Amore: Papi gets Hall of Fame vote; A-Rod doesn’t

Hartford Courant
Published: 12/31/2021 1:08:54 PM
Modified: 12/31/2021 1:08:26 PM

When a commissioner holds a press conference, it’s usually an exercise in platitudes and vagary, but Rob Manfred’s appearance at Fenway Park on Oct. 2, 2016, was a statement in itself.

David Ortiz was retiring, and Manfred made it a point to come to Boston to support and praise him. When asked about Ortiz’s possible involvement with steroids, I knew Manfred’s answer could hold a key to the decision I’d have to make five years later, when Big Papi’s name appeared next to a box on my Hall of Fame ballot.

My ballot is in the mail now, and I won’t keep you waiting. Ortiz is a yes. Alex Rodriguez a no.

Fair or unfair, the buck was passed to senior members of the Baseball Writers Association of America to retroactively decide on penalties for players involved in the steroids mess, including players who were not penalized by the Commissioner’s Office nor the Players Association during their careers. This has created, by 2021, a ballot that is hopelessly log-jammed. Players who would otherwise have been elected years ago remain, and a voter can only vote for 10 at a time.

Pete Rose has never appeared on a writers’ ballot. He was made ineligible by MLB and the Hall of Fame. Steroids guys are on the ballot and therefore eligible, and the decision-making is more complicated this year than ever.

To vote for all Hall-worthy players based on numbers, regardless of PEDs, takes votes away from deserving players who were not juicers. Voting for none of the players involved will one day leave the Hall of Fame, a museum dedicated to telling the story of baseball, without many of the most important figures of their generation and thus on the road to irrelevance.

“Whatever judgment the writers decide to make with regard to players who have tested positive or have otherwise been adjudicated under our program, that’s up to them,” Manfred said that day in 2016. “What I do feel is unfair is that in situations where it is leaks, rumors, innuendo, not confirmed positive test results, that is unfair to the players. That would be wrong.”

Sooner or later, you have to drill down and check boxes, as I did on Wednesday, after weeks of thought and conversations, weighing each player, steroid-tainted or otherwise, case by case and looking for the fairest use of my 10 checks.

We’ll know the results in mid-January. Here’s what I came up with:

■Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are the most glaring omissions from the Hall of Fame. They have significant popular support and were named on more than 60% of writers’ ballots in 2020, short of the 75% required. I began voting for them a few years back, holding off on other steroids guys until Bonds and Clemens are elected, or off the ballot. Then there will be a clear precedent.

■Ortiz was alleged to have tested positive in 2003, the year MLB and the union agreed to hold “survey” testing, not to be made public but to assess the scope of PED use. It is believed over 100 tested positive that year, but only a few names, including Ortiz, later leaked out.

“It’s really unfortunate that anyone’s name was ever released publicly,” Manfred said that day. “… We knew there were legitimate scientific questions about whether or not those were truly positives.”

I’m no lawyer, but this sounds like an open-and-shut case. Testing policy was implemented in 2004, and Ortiz never registered a positive test through 2016. He may have tested positive in 2003, but MLB never acknowledged it, and the commissioner said for the record those results were questionable. So there is no legit PED-related basis to exclude Ortiz, who hit .286 with 542 homers, plus .295 with 17 homers in postseason play, leading the Red Sox to three championships. As for his extraordinary production in his final seasons, this is true for many Hall of Famers — longevity is one of the things that make great players great.

■Among others, I voted for Andy Pettitte for his durability, consistency and postseason successes with the Yankees and Astros. According to the Mitchell Report, he used HGH at a time when it was neither illegal nor on baseball’s list of banned substances, while he was recovering from injury, and he owned up to it. To me, this doesn’t rise to a level where he should be barred from consideration, though he is a borderline candidate.

■I flipped over to Gary Sheffield, 500-homer club member, despite his BALCO involvement. I had the space open and he is gaining support and running out of time.

■That’s five boxes checked. After a lot of wrestling, I left Sammy Sosa’s box unchecked, because I see his career as a close parallel to that of Mark McGwire, who is now off the ballot. Also, no on Manny Ramirez and A-Rod, both of whom were reported to have tested positive in 2003, but also got into ample, repeated steroids trouble later on. I’d vote for them next year — if Bonds and Clemens get in. Otherwise, the veterans committee can decide on them, too.

■Now, about Curt Schilling. Political views, whatever they are, should not factor into consideration for a baseball museum. I disregard his many barbs directed at journalists and voters and his childish rant about removing himself from the ballot; the BBWAA is chosen for this task because we’re supposed to disregard such things. Schilling’s career, especially in the postseason, compares with Catfish Hunter for me, so he is a yes. You don’t have to be a grownup to be a Hall of Famer, but you do should be a grownup when you vote.

■Every year I have to look up the stats and remind myself that Scott Rolen was a better player than I remember, especially among third basemen, an underrepresented position. Yes.

■Todd Helton’s a yes. Trying to factor in any high-altitude Colorado advantage is overthinking. A major league park is a major league park. Surely Mel Ott’s home run total (511) must have been affected by the 250-foot fence at the Polo Grounds, for one of many such examples.

■Borderliners Andruw Jones, a great defensive center fielder, and Jeff Kent, who had a number of monster seasons as a second baseman, got my remaining checks. Ortiz knocks off Omar Vizquel, who got my 10th box last year. If I had more boxes, Billy Wagner would get a vote. Several other candidates worthy of consideration will have to wait for next year, when Bonds, Clemens, Sosa and Schilling will all be either in the Hall or off the ballot.

Ten boxes checked: Bonds, Clemens, Ortiz, Schilling, Helton, Rolen, Jones, Kent, Sheffield and Pettitte. Perfect? Hardly.

Fair? That’s my hope.


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