On Wednesday, the Baseball Writers Association of America and the Hall of Fame will announce the results of the voting that decides which candidates will be enshrined in Cooperstown, N.Y., this year. It is one of the most significant Hall of Fame tabulations in recent memory.
Three major players associated with the steroid era — Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and Sammy Sosa — are among those who were on the ballot for the first time. Another was Mike Piazza, who had the greatest offensive numbers for a catcher but because he played in this era couldn’t escape the steroid rumors. Ditto for second-year eligible Jeff Bagwell.
How will these players fare? That is the question. It would be awful if players are kept out of the Hall because of “rumors.”
If other voters were like this reporter, they went through a long journey trying to make sense of the steroid era. We have had to ask ourselves questions.
Should we punish only the players who were mentioned in the Mitchell Report or who admitted use? Should we take the era as a whole and disqualify 20 years of the greatest players who played in it? Should we believe every player who said he didn’t use steroids?
Should we treat steroids differently than the amphetamines that were used without prescription in the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s? “Greenies,” as they were called, didn’t build body mass or strength, but players took them to stay alert, sometimes after being out all night carousing. Should we not consider those drugs performance-enhancers, or were they merely “a little something to take the edge off”?
Should we assume that the playing field was level or not level? Did the players who were caught take them to gain an edge or did they need them to keep up with the competition?
According to the Hall of Fame, this is our guideline: “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the team(s) on which the player played.”
So does that mean just on the field or off it, too? Clemens was a great teammate and a fierce competitor. Bonds was the same until his last few years, when chasing the home run record turned him into a surly son-of-a-gun. These guys gave it their all on the field.
It’s all murky, cloudy, and suspect. It all stinks.
Nobody feels good about this vote, whether it’s yes or no.
To some voters, it’s black and white: “You used PEDs, you’re not getting my vote.”
For me, if you tested positive after the steroid policy was put in place by Major League Baseball, you won’t get my vote. That’s how I feel about Rafael Palmeiro and Manny Ramirez, whom I otherwise would have voted for. If there’s a policy and you violate it, that’s just stupid.
That’s the place I’ve come to.
So on my ballot, I voted for Clemens, Bonds, Sosa, and Piazza, as well as Craig Biggio, Alan Trammell, Jack Morris, and Tim Raines.
Before MLB and the union finally did something about steroids, there was a free-for-all going on. So it’s far too complicated to sort out.
Those who blame the Hall of Fame for a lack of clarity on guiding the 600-plus voters are way off base. Voting is an individual right. You vote the way it feels right to you. Writers who have covered baseball day in and day out for at least 10 years have earned the right to decide.
While we can debate, there is no right way or wrong way to approach it.
Mark Faller of the Arizona Republic elected to cast a blank ballot. I don’t agree with that, but that’s his right. LaVelle E. Neal of the Minneapolis Star Tribune won’t vote for any PED users, period. Bob Nightengale of USA Today voted for Bonds, Clemens, and Sosa. Peter Abraham of the Globe voted for all of them, too.
There are writers who acknowledge that Bonds, Clemens, and Sosa are Hall of Famers but won’t vote for them on the first ballot; that is their punishment. That’s OK, too.
Many Hall of Famers I spoke to don’t want the “cheaters” in. And when I ask them if they ever took greenies — which are now on the list of banned substances — they seem to get indignant and indicate “it’s not the same thing.”
They’re right, it isn’t. But just as there was no policy against amphetamines then, there was no policy against steroids until 2003.
We hear the argument that Bonds’s big home run seasons were tainted because he was juiced, but the guy in the ’60s who drank all night, then took a couple of greenies the next day and hit a couple of homers because he felt like a million bucks . . . that’s OK?
There are those, such as Raines, who used cocaine before, during, and after games. And yes, I voted for him, too, because I believe he was a great leadoff man. Paul Molitor used drugs early in his career, and he’s in the Hall. Ferguson Jenkins, too.
I voted for Gaylord Perry, and he scuffed the baseball. There are probably pitchers in the Hall who threw spitters. We can go on and on.
Bonds, Clemens, and Sosa probably will not get in on the first ballot, because you need 75 percent, but it will be interesting to see what percentage they get.
Judging from casual conversations with other writers, more and more were leaning toward voting for them now or in time.
Apropos of nothing
1. The Mike Napoli situation is likely in the hands of doctors at this point. According to a major league source who has been through this, there was likely something found (we know it’s a hip) in the medical records that are shared by the union and all teams. The team does its own MRI, and then the player gets a second or third opinion. The doctors are probably discussing the severity of the issue and what language should be put in place to protect the team.
2. Herb Crehan has a neat new website, bostonbaseballhistory.com, which covers the Red Stockings of 1871 all the way up to the modern-day Sox.
3. No surprise that Giants closer Sergio Romo was cited at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas for being belligerent to TSA workers. (Romo apologized in a statement.) The Giants are a classy team with good guys, but Romo didn’t win any friends in the media with the way he acted in postgame interviews on a championship team during the postseason. Now this.
4. Buster Posey is the face of the Giants, but he should be the face of Major League Baseball. He’s everything that’s right with the game.
