Former Mariners farmhand David Ortiz, whom they called David Arias and traded away for nearly nothing in 1996, was voted by sportswriters into the Baseball Hall of Fame Tuesday, the only one selected from this class, and on his first ballot appearance.
Glad for him. I don’t much care.
I was glad for Seattle hero Edgar Martinez when he was selected a couple of years ago, too. I didn’t much care then, either.
The annual ritual has become so self-important, so bloated, so conflicted, so hypocritical, that the honor has been damaged. The selectors, drawn from the Baseball Writers Association of America, often are more protective of their privilege and the game than exhibiting the same reverence for own industry.
Close readers of this space know that I’ve lamented the role of journalists voting on awards in another industry, making writers part of the show rather than apart from it, as their jobs require. Some have asked who should vote instead. My answer is, I don’t care, as long as it’s someone else.
Now comes the latest vote, and with it another example of the mixed message writers send that diminishes their credibility. And it involves another ex-Mariner, Alex Rodriguez.
Ortiz, the slugger who helped the Boston Red Sox win World Series in 2004, 2007 and 2013, led the field with 77.9 percent of the 394 voters. Next were the two most controversial figures in the vote, Barry Bonds at 66 percent and Roger Clemens at 65.2 percent. (See full tally here.)
Their statistical feats established them as among the most formidable players in history. But because they were tainted most by the PED scandal that raged through baseball, a third of the voters left them off the ballot, even though clear proof was never produced, nor admissions offered, nor did MLB officials care to know what methods were used to enhance their box-office take.
After MLB reformed its PED policy to include testing, enforcements and punishments, we found Tuesday that Rodriguez, in his first year of eligibility, had 34.2 percent. His steroid use was confirmed by an MLB investigation and his own admission. MLB suspended him for the 2014 season. But that was not enough to disqualify him from the ballot.
About a third of the electorate found him worthy of admission, about the same amount that denied Bonds and Clemens for similar misdeeds. How does that make sense?
It can be argued that while Rodriguez broke the new rules, since he paid the stipulated price, his career does not deserve Hall invalidation. But why do the careers of Bonds and Clemens deserve Hall invalidation now when many other players, some of whom are already Hall members, were engaged in the same practices, and baseball did not care then?
For a game that honors above all sustained consistency, baseball has no consistency when it comes to managing the inconsistency of human nature. One of the six qualities Hall voters must consider is character. But since it is so often unknowable, cheating the game often continues unchecked. Hi, Astros!
Longtime baseball scribe and author Joe Sheehan described the inconsistency well in a tweet Tuesday.
Fans, writers, and baseball all want to cheer heroes. I get that. But when a reward is created in a competitive industry where requirements include character, the pool gets shallow. Ortiz may not even be in it.
In 2009, the New York Times had a story that 104 players tested positive for PEDs as part of a screening process in 2003, Ortiz’s first year with the Red Sox. The players union agreed to anonymous testing to determine how widespread PED use was in baseball, not to punish.
Results were supposed to remain anonymous, but that didn’t happen. Among those who reportedly tested positive were Ortiz, Rodriguez, Bonds, Manny Ramirez and Sammy Sosa. The screening results led to the league’s first PED testing program.
In 2017, according to CBS Sports, Ortiz defended himself on WEEI sports-talk radio in Boston by saying that his name was leaked because too many Yankees were coming up positive. In other words, he was blaming the media, who judge Hall candidates, for regional bias.
Here are Ortiz’s comments from the radio interview:
“What was the reason for them to come out with something like that? The only thing that I can think of, to be honest with you, a lot of big guys from the Yankees were being caught. And no one from Boston … This was just something that leaked out of New York and they had zero explanation about it … Everybody who got caught, all of them were told what they bought, what they used, everything. But David Ortiz. Nobody came to me after, nobody came to me before. Nobody came to me ever, to tell me that I tested positive for any kind of steroids.”
Actually, no one was “caught” because the union agreed to the testing survey, and the Times engaged in no crusade to catch Red Sox players.
Since no punishment emerged and Ortiz was not among the players mentioned in the 2007 Mitchell Report that investigated MLB’s widespread PED use, writers and fans forget, overlook and dismiss. That doesn’t mean that Ortiz’s defense wasn’t ridiculous, and that he wasn’t just another slugger trying to keep pace with the game.
So Ortiz is in, and Bonds and Clemens fall into the hands of a Today’s Game committee, a goofy contraption of 16 members, including some writers, whose job apparently is to clean up any mess left by the writers.
Baseball’s relentless Hall convulsions created around the PED issue (or pitcher Curt Schilling’s propensity for hate speech) would seem to constitute a case of gross negligence by the three parties — the Hall, which has no direct affiliation with MLB, the writers and the league office. Since the Hall and the league office have for years dithered aimlessly on the subject, it would seem to be left to the writers to be pro-active toward a solution.
If the BBWAA, of which I was once a member, insists on volunteering to be judge and jury for another industry, it should demand a revised set of rules by which to operate without embarrassment. If there is no agreed stipulations on PEDs, the revision should say that matters of character, behavior and speech are irrelevant to the voting.
If the Hall of Fame is about preserving the game’s history, the bad stuff is fair game, because the game sometimes isn’t fair.
Better get on this before the Astros start showing up on the ballot.