Fort Lauderdale One final time, I check the boxes based on hits, wins, home runs, on-base percentages, earned-run averages and the comparative reasoning that separates the great from elite, the mortal from immortal, Jim Rice from Andre Dawson.
At issue is the baseball Hall of Fame ballot on my desk, only baseball, this one last time.
Are Steve Garvey's 10 All-Star seasons enough (no), Orel Hershiser's historic 1988 season enough (no) or Bert Blyleven ranking fifth all-time in strikeouts, eighth in starts, ninth in shutouts and 24th in wins enough (of course)?
Numbers have been the first order of argument on any Hall of Fame ballot to this point. They won't be a year from now, when the sports story of 2005 becomes the sports mess of 2006. You don't need a map to see where the road bends.
You just need to know Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti are on the ballot next year. So steroids are on Cooperstown's doorstep next year, as well as my ballot, unopened as it will remain. Baseball will neither notice my absence nor miss my vote.
This isn't a stab at self-
righteousness. Nor is it an attempt to join a growing current in the media, from the Baltimore Sun to The New York Times to the Atlanta Constitution, who ban employees from voting in any sports election.
Actually, it's no sacrifice at all to give up the chore, except for surrendering a gimme column like this one noting Goose Gossage doesn't get my vote, but Bruce Sutter does. Jack Morris and Dwight Gooden didn't make this ballot's cut. But Tommy John does for 288 wins sandwiched around a defining surgery.
There's a Football Coach of the Year ballot on my desk. Unanswered. Heisman Trophy organizers quit sending their ballot long ago, a few years after I quit responding.
The point is this: I'm not inside the games, directing the games, building the games or much more than a professional and interested observer of them.
Let baseball decide what to do with the McGwiring of its Hall. Does it want the likes of him in? Does it want users like him out?
I have an opinion. Of course I do. McGwire would get my vote next year, if I were still voting, only because steroids were legal by baseball's flimsy standard of his time.
Who can say with any accuracy who was using steroids and when? So this is the final baseball ballot that's a headache only in deciphering numbers, production, standards. The big question is deciding if either Rice or Dawson belong.
They have matching careers in many respects. Both were Rookies of the Year. Both were league MVPs. Both went to eight All-Star games. Rice hit for a better average (.298 to .279), but Dawson hit for more power (438 home runs to 382).
You can throw in goodies to either side, like Rice's numbers being inflated for hitting at Boston's Fenway Park and Dawson having his knees destroyed on Montreal's concrete field. For added measure you could mention how Dawson simply handed the Chicago Cubs a blank check and told them to fill in the numbers. Who wouldn't be swayed a little by that?
It's a classic Hall debate. It's fun. It's furious. And on my ballot it's ultimately decided that Dawson gets in and Rice doesn't because of speed and defense. Dawson won eight Gold Gloves in right field (Rice won no Gold Gloves and spent serious time as a designated hitter). Dawson also stole 314 bases (Rice 58).
So that's my ballot: Blyleven, John, Sutter and Dawson.
Disagreeing is allowed. Arguing is encouraged. Just don't expect this column next year.