There are multiple options available to those forced to cut their ballot down to ten. Perhaps the most obvious path is to choose the ten players you think were the best of the bunch. That might involve leaving off players who could really use your vote though. What I mean is, Ken Griffey Jr. is going to be elected this year whether he gets my (imaginary) vote or not, so perhaps, even though he's incredibly deserving, maybe it's better to support a candidate who's not a sure thing? You might want to target guys who have a chance at getting inducted, but are far from a lock. You might want to target players who are in danger of falling off the ballot completely, without ever getting a real look. That's exactly what happened to Kenny Lofton a couple years back. I think he belongs in the HOF, but with the ballot so crowded, and PED stuff dominating the discussion, Lofton missed the 5% cutoff and that was that.
In the end I'd go with a mixture of the two.
Here's what my ballot would look like:
- Barry Bonds
- Roger Clemens
The best position player and the best pitcher of the last 50 years. Count me among those who find it incredibly stupid to keep them out of the Hall of Fame.
- Ken Griffey Jr.
He doesn't need my vote, but he'd get it. I'm not one of those misguided souls who thinks it's important that no one ever gets in unanimously, and I wouldn't be a part of keeping Griffey from becoming the first (even though I know he won't).
- Jeff Bagwell
- Mike Piazza
- Tim Raines
These are the three players I think could get in (Griffey definitely will get in.) this year, but might not, which in many ways makes them the most important ones to support. Piazza received 70% support last year, and players who reach that level almost always bump up to above the 75% needed in the following year. Bagwell received 56% support last year, Raines received 55%. It's very rare that a player makes the kind of jump it would take to go from those figures to 75% the next year, but the BBWAA took the ballot away from dozens of members who haven't actually covered baseball for years and years, and I suspect that will allow some players to see bigger jumps than usual. I think Bagwell will end up a little short, at 70-72%, with Raines a bit behind him, at 66-68%. Those numbers wouldn't put them in, but would put them in great shape to get in next year. That's especially important for Raines, because next year will be his final year on the ballot.
Now we reach the point where the players who were so good I can't fathom not voting for them, and the players who might get in this year are all covered. The remaining guys have zero chance of getting in this year (and in most cases, have zero chance of ever getting in through the BBWAA, which makes this exercise somewhat futile, but hey!).
- Mike Mussina
- Curt Schilling
I think these two might be the next best players on the ballot. They are both really underrated, in part because many still view 300 wins as the mark of a great starting pitcher, and in part because they pitched in the same era as Clemens, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, and Pedro Martinez, four of the dozen or so best starting pitchers in baseball history. If your standard is those guys, there are a ton of pitchers you're going to need to kick out of Cooperstown.
- Mark McGwire
- Alan Trammell
I don't know that these two are the next best players, but for each of them this is it on the ballot. They are each exhausting their years of eligibility with the BBWAA, and so after next month they'll be forced to wait for some sort of Veterans Committee to examine their case. Both of them are guys I think belong in the Hall. McGwire wasn't just home runs, he also got on base at an elite clip. He was also the centerpiece of one of the most enjoyable baseball seasons on the books. Trammell wasn't quite elite at anything, instead he was very good at a lot of things. He was also the first baseball player I ever felt like I'd discovered was a lot better than most people seemed to think, something I discovered during a summer of examining the baseball encyclopedia I'd gotten for Christmas the year before. Neither of these two has a chance with the BBWAA, but in the last year I could, I'd support them both.
I expect that most of the guys on my hypothetical ballot will be enshrined eventually, but some of them are going to have to wait decades, which is a shame. One or two of them probably won't ever make it, which is a bigger shame.