HOF ballot breakdown: My hardest decision

Baseball Hall of Fame ballot brawl (4:47)

Early indications are that some "Steroid Era" players could be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this year. Murray Chass, a Hall of Fame voter who turned in a blank ballot and ESPN's Claire Smith join OTL to discuss the issue. (4:47)

Wednesday marks the big announcement of the Baseball Hall of Fame's Class of 2017 -- one that will likely bring both controversy and critique. After all 17 ESPN voters revealed their ballots on Monday, a few weigh in on the toughest decisions and what tipped the scales.

Bottom of the ballot: Who made the cut and who didn't?

Jayson Stark: First off, I hate the rule of 10, which allows voters to vote for only 10 candidates. Hate it. It's an illogical, short-sighted rule that is causing many of us to cast ballots we can't feel good about. But because that rule exists, I didn't consider just two candidates for the last spot on my ballot. I considered six. But in the end, my choice came down to Mike Mussina, whom I voted for, versus three players I've voted for in the past -- Billy Wagner, Larry Walker and Fred McGriff.

If I could just vote "YES" or "NO," which is how the Hall should want us to vote, every one of those names would be a "YES." I find it illogical to vote for Trevor Hoffman but not Wagner. Or for Edgar Martinez but not McGriff or Walker. Then again, I also think it's illogical to vote for Curt Schilling but not Mussina. But that's the mess I faced.

So which illogical decision was I going to find a way to avoid? I wound up checking Mussina's name because I now am forced to look at the bottom of my ballot as an exercise in ballot management. And if I was going to cast one vote for the guy with the best chance of getting elected, that had to be Mussina, the only name on my list who was more than halfway to election last year. Remember, in a system that requires 75 percent for election, it takes three "yes" votes to cancel out every non-vote. I couldn't lay that burden on Mussina. And didn't.

Jerry Crasnick: I knew some people would look at my ballot and say, "Why Trevor Hoffman and not Billy Wagner -- or Lee Smith?'' It's a valid question. But I simply wasn't ready to pick three closers when I had only 10 spots available. I realize that Wagner bests Hoffman in career WHIP, ERA, strikeouts per inning and any number of categories, but I ultimately decided to go with Hoffman's longevity and consistency over an 18-year period. While Hoffman's 601 career saves helped his cause, that number was one of many factors that contributed to my decision.

Scott Lauber: I voted for the maximum 10 candidates. My 10th pick was Billy Wagner, with Trevor Hoffman coming in at No. 11. I'm still grappling with the best way to judge closers, but I'm sure that saves aren't the best measure. Among pitchers with 800 career innings pitched, Wagner ranks first all time in opponents' batting average and strikeout rate and second in WHIP. Longevity was the biggest knock on Wagner, which is why he finished with fewer saves than Hoffman. But I thought Wagner was dominant enough for long enough to be HOF-worthy.

Tim Kurkjian: My 10th choice was Trevor Hoffman, My 11th was Manny Ramirez. The deciding factor was Ramirez's PED connections -- two suspensions, etc. -- after MLB started testing.

Most controversial decision? And how do you explain yourself when you're feeling the heat?

Crasnick: Curt Schilling has been a lightning rod for controversy because of his political views and the furor surrounding his tweet about the lynching of journalists. I have issues with many of the sentiments he's expressed publicly. But I think his numbers are Hall of Fame-worthy, and I have a hard time punishing him for a failure to live up to the character clause when he won the Roberto Clemente Award, the Branch Rickey Award and just about every major "character'' award available during his 20 seasons in the big leagues. I'm voting for Schilling the pitcher -- not Schilling the provocateur who continues to make waves 10 years after his retirement.

Stark: In another year, a vote for Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens would have set off a social media brush fire. But this year, it felt as if Curt Schilling was the biggest lightning rod. I'm well aware of how many writers have stopped voting for him, based almost exclusively on a bunch of social media posts that came a decade after he threw his last pitch. But I can't vote that way.

It's the Hall of Fame. It's not the Hall of Twitter. So if I'm voting on Schilling the baseball player, how was this guy not a Hall of Famer? Hall of Famers are dominators, and Schilling was a dominator for a decade and a half. One of the great October pitchers of all time. Owner of the greatest strikeout-walk ratio of all time. And if it weren't for two historic seasons by Randy Johnson and another by Johan Santana, he'd have won THREE Cy Youngs.

So the only reason not to vote for Schilling is because we don't like his tweets? Who the heck cares what he tweets now, as a private citizen? Let's judge his character and integrity at the time he pitched. Even then, he could be headstrong, outspoken and far from universally beloved. But every time he took the baseball, he was 100 percent prepared and totally committed to being great, from first pitch to last. That was the character I was judging in this guy. And what would I say to anyone who disagrees? It's America. And it's sports. We're supposed to disagree.

Lauber: Leaving off Manny Ramirez seemed to generate the most buzz on my Twitter feed. On his talent and merits, Manny might well be the greatest right-handed hitter I have ever seen/covered. For me, though, it's simple: Test positive for PEDs and serve a suspension during the drug-testing era (post-2003), no Hall of Fame. Manny tested positive twice. That puts him in a decidedly different category than Bonds, Clemens or any of the other controversial steroid era players and, at least in my mind, disqualifies him from a Hall of Fame vote.

Mark Saxon: My least-popular omission was a lot like my most popular commission. I left off Trevor Hoffman for the same reason I included Jeff Kent. Your job matters. As great as Hoffman was, he pitched about 1,000 innings over 17 years. That's way less than half of what a Hall of Fame starter would work. My problem with inducting relievers, and I'll acknowledge my stance has evolved over the years, is that they're just not out there competing enough for their teams. For me, it takes extraordinary greatness to become a Hall of Fame reliever, and Mariano Rivera has the postseason bling that Hoffman doesn't. Kent benefits from the fact that he played a position that traditionally has featured a lot of weak hitters. He was among the most powerful second basemen of all time, putting him in a similar category as Mike Piazza. You have to weigh the fact that his team got middle-of-the-order production from a position that typically has No. 8 hitters playing there. Like I said, I think your job matters. It's a highly specialized sport.