Tuesday, December 23, 2014

My Hall of Fame ballot ... and my new steroid policy

When I sat down to fill out my annual Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, I knew one thing for certain:

The 10th box I checked next to an ex-ballplayer's name would be merely a symbolic choice.

Each Baseball Writers Association of America voter can make only 10 selections in a given year ... and I have a better chance of shooting a 72 at Pebble Beach than any player I considered for that final choice has of getting into the Hall.

So it came down to this:

Do I vote for a guy who had a very good career and was considered a credit to the game, or do I vote for a guy who I'm pretty sure cheated? Or do I just stop at 9? (Voters don't have to vote for 10. Heck, we don't have to choose anybody, and several of my peers turn in blank ballots every year.)

Why do I know my vote won't really matter? Because after the top few candidates, none will come close to getting support from 75% of the BBWAA electorate. It's kind of like voting for the Libertarian or Green Party candidate -- you know he or she has no chance of winning, so you do it because it feels good or to make a statement.

My choices came down to Barry Bonds, who was convicted of obstruction of justice in connection with his long-time steroid use; Roger Clemens, who was named as a steroid cheat in the Mitchell Report but was found innocent of lying to Congress about his juicing; and Alan Trammell, a good guy and good player who helped usher in the modern era of offensive-minded shortstops.

Unlike some of my colleagues, I will consider Bonds and Clemens because I firmly believe they were Hall of Fame players even before they allegedly began juicing. However, in the absence of firm Steroid Era guidance from the Hall or the BBWAA, I recently established my own policy:

++ If a player is the subject of completely unsubstantiated rumors (think Frank Thomas, who some thought "must be on steroids because he's so big"), I will tune out the noise and consider him as early as his first year on the ballot.

++ If a player is the subject of steroid whispers that conceivably might have merit (think Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza), I will not consider him as a first-ballot candidate to see if any new information gets fleshed out. If, after a year of additional scrutiny no new information is presented, I will consider him beginning in his second year on the ballot.

++ 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.

++ If I am convinced that a player could not have compiled the stats that made him seem Hall-worthy without him having been a rampant juicer (think Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa), I will not vote for him.

So, under my steroid policy, Bonds and Clemens are ineligible for my serious consideration until I fill out my ballot two years from now.

That left me to decide between Trammell or no 10th choice at all.

I decided to go with Trammell. I know him, I like him and I respect the way he went to work day after day, month after month, season after season. He was a fine fielder whose bat had some pop, kind of a poor man's Cal Ripken Jr. He was the face of the Tigers franchise for 20 years. And he was the 1984 World Series MVP.

Let the record show that I have not voted for him in the past, and I'll say right now that I might not vote for him again next year, which will be his final turn on the ballot. I also will say that I could have voted for any number of other fine ex-ballplayers here, including Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Lee Smith, Jermaine Dye and Larry Walker. Like Trammell, none of them ever will get to 75%, either.

And so, here are the 10 players who received my check marks:

Jeff Bagwell

Craig Biggio

Randy Johnson

Pedro Martinez

Mike Mussina

Mike Piazza

Tim Raines

Curt Schilling

John Smoltz

Alan Trammell

Bagwell, Biggio, Mussina, Piazza, Raines and Schilling were holdovers from last year. Details about why I chose them can be found in my post from Dec. 24, 2013.

As for the three newbies -- Big Unit, Pedro and Smoltz -- I consider them to be such no-brainers that I don't feel it's necessary to justify selecting them. I can't imagine why any voter would leave any of them off his/her ballot.


In a related subject ...

One of my best friends in the business -- actually, like me, he is now out of the business -- decided not to cast a vote this year because he no longer felt he was qualified. I'm not going to name him because he didn't give me permission to do so. His reasoning, and I'm paraphrasing here, is that back when he was an active member of the media, he thought some voters who had become ex-sportswriters grew out of touch, and now he feared he would be that voter.

My response to him was that he would be that voter only if he let himself be that voter.

Speaking for myself, I still follow baseball closely and I still care about who gets into the Hall of Fame. In some ways, I can follow the game better now because I'm not almost exclusively watching Cubs and White Sox games.

Moreover, the guys who are coming up for vote now are the very players I witnessed first-hand during the prime of my career. I was there when John Smoltz dueled Jack Morris in the Game 7 of the the best World Series I've ever seen. I admired the brilliance of Pedro Martinez and the consistency of Craig Biggio. I didn't need to see the Big Unit in person to know he was a Hall of Famer ... but it didn't hurt.

Maybe, one day, I will feel I am too removed from the game to be an effective voter, but that day is a long way away.

I enjoy being part of what I consider a very effective process for choosing Hall of Famers. I take it seriously. And, frankly, I do a pretty darn good job.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

You hereby have permission to watch bowl games

I was looking for an old Copley Newspapers column I had written about Illinois basketball when I stumbled upon a 2004 rip-job I did on the Bowl Championship Series.

Back then, I vowed not to watch one second of any bowl game, including the mythical national championship game between USC and Oklahoma.

"The evening of Jan. 4, I will go to a high school basketball game, take my wife to a movie, play board games with my kids -- anything but watch a sham title game. I have been in this business for 22 years and have been a fan a lot longer than that, and I'm still waiting to hear one good reason why Division I-A football should be the only NCAA sport lacking an equitable way to crown a champion. And it's not just the title game. The entire system is a mess. A joke. A billion-dollar sham."

I concluded my diatribe with this:

"Don't watch bowls. Don't buy products sold by bowl sponsors. Show the sham artists exactly what you think by giving them the attention they deserve: none."

