|On the HOF ballot for a 13th time, Morris received 53.5 percent of the vote last year. (Getty Images)|
The Hall of Fame election isn't like other elections.
It's not about judging candidates against each other. It's about setting a standard, and then judging every candidate against that standard.
There are 10 spots on the ballot. It's been years since I needed that many.
It's not Barry Larkin or Alan Trammell, because I can vote for both. Or for neither.
A year ago, it was neither. This year, it's both.
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And yes, you're due an explanation.
Trammell's numbers are the same as they were last year. Larkin's too.
Trammell gets no extra credit for his work as bench coach on a Diamondbacks team that made a surprising run to the playoffs. Larkin didn't become a better candidate because of his work on TV.
Players don't stay on the ballot for a maximum of 15 years because their qualifications change. They stay there because the way we judge those qualifications can change.
Sometimes that happens because people judge stats differently. That's why Bert Blyleven finally won election last year (although without my vote).
This year, I'm changing for a different reason. I'm switching because I looked at my ballot and decided my bar for admission was just slightly too high, and needed adjusting.
A year ago, after eliminating steroid-tainted candidates for reasons I won't repeat here (but that you're welcome to read here), my ballot had just two names: Roberto Alomar and Jack Morris.
Alomar got in, with 90 percent of the votes (75 percent is the minimum needed for election). Morris didn't, with 53.5 percent.
There are 13 first-time names on the ballot this year. I don't see any of them as having Hall of Fame credentials.
And I'm not ready to change my steroid policy yet (although I do plan to review it every year).
Given all that, I realized soon after Alomar's election that I'd be faced with two choices: Turn in a ballot with only Morris' name checked, or recalibrate the bar for what I consider to be a Hall of Famer.
And I was faced with this question: In the era represented by all the players on the ballot (basically anyone retired for five-plus years and not in the Hall yet), am I really saying that only one more player deserves to get in?
By lowering the bar just slightly -- but not more than that -- I could include Trammell and Larkin, two outstanding players with fine Hall of Fame resumes that I found just slightly wanting in the past. By lowering it just a little more, I could also consider voting for players like Edgar Martinez and Tim Raines.
Fine players, all of them. Outstanding players, even.
But do they belong in the Hall of Fame, which should be reserved for the best of the best?
In the end, I said yes on Larkin and Trammell, no (for now) on the rest.
My ballot this year had three names checked: Larkin, Trammell and Morris.
As always, that doesn't mean I hate the others or think that they weren't good players. The line between very good and great has to be drawn somewhere, and I choose to draw it very high -- but just a tiny bit lower than I did last year.
I'm happy to finally vote for Trammell, who I've known well for more than 20 years, and who I like and respect. Because of that, he was always the hardest name for me to leave off my ballot.
I also no longer need to answer the tough question that was always posed to me by Trammell's strongest supporters: "In the prime of their careers, would you have traded Alan Trammell for Ozzie Smith straight up?"
I'm happy to vote for Larkin, who I don't know nearly as well but also respect greatly.
It feels right to vote for Trammell and Larkin together, because they had such similar careers.
Trammell played 20 years for the Tigers, and never played for another team; Larkin played 19 seasons, all with the Reds.
Trammell could have (should have?) won the American League MVP in 1987, and was the World Series MVP in 1984; Larkin was the National League MVP in 1995 and hit .353 in his only World Series.
Larkin hit a few more career home runs (198, to Trammell's 185); Trammell had a few more RBI (1,003, to Larkin's 960).
I didn't feel comfortable voting for one without the other last year, and I left both of them off.
This year, I feel comfortable voting for both, along with Morris, who I have voted for in each of his 13 years on the ballot.
And with that, this year's ballot is done. On to next year, when Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and others join the list of eligibles, making the steroid question even more relevant.