Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET, the Baseball Writers Association of America will publish the official slate of candidates on the ballot for the 2014 Hall of Fame class, to be inducted in a ceremony early next year. Writers, fans, and other media organs at large will begin the latest installment of the baseball offseason's biggest annual circus: the Hall of Fame debates.

Selecting who goes into the Hall of Fame is unquestionably the most prestigious and important tradition in the world of baseball journalism, and is a well-deserved feather in the cap of any industry veteran with enough seniority to qualify for a vote. The conversation about who should or should not go into the Hall, however -- and by extension, the conversation about what the Hall of Fame actually means and stands for -- goes far beyond the confines of the BBWAA's membership rolls, however. This is why so many people will spend so many words on the career accomplishments of men long retired between now and when the 2014 inductees are announced in a few months' time, even though many of them won't have any say in who those players are.

While most of the talk -- the grumbling, really -- has so far been directed at players and pitchers returning to the ballot, this year's class is most interesting for the massive influx of new, great players from the late nineties and early aughts that have all become eligible at the same time.

This is something of a problem. By rule, a Hall of Fame ballot can only list up to ten names -- and the group of newly eligible players is so star-studded that a reasonable voter could close in on this ceiling just picking from the list of players on the ballot for the first time. This is one of the biggest reasons the notoriously empty class of 2013 was such a disappointment last winter: it was the final chance the voters had to get some players already on the ballot that deserved enshrinement into the Hall ahead of the incoming bottleneck. Don't believe me? Let's take a look at this year's first-timers.

To be eligible for the 2014 ballot, a player must have been active on a MLB team roster and have appeared in a game in at least 10 different seasons, some part of which must have fallen into the period of 1993 and 2008, and they must have been retired for five full years. A ten-year veteran who retired before the 2009 season would be eligible; a ten-year veteran who did not play in the 2009 season, returned for 2010 and then retired would have his eligibility clock reset to the 2016 class. This obviously covers a vast number of ballplayers, many of whom have no reason to even be considered for the hall -- which is why a screening committee exists. An eligible first-time candidate will appear on the ballot with two votes of confidence from this six-member committee. The only other constraint on eligibility is that the player cannot be on Major League Baseball's ineligible list. (Hi, Pete!)

Baseball-Reference has a handy list of candidates who are eligible to appear on their first MLB ballot, which I've reproduced here:

Moises Alou
Geoff Jenkins
Hideo Nomo
Armando Benitez
Todd Jones
Ricardo Rincon
Joe Borowski
Jeff Kent
Kenny Rogers
Sean Casey
Jon Lieber
Richie Sexson
Ray Durham
Esteban Loaiza
J.T. Snow
Damion Easley
Paul Lo Duca
Shannon Stewart
Shawn Estes
Greg Maddux
Frank Thomas
Keith Foulke
Kent Mercker
Mike Timlin
Eric Gagne
Matt Morris
Jose Vidro
Tom Glavine
Mike Mussina
Dmitri Young
Luis Gonzalez
Trot Nixon


That's quite a list, with quite a lot of names with which even the most casual of baseball fans are familiar. It is not, however, a complete list of all the players that fit the BBWAA's Hall of Fame criteria by rule. Baseball-Reference has applied a filter using a ranking stat called the "Hall of Fame monitor" to weed out players who stand absolutely no chance of enshrinement to keep the list uncluttered (one notes that it failed to toss back Joe Borowski, however, so perhaps the formula still needs some work).

Some of the players who qualify this year by rule but didn't have impressive enough careers to make the Hall of Fame monitor's cut are also guys with which you're probably familiar. There's Jacque Jones, who was one of the Minnesota Twins' everyday outfielders during that magical, frustrating time at the turn of the millennium when it seemed like every year the Twins would win over ninety games, take the AL Central crown, and then immediately get bounced from the playoffs like an afterthought by the New York Yankees. While that narrative's been reinforced by Minnesota's more recent, similar woes against the Yanks, it isn't entirely correct -- in 2002, when Jones put up 626 PA of .852 OPS hitting in his greatest single season in the majors, the Twins managed to scrape by the Athletics in five games and even won the first game of the ALCS against the Angels before Anaheim took the next four on their way to winning the World Series.

There's also Steve Trachsel, who managed a 16-year MLB career as a starting pitcher primarily with the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets, with a brief, faltering stint in Baltimore at the very end of his career. The teams that signed Trachsel got precisely what was advertised on the tin: a workhorse starting pitcher with league-average results. It's to his legacy's misfortune that he ended up playing during one of the most prolifically talented periods for starting pitching of all time instead of twenty years earlier, and that he was known for his interminably slow pace on the mound instead of, say, a ten-inning shutout in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. But then again, who knows what Trachsel could have done in the playoffs during his prime -- the only time Trachsel played baseball in October in his entire career was as a Met in 2005, when he was already 35 years old.

