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SportsColumnistsSteve Popper

Steve Popper's Baseball Hall of Fame ballot for the Class of 2020

Derek Jeter of the Yankees looks on before

Derek Jeter of the Yankees looks on before a game against the Cubs during the second game of a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium on April 16, 2014. Credit: Jim McIsaac

I won’t be one of those who make Derek Jeter the lone candidate voted for on the BBWAA 2020 Hall of Fame ballot, but for the first time since I’ve been voting, I won’t fill all 10 spots.

With the large induction class last season, spots have cleared, and even without filling all 10 possible votes, it does create room for players who have been passed over in recent years. And that’s why my ballot will include one first-time nominee, six holdovers and one who I had not voted for previously.

Before I had a vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame, it was easy to engage in the arguments about steroids and statistics. But when you hold that ballot in your hands, as I have for the last six years, it becomes a much tougher debate with yourself.

The most pressing issue is steroids, the one that Major League Baseball and the Hall of Fame never settled, leaving it in the hands of voters. And my line has been this: If a player was proved to be a user, suspended or banned, he is out.

Based on conversations with baseball officials over the years, there is a belief that a huge percentage of players were using, so maybe I will lower that bar someday, allowing players such as twice-suspended Manny Ramirez onto my ballot.

The other parameter with steroids: If I believe many were using, how did the player compare with his peers before or during the time that PEDs were thought to be pervasive?

By that rule, I never have filled out a ballot that didn’t include Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Most everyone believes their claims of innocence are false, but they also were dominant players before and during the steroid era.

But it’s not the only issue as you combine advanced statistical analysis, comparisons with current and past players and even the eye test about how dominant the player was in his time.

One tough debate is over certain positions — relief pitchers and designated hitters. With relievers, do you give credit to saves, the traditional measurement, or the more reliable analytics — two ideas that separate Billy Wagner from Hall of Famers Trevor Hoffman and Lee Smith.

So here’s what I came up with this year:  

THE FIRST-TIMER

Derek Jeter

It’s amazing that there is an acrimonious debate over Jeter with some believing he should be a unanimous choice — and in a less crowded ballot, he may be — and others considering him an overrated defensive liability. The facts, though: he has more hits than any shortstop or full-time infielder in history and the sixth-most in MLB history, led the Yankees to five championships and was a steady and smart shortstop even if critics peck away at his range and advanced metrics. An easy choice, although a strange one, like Mariano Rivera last year, to crack through the unanimous barrier.

THE HOLDOVERS

Barry Bonds  

The best hitter before, during and after suspicion of PEDs. It’s impossible to vote for anyone suspected if you don’t vote for Bonds.  

Roger Clemens

Like Bonds, Clemens was dominant at every level. He got better late, and that raises red flags, but he was so good early, too.  

Scott Rolen

Consistent hitter and fielder with numbers that put him right with Hall of Fame third basemen.  

Curt Schilling

No matter what he’s done to embarrass himself after his career, he was as good as anyone in big spots. So for another year, I hold my nose and vote for him.

Billy Wagner  

Wagner doesn’t have the saves, but that’s the worst stat for a reliever. Best BAA, WHIP and K/9 of any pitcher in history.  

Larry Walker

Second straight season on my ballot as he is now in the final year of his eligibility. Walker’s all-around play trumps the Coors Field effect.

THE ADDITION

Andruw Jones

A 10-time Gold Glove winner in centerfield for the Braves, he was not just an elite defender, but also a powerful hitter. His candidacy has been hurt by injuries that cut his career short and caused him to drastically fall off after age 31. He was a near-miss, but in a less crowded year he should garner more support.

The breakdown

Slam dunk: Derek Jeter, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens.

Solid picks: Larry Walker, Scott Rolen.

Borderline yes: Curt Schilling, Billy Wagner, Andruw Jones.

Borderline left off: Omar Vizquel, Jeff Kent, Andy Pettitte, Gary Sheffield.

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