By the time you’re reading this, the 2022 BBWAA Hall of Fame class will have already been announced, and based on released ballots, there will likely be three new inductees: David Ortiz, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens. While this is Ortiz’s first time on the ballot, Bonds and Clemens are on their last legs, unless the Modern Era Committee decides to let them in down the road.
While Ortiz arguably is very deserving of the Hall, why did it take Bonds and Clemens so long? Why isn’t Alex Rodriguez getting any love? And how is Curt Schilling not getting in?
The short answer is that voting for Hall of Famers today is a tough ask, now that we’ve moved fully into the steroid era of players. No longer can journalists look at stats and personal achievements only when most of the deserving people have this scarlet letter upon their chests. Let’s break down the ethical dilemmas of a few different candidates from this year’s ballot:
David Ortiz, DH
The only “lock” based on public ballots, Ortiz is one of the most clutch hitters of all time, owning some of the biggest moments in postseason history. The greatest flaw in my eyes is that he’s a career designated hitter, something the Hall isn’t used to. Hitting is obviously the main driver of Cooperstown cases, so with a total of 541 home runs, an offensive WAR of 56.7 and an OPS+ of 141, why not vote for Big Papi? He played a large role in three championship runs, and won both an ALCS and a World Series MVP – in different postseasons.
Here’s where it gets tricky. Ortiz’s name was on a 2003 report of PED testing, and while it didn’t specify what he tested positive for, it put a cloud of doubt on his career numbers. Ortiz has denied willingly taking illegal substances and has never gotten slapped with a suspension for his actions. This apparently was good enough for the voters, and is for me.
My vote: Yes.
Barry Bonds, LF
Now that Ortiz has won over voters despite being an alleged PED user, where do you draw the line? That’s the question BBWAA members will have to ask themselves every year.
No disrespect to the Boston legend, but Barry Bonds was easily the better player. His MLB-record 762 home runs should be enough to get in, but when you throw in a whopping seven MVPs, 12 Silver Sluggers, and 8 Gold Gloves, it becomes even more of a no-doubter. Hell, for four straight seasons he reached base more than half the time. That’s absurd.
Now comes the steroid usage. Bonds has never failed a drug test, and has testified before Congress to deny PED use, but has certainly been accused. With his increase in size later in his career and the number of fingers pointed at him through the BALCO scandal (see: Gary Sheffield and Jason Giambi), yes it looks bad, but here’s the bottom line. Even before he allegedly used PEDs, he amassed 334 home runs and 380 stolen bases. He’s never been charged, and shouldn’t be after all is said and done. The game wouldn’t be the same without Bonds.
My vote: Yes.
Roger Clemens, SP
Very similar to Bonds, Clemens had one of the greatest careers of his generation, but carries that steroid cloud over his head to this day. While never getting hit with a suspension, there are quite a few allegations against Clemens, who had to testify in court as Bonds did.
But look at the stats. Two rings, two Triple Crowns, an MVP and two Cy Youngs are just some of the accolades that Clemens racked up in his illustrious career. Besides boasting a 3.12 ERA and a 1.173 WHIP, “Rocket” also holds the eighth most career WAR of all time with 139.2, below big names like Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and… Barry Bonds.
Again, this all comes down to the steroid debate. How incriminating is the case against Clemens, and is the lack of suspension enough to get him into the Hall? Like Bonds, the game wouldn’t be the same without Clemens.
My vote: Yes.
Alex Rodriguez, 3B/SS
Rodriguez, a special case, could open the doors for someone like Manny Ramirez down the road. “A-Rod” is arguably the greatest player that knowingly took performance enhancing drugs. The three-time MVP slashed .295/.380/.550 over his career, earning the 16th highest WAR in baseball history. He should be a lock based on stats alone.
Unfortunately for Rodriguez, he was caught cheating in 2009, after a report came out saying that he tested positive for PEDs six years prior. The third baseman admitted his mistake, and said he stopped using steroids in 2003. Then, after the Biogenesis scandal in which Rodriguez reportedly took PEDs again, he got slapped with a one-year suspension in 2014.
Because of this, Rodriguez is obviously a cheater. The fact that he used steroids a second time after apologizing puts an asterisk over his entire career, not just known periods of use. His numbers rank up there with the all-time greats, but will his steroid usage keep him out of the Hall of Fame?
It’s interesting to see if Bonds and Clemens end up getting in, because if they do not due to their alleged use, there’s no chance that Rodriguez makes it based on precedent. If the 10th-year duo happen to get inducted, the former Yankee has a shot, especially with his public relations at an all-time high after a marriage to Jennifer Lopez and successful years in the broadcasting industry. His induction could continue a domino effect, paving the way for other known steroid users like Manny Ramirez.
My vote: No, and a no for Ramirez. It’s a thin line, but that’s where I draw it.
Curt Schilling, SP
This is the only non-steroid player I chose to cover, and for a very specific reason. Schilling has all the makings of a Hall of Famer, with a 3.46 ERA, 1.137 WHIP, an 8.6 K/9 and a career WAR of 79.5. His career postseason record of 11-2 is the stuff of legends, but interestingly enough, Schilling never won a Cy Young Award, falling just shy three times of pitching’s highest honor.
While not a first-balloter like Pedro Martinez or Mariano Rivera, the right-hander could’ve been in down the 10-year stretch. Instead, his words outside of the game have come back to bite him, as Schilling has consistently tweeted out transphobic, pro-insurrection and even anti-journalist remarks since 2015.
Now, obviously I am not in defense of Schilling’s actions here. But there is something to be said about voting for a player, not the person. The “character clause” is a very fine line for BBWAA voters, and not all draw it in the same place. Precedence is an important factor. If there are other guys in the Hall that have sketchy, off-field ties, is it morally acceptable to allow more of them in, or unfair to not allow them in? It’s definitely a loaded question for many writers, which is why Schilling won’t be getting in on his final ballot.
My vote: A reluctant yes.