And with that, my Bowl Boycott began.

I'm not sure how many readers joined the boycott. Though a few claimed they would follow my lead, I know it's quite possible that not a single one did. But I was true to my word: For 10 years, I did not watch one minute of one bowl game. And I felt darn good about it.

Fast-forward a decade and here we are ... less than two weeks away from the start of the very first major-college football playoff. On New Year's Day, Oregon will meet Florida State in one semifinal at the Rose Bowl, followed by Alabama vs. Ohio State in the other semifinal at the Sugar Bowl. Eleven nights later, the winners will meet for the national title at the Dallas Cowboys' 100,000-seat Shrine To Wretched Excess.

We heard for more than a decade about how a legitimate playoff would ruin the regular season, undermine conference races and render league championships meaningless. We heard blather about "student-athletes" having to play too many games and about fans not being willing to travel for playoff contests. We heard that a legitimate championship would gut the entire bowl structure.

Not one of those excuses rang true at the time, and not one proved true in the end.

All the introduction of the playoff system did was make the regular season even MORE meaningful and make college football better than ever.

I still won't watch most of the three dozen bowl games that are little more than exhibitions. Really, unless one is a fan of North Carolina State or Central Florida, why would one watch the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl? Why, why, why?

But although I might not watch every minute of all three playoff games, I certainly will watch many minutes of each -- as will millions and millions and millions of others.

I'd have preferred an eight-team playoff, and I'm pretty sure there will be one down the line. Still, this four-team event is a darn good start.

Come Jan. 12, we will have the first-ever real (non-mythical), major-college football champion. Finally!

So from me to the rest of America, all I can say is ...

You're welcome!


Crazy as it seems, the Carolina Panthers, at 6-8-1, can make the playoffs by winning in Atlanta next Sunday. As a big-time Panthers fan, I actually thought for a second about going to the game, but I would have had to postpone my Chicago trip to do so.

Instead, I have put Ben in charge of finding a Chicago bar where we can watch the Panthers-Falcons game -- and, simultaneously, can watch that day's Marquette-Morgan State game (a.k.a "Most Definitely Not The Big One").

As tempting as it might be, meanwhile, I don't have great interest in watching Jimmy Clausen's second start for the mighty Bears against the mighty Vikings. Yeah ... I know ... it takes willpower to avoid that one.


My Scholars Academy Eagles won our last game before Xmas break by a 48-2 score. That's right:48-2! (As my son asked: "Hey, what happened to the shutout?")

The victory sent us into our nearly three-week layoff with a 6-1 record.

One thing I really love about my team is the camaraderie -- the girls genuinely like each other, pull for each other and pick each other up. We have more talent and depth than last year's team while still playing with our trademark aggressiveness and "want-to" attitude. These girls are winners.

The Eagles will be a force to be reckoned with in the second half of the season!


My latest article for the financial Web site SeekingAlpha.com -- It's New! It's Nifty! It's The Dividend Growth 50! -- has been incredibly well-received.

As I write this, it has 35,432 page views and 766 comments. Both are by far all-time highs for me.

Five of my last seven articles have been designated as "Editors' Picks," helping bring in a total of 3,273 followers.

Jeesh ... you'd almost think I was a writer or something!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Play to win ... and you just might do it!

My favorite play of this past NFL weekend was not a spectacular catch or an amazing run. It certainly wasn't either of the TWO punts the Panthers had blocked for touchdowns in their miserable loss at Minnesota.

It was this:

The Packers were leading the Patriots by 5 points with 2:28 to go when New England called its final time-out. Green Bay faced a third-and-4 at its own 43. If the Packers make the first down, it's game over. If they don't, they have to punt.

If Packers coach Mike McCarthy lets Aaron Rodgers attempt a pass and the ball falls incomplete, the clock will stop, giving Tom Brady more than enough time to break Packerland's collective heart.

Most coaches, even those with star QBs, would have run the ball, figuring: "If we get the first down, great. If not, the clock goes all the way to 2 minutes, we punt and they probably have to go more than 80 yards in less than 2 minutes with no time-outs. And they need a TD, not a field goal. It's the smart, safe play. Nobody can second-guess that decision."

McCarthy didn't do that. He trusted the best quarterback in the NFL to complete a pass. Whereas most coaches would have played not to lose, McCarthy played to win. He played with the intention of not letting Brady get his grubby hands on the football again.

Rodgers threw a perfect pass to Randall Cobb for a 7-yard gain. The cameras zoomed to Brady on the New England sideline and showed Mr. Perfect screaming the same four-letter profanity three times.

After the 2 minute warning, Rodgers took a knee three times, and Packerland partied as if it were 1967 (or at least 2011).


After a long Thanksgiving break, my Scholars Academy Eagles are back in action this week.

Last season, we lost a total of nine times to four teams. We got revenge against one of those teams in the playoffs, coming back for a thrilling victory against St. Michael's. In our second game this season, we got revenge against the team that beat us three times in 2013-14, thrashing St. Anne's 36-18. Our next two games (Tuesday and Thursday) are against the other two teams that owned us last season, and I'm looking forward to seeing where we stack up.

Unfortunately, our All-Conference center Celeste sprained her ankle during the Thanksgiving break and can't play Tuesday. She will be very difficult to replace, but we are a stronger, deeper team this year and I'll be leaving for practice in a few minutes to prepare the team to play without her.

If we score a monumental upset, it will be because the girls rose to the occasion.

If we don't ... fire the coach!