Seven of my 10 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot slots were easy to fill.
There are the six guys I voted for in the past who are still trying to join baseball's most exclusive club: Jeff Bagwell, Mike Mussina, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling and Alan Trammell. You can read the cases I made for them in previous years here and here.
There is this year's no-brainer newcomer: Ken Griffey Jr. He is such an obvious Hall of Famer that I won't waste my time and yours explaining why.
Beyond that, I had a lot to think about.
First, there are Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Last year, I wrote this:
If a player likely was a steroid cheat but all available evidence showed that he had a Hall-worthy body of work before the juicing began (think Bonds and Clemens), I will consider him but only beginning with his fifth year on the ballot. I want to allow plenty of time before checking that box.
This is Year 4 for both and I actually considered voting for them after Bonds' obstruction of justice conviction was overturned. But I decided my heart wouldn't be broken if they had to wait one more year, and I'm sticking to my five-year rule.
So the two players whose candidacies are really rattling around in my mind are ballot newcomers Trevor Hoffman and Jim Edmonds.
Hoffman is an interesting case. The only thing he really has going for him is the save statistic -- he had 601, behind only Mariano Rivera -- and most of us know how flawed that stat is. You come into a 5-2 game with nobody on in the ninth inning and you get a save? Whoop-de-do.
Hoffman was a classic "stat-compiler." He pitched forever, so he had lots of saves. He racked up 119 saves during his final four seasons pitching not so great (3.51 ERA, 1.118 WHIP, 12-20 record) for lousy teams. Unlike truly dominant relievers such as Goose Gossage or Bruce Sutter or Rollie Fingers or Rivera, he rarely was asked to get more than three outs. Unlike Dennis Eckersley and John Smoltz, Hoffman couldn't hack it as a starter.
I have read articles that convincingly argue that Billy Wagner, another first-timer on the ballot, was the better reliever. And I'm not voting for Wagner, either. Hoffman is a borderline case, and he's not crossing my border this year.
Now let's go to Edmonds.
When a friend asked me a few weeks ago about Edmonds, my knee-jerk reaction was "no way." But then I remembered all of his amazing catches and I decided to look into his career more closely.
He ranks in the top 60 all-time in slugging percentage, OPS and HRs. He was a hard-nosed, valuable player for some outstanding Cardinals teams, including the 2006 champions. At age 38, he was still an extremely valuable player for the division-winning Cubs, driving in 49 runs in only 250 at-bats after they picked him up during the season.
I believe ballplayers deserve recognition for the long, outstanding stretches of their careers. For me, Edmonds gets plaudits for his 11-season stretch with the Angels and Cardinals in which his WAR was third in all of baseball behind only Bonds and Alex Rodriguez. And unlike Bonds and A-Rod, there were no serious steroid allegations. During those 11 seasons, Edmonds averaged 30 HRs, slugged .554 and won eight Gold Gloves.
Oh, and in 64 postseason games, Edmonds, had 13 HRs, 42 RBIs and a .513 slugging percentage.
And you can't talk about Edmonds without spending plenty of time talking about his all-out, life-or-limb defense at an important position. Did any center fielder who played in the '90s and '00s produce more highlight-reel catches? He was on SportsCenter more than Chris Berman was. Among CFs since 1954, he ranks in the top 20 in assists, putouts and double plays. His "Ultimate Zone Rating" was eighth all-time among CFs, and his arm was rated second-best ever at the position. But if you spent any time watching him, you didn't need all those new-fangled metrics to know you were watching an amazing outfielder.
If we can enshrine Ozzie Smith mostly because of his defensive prowess at shortstop, we can't give Edmonds serious props because of his defensive prowess in center field ... AND his 393 HRs AND his .527 slugging percentage and his .903 OPS?
Despite all of that, I have a feeling that Edmonds will not get much love among my BBWAA voting peers, and I simply think he was too good a player to be 1-and-done. So I feel doubly good about giving him my vote.
Here, then, are the eight players who received check marks next to their names on my 2016 Hall of Fame ballot:
Ken Griffey Jr.
And speaking of the Hall of Fame ...
I agree wholeheartedly with MLB commissioner Rob Manfred's decision to keep Pete Rose out of the game. Rose gambled on baseball when he was the Reds' manager, lied about it for years and years, finally admitted to doing some of it but still lied about the depth of his gambling activity, and only begrudgingly admitted more about it after being caught in lies again.
For a long time, I believed that Rose should be kept out of baseball for his gambling as a manager but that he should be eligible for the Hall of Fame because there had been no credible evidence that he had gambled as a player.
Earlier this year, however, ESPN's Behind the Lines did produce credible evidence that Rose did bet on baseball during his playing days.
Given that I have every reason to believe the ESPN report and no reason to believe Rose -- a pathological liar and self-promoter -- I am very glad he has never eligible for enshrinement.