It turned out that it was a short stay at the Olympics.
Three years and three votes ago, I decided to scale down my Hall of Fame votes to a more select group – the so-called no-brainer – instead of working the margins to reach the maximum of 10 candidates, which is allowed by rules.
The philosophical shift on my part happened after the 2019 election of Harold Baines of Today’s Game Era Committee, a 16-member panel that is one of a handful designed to reconsider candidates that BBWAA had previously rejected. No insult to Baines, a very good player, but I felt that the controversial choice – developed by his lobbyists in committee – only served to weaken the Cooperstown brand as a whole.
Some spurred on by the Baines imbroglio, I shrunk my ballot to the players I thought were the three slam-dunk Mount Olympus candidates: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Mariano Rivera. The gap that followed was significant in my opinion.
I also felt comfortable sticking to Bonds and Clemens for the next two years (which I have consistently done since their appearance on the ballot), while only adding Derek Jeter (Class 2020) during that time. Again, these were the elite and the bar remained high.
But this year’s vote has created new complications and requires another adjustment, perhaps more radical than the Thanos finger that halved my candidates for the 2019 class. The scale tipper this time is David Ortiz, and while he qualifies under my previous survey methods, his link to MLB’s 2003 survey PED test list as a (non-disciplinary) positive prompted me to reconsider what has been termed a ” Small Hall “approaching.
In recent years, since PED-colored players first started appearing on the ballot, I have stuck to a rather black-and-white guideline: If MLB never punished a player for a PED-related offense, such as a suspension, then it would I. Bonds and Clemens also did not face charges outside of baseball law in a courtroom, but were not kept off the court because of these allegations (MLB first entered the disciplinary phase of its 2004 PED program).
That penalty criterion currently holds Alex Rod-riguez off my ballot when the triple MVP was twice suspended for PEDs, including the season-long exclusion in 2014.
With Ortiz, it’s not quite that simple. Although the 2003 inquiry was supposed to be anonymous – and even Commissioner Rob Manfred has tried to discredit the test that put his name on the list in the first place – all parties acknowledge that it was actually there at a time when Ortiz seemed to be rejuvenating his name magically. career at the Red Sox.
It pulls us down the PED rabbit hole again and this gray area made me reconsider my process. Not just for those players who are somehow polluted by PEDs, but especially the other side, those who acted as Hall of Famers without the (presumably) boost from illegal chemicals.
So where did that lead me? After Bonds, Clemens and Ortiz, the next domino was Sammy Sosa, who, like Big Papi, appeared on that survey from 2003. If I take Ortiz, then Sosa’s CV (609 homers) and greater impact on the sport (also as Papi) when baseball desperately needed it, gets him through the gate. And with Sosa follows Gary Sheffield, whose Bonds-BALCO connections do not overshadow the fact that he was among the most feared hitters of his generation (509 homers, .907 OPS).
But we are only halfway there. If these PED-infected five deserve to be considered the Hall of Famers, I think there is a need for balance so that the (supposedly PED-free?) Players are not punished for doing so by the rules – or at least avoid it public stain of such conduct.
Fortunately, the 10-man ballot paper makes room for five more, and this “pure” category – it’s important to put it in quotes – on the other side of the ballot paper now contains plenty of beginners for me: Todd Helton, Andruw Jones, Scott Rolen and Billy Wagner.
As for Curt Schilling, I had him on my ballot before I shifted gears in late 2018 (for the class in 2019) so he’s coming back just in time for his final year of eligibility.
Perhaps it is naive to think that these five did not benefit from PED use in some form, but at this point in history, they do not wear the scarlet P and will be treated as such.
Submitting a ballot paper with only three names (or fewer) that I had recently did not make this process any easier. This year it was particularly tough, but I feel confident on the ballot as a whole. While this again represents a major shift in how I choose to vote, this was the best way to reconcile some of the conflicts between this group and provide a fair representation of Cooperstown.
It’s also worth noting that just as Baines’ special election prompted me to reconsider the Hall of Fame three years ago, to some extent, the same can be said about Gil Hodges finally stepping in last month. What was the point of all those years of gate-keeping for a deserving player whose access clearly makes Cooperstown a better place?
As a longtime BBWAA member, we are ultimately asked to vote players into the Hall of Fame, not keep them out. And staying on a “Small Hall” course had the potential to become increasingly restrictive going forward, which would be a disservice to a number of players who hold the credentials, even if they were not seven-time MVPs like Bonds or a seven – time Cy Young Award winner as Clemens.
The Hall of Fame is a museum designed to celebrate players’ careers and achievements, and upon further review, more celebration (within reason) should override less.