There's Tanyon Sturtze, the 5.19 career ERA pitcher who threw 224 of his 797 career innings in 2002 when, for reasons known only to themselves and whatever higher powers to which they'll eventually be forced to answer, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays permitted him to face 1008 batters. Opposing batters hit .302/.369/.480 (.849 OPS) off him that season. Remember how 2002 was the best season of Jacque Jones's career at plate? In 2002, every batter Tanyon Sturtze faced hit like Jones. Sturtze would give up 271 hits and 129 earned runs that season, and never threw over ninety innings in a year for the rest of his career.

Had Daryle Ward, the long-time platoon outfielder for Houston and several other clubs had a better career in the majors, we could find ourselves in an interesting position regarding his candidacy. While Ward played his last MLB game in 2008 and is eligible by BBWAA rules, he did not retire from baseball. Ward continued to kick around minor league ball for the next three years until he was suspended 50 games for testing positive for amphetamine use after the 2011 season. Ward immediately departed for independent ball -- he spent 2013 with the Lancaster Barnstormers of the Atlantic League -- leaving the suspension unserved. Would a player with an unserved suspension for PEDs be eligible for the Hall of Fame? Arguably yes, by rule, because not only was the suspension not handed down by MLB itself, but suspended players are put onto the suspended list, not the ineligible list. The point is mostly academic, though; guys with Hall of Fame resumes don't spend their fading thirties bouncing around the minors and indy leagues trying to recapture the glory.

And while Paul Lo Duca likely has the best statistical case out of newly-eligible catchers (itself a dubious honor), the most famous member of that bunch is undoubtedly Scott Hatteburg -- if only because he was a central figure in the Hollywood adaptation of Michael Lewis's "Moneyball," which recounted how the Oakland Athletics signed him cheaply and converted him into a first baseman due to their varying developing unhappinesses with then-prospect Carlos Pena.

There are others, many others -- Ray King; Jose Cruz, Jr.; Scott Elarton; Jason Johnson; Rudy Seanez; Chris Gomez; and on and on and on -- and for each one, especially Ray King there, there's a paragraph like the ones above waiting to be written about them. Every player has a story; every player is someone's memory. Esteban Loaiza is one of mine, back in 2000 when he was a 28-year-old starter for the Texas Rangers, facing then-Oriole Albert Belle in an exhausting sixteen pitch at-bat that ended in a pop-up to first base.

Damion Easley's another, but not because of anything he did on the field; I was a kid during the last great hurrah of baseball cards in the mid to late nineties, and as chance would have it I got so many Easley cards they got their own special place in the back of my binder. My collection was neat and orderly when he was a California Angel, then larger and haphazardly sorted when he was a Detroit Tiger, and by the time he'd moved on from the Tigers, I'd moved on from the hobby.

That's the best part of this time of the year -- getting to know the Loaizas and Easleys and even the Tanyon Sturtzes of the game again. It's a time and place for storytelling and weird, fun facts and a touch of misty-eyed nostalgia, if you're the sort that goes in for that kind of thing. Yes, eventually we'll get to the part of the process where we talk about the players like they're video game characters instead of human beings -- the part of the process where the Hall of Fame stops being a celebration of baseball and its history for a little while, and instead becomes either a referendum on this or that statistic, or some sort of conceptual exercise in extreme list optimization. And you know what? That's fine, too, because sometimes we need to have referendums about things, and sometimes it is important to know who's willing to believe a guy was a cheater because of unsourced say-so and who isn't.

Over the next couple weeks I'll be examining the 2014 Hall of Fame ballot in full. Tomorrow, I'll add the returning players to the mix, which will showcase just how many quality candidates the voters now have to choose from. Then I'll start paring down the list, giving each player his due before sending him on his way -- and eventually, with a lot of difficulty, I'll choose the ten players that I'd like to see enshrined in the Hall of Fame in a few months' time.

That's right, ten -- I can already say with absolute certainty that the hardest part of the process will not be finding players to vote for, but reasons to keep players off the ballot. There will be a certain amount of tactical voting involved, weighted towards how many years of eligibility players from previous ballots have left. Finally, I'll take a look forward to the 2015 class and beyond -- and make the argument that the Hall needs to make sweeping changes to its ballot rules soon.

For now though, Maddux, Glavine, Alou, Kent, Thomas, Mussina, Gagne, Gonzalez and Durham can wait -- today we honor Sturtze and Trachsel and yes, even Ward. Even if he did cheat. No one who gives so much of his life to baseball deserves to be forgotten by it.