Arrival of Hall of Fame ballots opens another round of endless debate

The holiday season has arrived, so that means turkey, wine and cheese, shopping, bright lights and a month of Hall of Fame voting discussions.

Members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America started receiving their ballots in the mail to consider the 2018 class for induction into Cooperstown.

There are 19 newcomers among the 33 players on the ballot, including Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Johnny Damon and Omar Vizquel. There are seven candidates that have at least 50 percent of the vote from past years.

Ballots have to be in by Dec. 31. A voter can select up to 10 players. In 2015, the BBWAA voted to expand the limit to 12, but the Hall of Fame said no.

The BBWAA also voted to make it mandatory that each voter make his selections public. The Hall of Fame again said no, although more than half of the voters will still make their ballots public via social media and columns.

A player needs 75 percent of the BBWAA vote to be elected.

There will be the usual questions about what constitutes a Hall of Famer: Voters will be celebrated, grilled and hammered.

It’s part of the fun, assuming the language doesn’t get nasty and personal, which it has in the past.

A voter has to be a BBWAA member for at least 10 years. In October, the Hall sends out a questionnaire to potential voters, making sure they have the proper credentials to vote.

An often-asked question has nothing to do with the players:

What does the ballot look like?

It’s nothing fancy.

The ballot is a white sheet of paper, 8 1/2 inches by 11 inches. It lists each of the players’ names in black type with a check box in front of their name. It arrives in the mail, folded twice.

There are instructions at the top and a line that the voter signs at the bottom.

A day before the January announcement, Jack O’Connell, the BBWAA secretary-treasurer, and a certified accountant, count the votes.

They do it over turkey sandwiches in an office building in Manhattan and then are sworn to secrecy until the Hall of Fame makes the announcement.

This is likely to be the fifth consecutive year the BBWAA has elected multiple candidates.

It likely that closer Trevor Hoffman, who missed by five votes last season with 601 saves, and outfielder Vladimir Guerrero will be make the necessary 75 percent this year.

Last year, Guerrero missed by 15 votes. He’s an MVP with 2,590 hits.

Is there any doubt that Thome and Jones are locks?

Thome, who spent a short time with the Orioles and spent most of his career with Cleveland and Philadelphia, hit 612 home runs without any suspicion of use performance-enhancing drugs.

Jones is an eight-time All-Star who played for the Atlanta Braves. He won a batting title in 2008 and an MVP award in 1999. He ranks among the top five for switch-hitters in home runs and hits.

Jones won the MVP with a .319-45-110 line. He hit .364 the year he won a batting title. He finished with 2,726 hits and 468 home runs.

An interesting case to watch will be Vizquel, a shortstop with 11 Gold Gloves and 2,877 hits. I think he’s a first-ballot guy.

Also, what should voters do with Johnny Damon, the defensively challenged outfielder and leadoff batter who has 2,769 hits and a World Series ring from the Red Sox and Yankees?

Another story to watch is DH Edgar Martinez, who defined the Seattle Mariners with a .312 career average and two batting titles.

This is his ninth year on the ballot. After 10 years, he goes to the Veterans Committee, a 16-member panel of Hall of Famer players, media members and team executives. Martinez would have to get 75 percent there, as well.

Martinez, as well as former Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina, should already be in. Those two guys, plus Alan Trammell, former shortstop for the Detroit Tigers, are the BBWAA’s biggest mistakes.

Martinez shouldn’t be snubbed simply because he was a DH. If that’s the case, do the voters reject David Ortiz in a few years?

Bonds and Clemens are also controversial, but seem to be going up each year in voting percentage.