide who, even if PEDs were part of their personal picture, had Hall of Fame numbers, juicing notwithstanding.
That's why Bonds and Clemens, however distasteful, make my ballot. That is, if it were being forwarded.
Others who have been tied to PEDs and whose career numbers might have crossed the HOF threshold because of alleged help – Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, etc. – have been dropped or will be soon.
Again, imperfect. But I haven't come away with a better answer.
What shouldn't be a problem is the 10-vote limit. It is the greater waste and a condition that ultimately makes turning in a ballot impossible.
The BBWAA has made its requests, politely and responsibly, in seeking some sane and helpful redress here.
But with no sign Cooperstown will make compelling and constructive changes, it might be time for the BBWAA to adopt a necessarily stronger stance. From all evidence, that's the only way this nonsense will be altered. The voters must say, clearly and with finality: no more.
And if Cooperstown wants to disenfranchise voters who, in the face of all incendiary fan debate, have made the Hall of Fame the best of its kind, then so be it.
It shouldn't come to that. The PED debate isn't going away, not in the short term. But a ballot insufficient to accommodate men and careers who deserve enshrinement can be revised in a nanosecond.
I'll hope for better news and judgment in 2016. For now, no sensible progress means, lamentably, no participation.