History was made Tuesday night, as Barry Bonds — one of the top five sluggers who ever lived — and Roger Clemens — one of the top five pitchers who ever lived — were rejected by Baseball Hall of Fame voters for a 10th and final time and will be removed from the baseball writers’ ballot forever. Bonds and Clemens, neither of whom ever failed a drug test, presumably were bounced because both were suspected of PED use in the second half of their careers.
Meanwhile, David Ortiz, one of the great clutch hitters of all time and a certified Boston icon — and a player whose name was on a list of those who did test positive for PEDs (commissioner Rob Manfred later cast doubt about the test, which also fingered Sammy Sosa, Manny Ramirez, and Alex Rodriguez) — was elected in his first year of eligibility. Ortiz will be enshrined in Cooperstown, N.Y., July 24.
Welcome to the wild and wacky world of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Everybody loves Big Papi, including a commissioner desperately in need of the good publicity that certainly will accompany the induction of baseball’s Santa Claus. Ortiz is the only PED suspect who ever got a presidential pardon from the commissioner of baseball. But even hard-core Red Sox fans must see that Ortiz’s career curve is curious.
These are the facts: Ortiz’s name and age changed while he was in the minors. In 1996, when Ortiz was traded by the Mariners to the Twins, a Minnesota newspaper reported his weight as 190 pounds.
He was released by the Twins at the age of 27, then blossomed into an elite slugger in Boston in 2003, when the Sox listed him at 230 pounds. The 2003 season was also the year in which Ortiz tested positive for PEDs, according to the New York Times, along with Manny, Sosa, and A-Rod.
In 2009, Ortiz lost his skills to the point of near release (.238, 148 at-bats without a home run), but in 2016 — at the age of 40 — he had his bat speed up to the level of 26-year-old Giancarlo Stanton. In the final year of his career, Ortiz’s exit velocity was in the top 2 percent of all MLB players. In 2019, Ortiz survived a still-unexplained shooting in the Dominican Republic.
But nobody cares anymore, right? Ortiz played in the Steroid Era. It was cheating hitters against cheating pitchers. Everybody was doing it.
Swell. So why are Bonds and Clemens out, while Ortiz just got in on the first ballot? Statistically, Bonds and Clemens were both much better than Ortiz. Bonds hit 221 more homers than Ortiz and was MVP seven times. Ortiz never won an MVP. Clemens was MVP once (rare for a pitcher) and won seven Cy Young Awards.
Why have the writers punished Bonds, Clemens, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Sosa, Manny, Gary Sheffield, and A-Rod, but not Ortiz?
Part of it is timing. Bonds and Clemens first went on the ballot in 2012 when there were more voters who cared about PEDs. Bonds and Clemens were kept out in the same spirit that barred the entry of McGwire and Palmeiro. A new generation of BBWAA voters is far more forgiving of players who prospered during the Steroid Era. This is why Rodriguez (34.3 percent of the vote in his first year of eligibility) will someday join Big Papi in Cooperstown.
The other explanation is sheer popularity. Ortiz is a gregarious, outgoing person. He is great to the fans and the writers. He gives back to the town and the team. He’s a charity hero.
He’s also one of the great clutch hitters of all time and played in a market that inflates superstars beyond all proportion. Kevin Garnett was a much bigger star here than he ever was in Minnesota. Pedro Martínez was bigger here than he could have been in Montreal, or even Los Angeles.
Clemens never enjoyed Boston love, not after complaining about carrying his own luggage in the winter of 1988-89. Then he committed the ultimate sin of winning championships for the hated Yankees.
Bonds was a national ogre. Many fans loved Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron. Few loved surly Barry. Bonds seemed to enjoy the Darth Vader persona. He was grumpy and difficult. And he never won a championship.
The encouraging news for Bonds and Clemens is that they will be immediately turned over to the “Today’s Era Committee” of Hall of Famers and associates who will vote on their worthiness as early as next December. This is the same committee that put Harold Baines in the Hall of Fame in 2019. It’s the committee that elected Jim Kaat, Tony Oliva, Minnie Minoso, and Gil Hodges a couple of months ago.
The committee will meet in a few months and come up with names for the next ballot of folks overlooked by the writers. Fred McGriff is sure to be on the ballot. Manager Jim Leyland also likely will be introduced. Also, Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, and Curt Schilling (the first man ever to ever tweet himself out of Cooperstown) could get a chance.
The process is still difficult. The committee will come up with a list of names, then vote at the next Baseball Winter Meetings in December of 2022. Sixteen committee members (usually several Hall of Fame players, plus baseball executives and media members) participate. Members can vote for four individuals, and a candidate needs to appear on 12 of 16 ballots to gain induction. This is when we will find out if the Hall of Famers agree with the writers on Bonds, Clemens, Sammy, and Schill.
None of it matters to David Ortiz. Big Papi is going to the Hall of Fame. Santa Claus is coming to (Coopers) town.
Read more about the Hall of Fame:
- Interactive: David Ortiz is headed to the Hall of Fame. Explore all of the 558 career home runs that helped get him there.
- Behind the scenes: David Ortiz already had a presence in the Hall of Fame. Now he’ll be immortalized.
- David Ortiz’s journey through Major League Baseball to the Hall of Fame | Photos
- Read David Ortiz’s statement on being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame
- Curt Schilling, Roger Clemens issue statements after falling short in Hall of Fame vote
- Watch the moment David Ortiz learned he was a first-ballot Hall of Famer
- See the final vote totals for the 2022 Baseball Hall of Fame election
- How Boston Globe writers voted for the 2022 Baseball Hall of Fame