What once was a tremendous responsibility that brought joy and awe has degenerated into an exercise in frustration. But I'm not going to bore you with whining no matter what the Steroid Era has wrought, because let's be honest: Being entrusted with a Hall of Fame ballot remains a tremendous responsibility, no matter what.
So my 16th Hall of Fame ballot has been cast, and before I get into the names, there are a few things you should know.
I believe in full transparency and always have. To me, the Hall of Fame is the baseball version of the White House. It is the People's House. It belongs to baseball fans of all colors and creeds. I know how important this game always has been to me; my now-professional objectivity aside, I continually remind myself as I study the ballot of the thoughts and feelings I had as a fan long ago, before I ever got into this business.
That's why, each year, I view my vote much like that of a congressman or senator on Capitol Hill. I feel like my votes are cast not only for me, but on behalf of constituents, if you will: fans who love the game every bit as much as me but are without a Hall of Fame voice.
You might agree with my votes and deliver a standing ovation. You might disagree and deliver a Bronx cheer. Either way, I also believe this: Two people can have diametrically opposed beliefs on a player, with perfectly legitimate reasons supporting his or her position. That does not mean one of those people is a blithering (bleep) idiot (obscenity).
Which means now is a good time for a quick-hitting, one-paragraph explanation of the "exercise in frustration" part of the ballot that comes with today's voting—yes, the steroids part. I don't vote for those who have admitted use, nor for those who are buried under an avalanche of evidence. Is this right? I'm less certain every year. But I do know, whether we're talking Hall of Fame or President of the United States, every person must vote his or her conscience.
OK, let's extend that one paragraph into two (and I promise, it won't go three): There is right, and there is wrong, and I believe some all-time great players made some very wrong choices. There is no soapbox, nor holier-than-thou thinking here. I just can't personally reconcile voting for those men. Some of my closest friends in the business do vote for them. We've debated this probably more times than you've heard The Beatles' "Yesterday" on the radio in your entire life. And that's fine. I respect their reasons for checking the box next to, say, Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire. I just can't do it.
So that should tip you off as to the general tone of my ballot. No need to guess from here. With the Hall of Fame voting announcement set for Tuesday, here are the nine players I voted for this year.
So close last year, missing by two votes (he finished with 74.8 percent of the vote; you need 75 percent for election). He's 15th on baseball's all-time list of runs scored (1,844), 21st in hits (3,060) and is the only player in baseball history with at least 3,000 hits, 600 doubles, 400 steals and 250 homers. Versatile. Could beat you in so many different ways.
One of the baddest men ever on the mound, an automatic choice in his first year on the ballot. His 4,875 strikeouts are second all time, in case you're wondering.
I love the old Chief Justice Potter Stewart take on obscenity in a 1964 decision handed down by the Supreme Court: "I know it when I see it." In my fantasy Hall of Fame world, that's how I would vote each year. Forget numbers and comparisons and simply vote for players whose impact rises above everyone else, into the "I know a Hall of Famer when I see one" category.
But there are precious few of those guys. Kent definitely is not one of them. The eye test says he falls just a bit short. But I have a difficult time not voting for him when he was one of the most productive second basemen in history: His 351 career homers are the most ever by a second baseman, as are his eight seasons with at least 20 homers and 100 RBI.
He didn't reach 300 wins, like Johnson (not even close—Pedro was 219-100). But he nonetheless was one of the most dominant pitchers of his era. A three-time Cy Young winner, he also finished in the top five on four other occasions. Easy choice.
Here's the thing about the Crime Dog's 493 career homers: Because he overlapped with the Steroid Era, and by all appearances stayed clean, he disappeared quickly and quietly under a sea of artificially bloated numbers. His career was far better than he's generally given credit for. He ranks 43rd all time with 1,550 RBI.
More consistent than a metronome (11 seasons with 15 or more wins), Mussina finished with a career record of 270-153 and a 3.68 ERA. Pitching in the bloated AL East for his entire career, a veritable landmine of All-Star sluggers and high-salaried rivals, Mussina remained dominant enough that, for me, he earns the vote.
My friends in the sabermetric community long ago convinced me that Raines, one of the greatest leadoff hitters ever, is a no-brainer (though I think Jack Morris is a no-brainer, so we still don't agree on everything). Raines had a .385 career on-base percentage, and his 84.7 percentage on stolen bases (among those with 300 or more attempts) ranks second all time.
This side of Dennis Eckersley, nobody had the effect on the game both starting and closing that Smoltz did. A total of 213 wins and 154 saves, he anchored 13 division-title Atlanta clubs either as a rock in the rotation or as a dominant closer. He ranks 16th all time with 3,084 strikeouts, one of only 16 pitchers in history with 3,000 or more. I hear folks say he may not be a first-ballot Hall of Famer and I say, "Huh?"
I bang on the drum (just like Todd Rundgren) for Trammell annually, and sadly, he's down to just one more year after this until his 15 years on the ballot are up (Trammell, Don Mattingly and Lee Smith were grandfathered in when the Hall reduced a player's time on the ballot from 15 to 10 years this year; they all get 15 still).
In the 1980s, it was Cal Ripken, Robin Yount and Trammell who redefined expectations for a shortstop. Before them, good-glove, no-hit was acceptable. Ripken and Yount are in the Hall; Trammell should be.
Ask yourself this: Who would you have taken first as a shortstop during his era, Trammell or Ozzie Smith? Offensively, it's no contest: Trammell. Defensively, sure, Smith had the edge, but Trammell was a Gold Glover. It's a travesty that he doesn't get more support.
One significant change in voting this year is that the Hall of Fame's Board of Directors unilaterally moved to reduce the maximum length a player can stay on a ballot from 15 years to 10. There was no consultation whatsoever with the Baseball Writers' Association of America, which handles the voting, and that's troubling.
Though the Hall denies it, it feels and looks like the Board made the move to fast-track the controversial steroid players off the ballot sooner rather than later so that the subject recedes more quickly than it otherwise might. I'm not sure we've heard the end of this.
Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. He has over two decades of experience covering MLB, including 14 years as a national baseball columnist at CBSSports.com.
Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball @ScottMillerBbl.