YSTL: Jeff Passan previews Wednesday's Hall of Fame vote
Programming note: For complete reaction to Wednesday's Hall of Fame vote tune into SportsNet Central at 7:30 and 10:30 and Yahoo! SportsTalk Live at 8:00, only on CSN Bay Area
Of the many third-millennium debates generating strident argument, from religion and climate change to immigration and turkey bacon, none rages harder off the tongue of the sports fan than discussion of baseball's Hall of Fame.
Group A believes it is brilliant enough – or has proper insight – to evaluate the so-called Steroids Era, late 1980s into the early 2000s, that it can properly distinguish "good guys" from "cheaters" and vote accordingly.
Group B firmly believes anyone who played during this period tarnished the game and must be locked out of the Hall, which this group apparently perceives is a paragon of virtue.
Group C, of which I am a member, believes the Hall should stand as a thorough exhibit, a comprehensive reflection of the game itself, reserved for individuals that played or otherwise operated at the highest level.
If a man's accomplishments and significance rise far above his nefarious activity, he'll likely get my vote. I am, first and foremost, judging baseball players.
Which is why Barry Bonds, despite his crimes against the game, was checked on my ballot. He's the most decorated offensive force of his generation and just about any other generation. Whether a slender 190 pounds or a muscled-up 235, he was the best hitter I ever saw.
The same, in many ways, applies to Roger Clemens. He cut numerous corners but he's the most decorated pitcher ever – far more so than Gaylord Perry, an admitted cheater previously enshrined in the Hall. I was not a fan of Roger's fake tough-guy façade, but his impact speaks for itself.
Bonds and Clemens always spark ultra-polarizing discussion. My side is evident.
The ballot I submitted last month included, for the first time in my 12-year voting career, the maximum 10 names. The other eight were, in alphabetical order, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Edgar Martinez, Jack Morris, Mike Mussina, Tim Raines, Lee Smith and Frank Thomas.
Here is my rationale for the other eight. Let the arguments commence:
Glavine was one-third of the Atlanta aces, the best and most enduring Big Three of the last half-century. The crafty lefty won two Cy Young awards and was among the top-three in voting on four other occasions. He would have gotten my vote had he won 299 games. He won 305.
Maddux won 355 games (eighth all-time) and four consecutive Cy Young awards for the perennially contending Braves. Enough said.
Martinez never won an MVP or a World Series. He was one of the professors of bat magic, along with the rarified likes of Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs. Until David Ortiz became Big Poppy, Edgar was the best pure DH I'd seen.
Morris somehow never won a Cy Young Award but was a postseason terror. A member of three World Champions, he won the 1991 World Series MVP with a mesmerizing 10-inning, 1-0 victory in Game 7. Morris was as good as any big-game pitcher of his era – including Dave Stewart.
Mussina got my 10th and final vote on the ballot because he always seemed to be one of the three or four best pitchers in baseball. And know this: Mussina's career win percentage (.638) is better than Juan Marichal, Bob Feller and Cy Young himself. For the record, Mussina nudged out Mike Piazza and Jeff Kent on my ballot.
Raines had much in common with Rickey Henderson, merely one of the 10 best ballplayers ever. Except this: Raines had a higher career batting average than Rickey, was better as a base thief and as defensive player.
Smith ambling in from the bullpen was the scariest sight in baseball in the 1980s and into the '90s. When the 6-foot-6 right-hander retired in 1997, he had recorded more saves and final outs than anyone who ever played the game. Big Lee couldn't match the efficiency of Dennis Eckersley, but his presence was second to none.
Thomas was a first baseman/DH with a matchless blend of power and technique at the plate, hitting at least 30 homers in nine seasons and batting at least .300 in 10. The Big Hurt won consecutive MVP awards and finished in the top five on four other occasions.
The no-brainers were clear: Bonds, Clemens, Maddux and Thomas. At the next level: Glavine, Martinez, Morris, Raines and Smith. Mussina was the toughest call by far.