Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling, Gary Sheffield, Sammy Sosa, Omar Vizquel, Larry Walker
A few days before my ballot for the National Baseball Hall of Fame arrived in the mail late last month, the Chicago White Sox signed free-agent catcher Yasmani Grandal to a four-year, $73 million contract.
That Grandal tested positive for testosterone use in 2012 when he was with the San Diego Padres and suspended for 50 games obviously didn’t make a difference.
It’s long been my feeling that most Major League Baseball’s owners have their own agendas when it comes to signing players who were caught using performance-enhancing drugs. And a man I respect, White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, just proved it again.
But the Grandal signing was a turning point for me regarding my annual Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot. While I’ve always voted for Bonds and Clemens, I’ve had reservations about selecting a player who failed a drug test. No longer.
We are deep into the voting of culprits besmirched by the steroid era and it’s not going to get any better.
David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez are coming to a ballot near you in 2022.
Looking at this particular ballot, eight of the 31 players on it admitted to or were suspected of using PEDS, that’s a whopping 26%.
Bonds, Clemens, Pettitte, Sheffield and Jason Giambi were all mentioned in the infamous Mitchell Report of 2007, but never failed an MLB-auithorized drug test. Bonds and Clemens were acquitted for perjury regarding their drug use. Ramirez and Jose Valverde failed drug tests. Pettitte and Giambi admitted to and apologized for using drugs.
Sosa has long been suspected, but even though his name didn’t appear among the 89 players noted in the Mitchell Report, the right-handed slugger who hit 609 homers has been polling at less than 10% for the past six years on our ballot.
He’s shunned by the voters, shunned by MLB, and shunned by the Chicago Cubs for whom he hit 243 homers from 1998-2001, including 60 or more three times, the only player in MLB history to better that mark in three seasons.
That’s it. I’ve voted for him before and now he’s back on my ballot and will be until his 10-year term expires in 2022.
Ramirez is the most interesting case to me. He failed drug tests twice as his career began to run down. Despite his proven drug use, his performance during 19 seasons is nothing short of Hall of Fame caliber. He hit 555 homers, had a slash line of .312/.411/.585 with a .996 OPS and 154 OPS-plus. He was also a .285 hitter with 29 homers and a .936 OPS in 111 postseason games.
I utilize the JAWS stat to compare potential Hall of Famers rather than WAR. It’s based on an equation that better compares players from different eras. Ramirez is 10th among all left fielders at 54.7. Bonds is by far the all-time leader at 117.8. He’s also the all-time leader with 762 homers.
Those statistics aren’t going away.
Seven of the top 10 are already in the Hall. Aside from Bonds and Ramirez, Pete Rose has been excluded. The all-time leader with 4,256 hits is not eligible for Hall consideration because of his lifetime suspension from the sport for betting on baseball.
That’s another issue entirely.
Recently, Manny has been on a campaign to resuscitate his image.
Asked recently if he’d like a do-over of the way he conducted himself in his career, Ramirez was pretty succinct.
“Not really,” he said after receiving an award in Boston last month. “I [tell] myself it was a good thing for me, because it made me grow up. Maybe a lot of people didn’t get caught and maybe they are doing so many crazy things and they’re not learning from it. I think everything happens for a reason and everything is happening for the good. I’m in a better place than I’ve ever been, even when I was playing. I don’t regret it, because it makes me grow up.”
Equally, Sheffield had mammoth numbers playing for eight teams in 22 seasons: 509 homers, a slash line of .292/.393/.514 with a .907 OPS and 140 OPS-plus. He’s mentioned briefly in the Mitchell Report, but has long downplayed the allegation.
Both Sheffield and Ramirez are on my ballot for the first time and will remain as long as they are eligible.
The rest of my ballot is pretty simple.
Jeter is a no-brainer, a great among greats during the last tremendous New York Yankees era and named captain in 2003 after his club won four of its five World Series titles with him at shortstop. He hit .310 and had 3,465 hits, sixth on the all-time list. His JAWS figure of 57.4 is 12th among shortstops, with Hall of Famers such as Barry Larkin, Joe Cronin, Pee Wee Reese and Phil Rizzuto behind him.
My other spots are taken by holdovers from 2019: Bonds, Clemens, Pettitte, Vizquel, Schilling and Walker, in his last year of eligibility.
That brings us back around to the Class of 2022.
Bonds, Clemens, Sosa and Schilling all have three more years of eligibility. If none of them are elected by then, they will join Ortiz and Rodriguez on one of the most controversial ballots of all-time.
Despite consistent denials, Ortiz was outed as having failed what was supposed to be an anonymous survey test in 2003. But no one is more beloved, particularly in Boston, than the Red Sox’s captain who just survived what could have been a fatal gunshot wound.
A-Rod, is of course, one of MLB’s most notorious drug users, although he’s also one of the game’s top image rehabilitation stories.
Despite 696 homers, a .930 OPS and 140 OPS-plus, he was suspended for the 2014 season because of his involvement with Anthony Bosh and the Biogenesis scandal along with 12 other players, all assessed 50-game penalties.
Nelson Cruz was one of them and he’s still playing for the Minnesota Twins, earning $79 million from three teams since the suspension. Early last month, the Twins exercised their $14 million option on him for the coming season.
To be sure, there are rules in the collectively bargained MLB Drug Policy that gives an offending player a second chance. The third positive test garners a lifetime ban.
For the owners, it’s obviously forgive and forget. Me, too. At this point I can’t imagine not voting for Ortiz and A-Rod. Given the tenuous status of Bonds, Clemens, Sosa and Schilling, now you know the top six on my 2022 ballot.