Normally, the arrival by mail of the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot in early December causes some anxious moments for the voters.
In speaking to players over the course of the past 25 years, there is no greater individual honour, certainly none that the players covet more, than a spot in Cooperstown.
Many of them don't realize it until their careers are finished. Perhaps it's because eligibility only happens when a player is five years removed from the game, long after the cheers have faded. Time brings perspective and, along with it, an appreciation and an understanding of what an honour the Hall of Fame presents.
There are some 550 voters all over North America who annually wrestle with the difficult decisions that have to be made. Cooperstown is the toughest to get in to of all the halls of fame.
There is often a fine distinction between yes and no. A bad "yes" devalues the standards. A bad "no" deprives a player of his rightful place.
That's why it's normally a struggle. This year, however, not so much.
It would be a shock if any of the first time candidates even came close to election this year. The top names among those newly eligible are Albert Belle, Dwight Gooden, Orel Hershiser and Will Clark. It's difficult to make a serious case for any of them.
When the results of the vote (deadline was Dec. 31) are announced on Jan. 10, it's even possible that no one will be elected.
If that does happen, though, it will mean that some very deserving holdover candidates who for one reason or another have been overlooked through the years, will never get in.
We're talking about Jim Rice, Andre Dawson, Jack Morris, Bruce Sutter, Goose Gossage and Bert Blyleven. There are others who are close, like Lee Smith, Dave Parker, Tommy John and Steve Garvey, but they are long shots at best.
Depending upon the number of ballots cast, a 75% majority is necessary for election. Last year, for example, 516 ballots were received, so 387 votes were required for election.
Sutter, who invented the split-finger pitch that is in virtually every big-time pitcher's repertoire, has been on the ballot 13 years. Last year, he garnered the most votes of the also-rans with 344 or 66.7% He was the prototypical relief ace and even though his 300 career saves rank well down the list now, he was the premier closer of his time.
Similarly, Rice is on the ballot for the 12th year. He had 307 votes last year. The Red Sox slugger was just about the most-feared hitter in the American League in the 1980s, leading the league in homers three times while maintaining a .298 career batting average. It has been surmised that his rocky relationship with the media has made the difference between yes and no on induction to Cooperstown.
Dawson, but for his .279 career batting average, probably has the best credentials. He hit 438 homers and stands 21st on the career extra-base hit list with 1,039. Of the 20 men ahead of him on that list, all but three are in the Hall. Those three are Pete Rose, Rafael Palmeiro and Barry Bonds, none of whom has been eligible for election.
Morris is on the ballot for the seventh year but received only 170 votes last year. Despite the fact that he won more games than any other pitcher in the 1980s, he has been hurt by his own bulldog nature. He started 527 games in his career and soaked up innings like a sponge, averaging better than seven innings per start over his 18-year career.
Blyleven fell just short (287) of the magic 300-win plateau, which has probably kept him out of the Hall. His career stats are impressive: Fifth in strikeouts, eighth in starts, ninth in shutouts, and seventh in innings pitched.
STRUCK TOTAL FEAR
Gossage was the dominant closer in the American League in the late '70s and early '80s. Few pitchers in history have struck such total fear in the hearts of hitters as did this guy. He finished with 310 saves over a 22-year career.
I have voted faithfully for all those candidates, year after year, and will continue to do so.
But the reality is, if they can't get in this year, in the face of virtually no fresh opposition, then it just isn't going to happen.