Eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America were required to submit their Hall of Fame ballots by Dec. 31. I mailed in mine a week early, figuring the career stats of each candidate weren't going to change.
There's no perfect ballot. Voters will be criticized for playing morality police and excluding candidates who were linked to performance-enhancing drugs. They will be criticized for including cheaters.
Can't please everyone.
The BBWAA and Hall of Fame allow a maximum of 10 votes, which isn't an issue most years. However, the arrival of first-timers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Jeff Kent and Mike Mussina caused some deserving players to be excluded.
For example, Lee Smith dropped off my ballot this year. He was the all-time saves leader at one point and still ranks third with 478, but I didn't have room for him. And yes, I'm aware that lots of fans and voters say that he shouldn't have been on it anyway. I happen to disagree.
Smith received 47.8 percent of the votes in his 12th year of eligibility, well short of the 75 percent required for induction.
I'm still not including PED guys, though that may change in the future. I have no idea. It's an issue that many of us wrestle with each winter.
It pains me to exclude Rafael Palmeiro, one of only four players with 500 homers and 3,000 hits, but he tested positive and served a suspension.
Palmeiro received only 8.8 percent of the votes last year, and anything below 5 percent will drop him off the ballot. It's quite possible that he disappears, given the batch of new first-timers.
The BBWAA's rules for election includes the following: "Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the team(s) on which the player played."
I'm not going to penalize Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza because they don't "look right" and were subjected to rumors and speculation. And again, I understand how this leads to more debate and criticism.
OK, here's my ballot. The winners will be announced Jan. 8:
Maddux was the easy one. If he isn't unanimous, it's a crime. And he won't be unanimous because certain BBWAA members simply refuse to vote for a player who's on the ballot for the first time. It's ludicrous.
I didn't include Morris in previous years, but I've been swayed. He was my final choice in his 15th and final year on the ballot.
Martinez gets shot down by others for "only being a DH." He won five Silver Slugger Awards, won two batting titles, led the American League in on-base percentage three times and finished in the top five in 10 different seasons, twice led the league in doubles, and led in RBIs in 2000. He hit .300 or better in 10 full seasons and drove in 100 or more runs six times. He's one of only 10 players in history with 300 homers, 500 doubles, a career average above .300, a career OBP higher than .400 and a career slugging percentage higher than .500.
My most painful omissions, in no particular order, are Smith, Jeff Kent, Curt Schilling, Alan Trammel and Larry Walker. I won't lose any sleep over Armando Benitez, Ray Durham, Jacque Jones, Todd Jones and Paul Lo Duca.
For once, I needed more than 10 votes. And imagine what happens next year with Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz becoming eligible.