The window is closing for Lee Smith to get into the Hall of Fame, and chances are he will fall far short again this year and next, ending his 15 years on the ballot.
But for the 14th straight year Smith will get my vote, along with sure thing first-ballot inductee Ken Griffey Jr. and Tim Raines.
Three players are the fewest I have checked on a Hall ballot that some have complained the limit of 10 needs to be expanded because of all the worthy candidates these days. But my reluctance to include more can be blamed on the Steroid Era, and obviously my own stubbornness on what constitutes a Hall of Famer.
I'm guessing Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza and Trevor Hoffman will be inducted in July along with Griffey, and if so, congrats to them. But I never thought of Bagwell as one of the all-time greats when he played, and many other sluggers overshadowed him during his prime. Hoffman ranks second in total saves to Mariano Rivera, but does he really deserve to get in before Smith, who was the career leader in saves from 1993-2005?
Billy Wagner, who is also on the ballot for the first time, was a more dominant closer to me than Hoffman, his peer. Yet both pitched in an era when the one-inning save was the norm while Smith often had to work longer to get the job done. If Smith had been a contemporary of theirs, I have no doubt his save totals would be much higher.
This will be my ninth year voting for Raines, one of the all-time great leadoff hitters. He has increased his vote totals from 24.3 percent in 2008, his first year on the ballot, to 55 percent last year. At this rate Raines eventually would have made it by the time his 15 years of eligibility were up. But with the rules change in 2014, he now has only 10 years, meaning one more year on the ballot.
Griffey should be a unanimous pick, of course, but won't because some Hall of Fame voters are even more stubborn than me, believe it or not.