5. Lance Berkman would have been a superb pickup for the Red Sox — a lefthanded-hitting first baseman/left fielder who would fit well with the ballpark and the personality of the team. “The Red Sox are without question the best fit for him,” said a National League GM.
6. I think the Pirates did a good thing acquiring Mark Melancon in the Joel Hanrahan deal. He has good stuff for the end of the game.
7. The Red Sox are in a nice spot: expectations are low.
8. With another $25 million coming in on a national TV deal next year, it’ll be tough for even the Rays not to extend David Price.
9. As I look down the Yankees roster, I’m not sure why people think they’ll decline. Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, Ichiro, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, five solid starting pitchers, and Mariano Rivera back in the bullpen. What am I missing?
Apropos of something
Theo Epstein took the long-range view when he took over as president of the Cubs more than a year ago. He preferred an all-out gutting and rebuilding, as opposed to the Dodgers’ approach of buying up the best players.
Epstein, who will host his Hot Stove Cool Music round table Friday at Fenway Park, has surprised some people, however, not only by bidding for Anibal Sanchez but by signing Edwin Jackson to a four-year deal. Most people thought Epstein would hold off on big expenditures until the time was right.
Does it mean Epstein believes the Cubs aren’t as far off as he originally thought?
“We’re certainly farther along than we were last year at this time,” said Epstein. “When we got here, we identified one core player [Starlin Castro] and now we can look around and see Anthony Rizzo, Darwin Barney, Jeff Samardzija , and others. We do have more positional prospects than pitchers, so we felt Jackson will be with us for many years to come.”
Epstein is hoping his top prospects — namely outfielders Jorge Soler (a Cuban defector), Brett Jackson, and Albert Almora , shortstop Javier Baez , and pitcher Arodys Vizcaino — will all be in the majors together by 2015. First baseman Rizzo is already there.
The Cubs have been waiting 104 years for a championship, a feeling Epstein is familiar with from his Boston days. While he doesn’t feel the Cub fans’ pain the same way, he understands it. He has always wanted to build a team from the ground up, and he’s getting that opportunity.
“I think, initially, what I’d been through in Boston was of interest to our fan base,” he said. “But I think they have bought into our plan and our vision. People are excited about good young players and we hope to keep adding to it and get to the point where we’re an exciting contending team year in and year out.”
Epstein also thought Boston’s pickup of former Cub Ryan Dempster was excellent.
“The splitter he’s developed has become the great equalizer for him,” said Epstein. “He’s definitely going to help their rotation.”
Updates on nine
1. Justin Upton, OF, Diamondbacks, and Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Marlins — You get the feeling that Arizona general manager Kevin Towers is just waiting to hear the right mix of players and Upton will be gone. The Cody Ross signing doesn’t make a lot of sense unless the D-Backs are going to deal Upton or Jason Kubel. As for Stanton, the speculation about dealing him is a little troubling because you have to ask why Miami would deal its only draw. Yet, as we reported last week, teams have made proposals, according to our major league sources.
2. Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Red Sox, and Justin Morneau, 1B, Twins — Ellsbury was a truly special player in 2011, with four of the five tools coming out big-time (he has no arm). Trading him is a hard sell to some teams because he is in his walk year and has been hurt so much, but there are others out there still looking to make a splash who may feel that one year of a motivated Ellsbury would be tempting. Texas makes perfect sense. Morneau also is in the final year of his contract, at $14 million. If the Twins could get a bounty of young players for him, would they deal? Teams such as Boston, Baltimore, and Tampa Bay (even with James Loney) still could use help at first base.
3. Matt Garza, RHP, Cubs, Gavin Floyd, RHP, White Sox, and Tim Lincecum, RHP, Giants — Hard to read the Cubs, since they’re building for the future while also signing veteran pitchers. Garza still has to show teams in spring training that his injured elbow is OK; the Cubs would listen on a possible deal. Floyd remains one of the more attractive pitchers who could be had. The White Sox have said they want to keep him, but with some younger pitchers ready to step into that rotation, he is expendable. As for Lincecum, the Giants feel they’ll straighten out his mechanical defects. But he is making $22 million this season, and if he’s not what he used to be, the Giants may be enticed.
4. Johan Santana, LHP, Mets, Vernon Wells, OF, Angels, and Alfonso Soriano, OF, Cubs — Their teams would love to move them, and are willing to pick up most of the freight. The Mets would help pay the $31 million left on Santana’s deal. As teams start to round off rotations, he could be a good fifth arm. There’s no room at the inn for the underachieving Wells, who makes a small fortune ($42 million remaining) to sit on the Angels bench. They would pick up a lot of that. We’re likely to see him moved before spring training. After a 32-homer, 108-RBI season, Soriano and his $36 million will likely go elsewhere. He wants to play in the East and could be an effective, almost “free” player, though GM Theo Epstein wants value in return.
5. Andrew Bailey, RHP, Red Sox — He is slated to be the set-up man after the acquisition of Joel Hanrahan, but would the Sox be willing to deal him to address another need? Bailey did nothing to enhance his tradeability after he returned from thumb surgery last year, but at least teams know he’s healthy.
6. Chris Capuano, LHP, and Aaron Harang, RHP, Dodgers — With the offseason signings and with Ted Lilly on the comeback trail, Capuano and Harang are available. Capuano will get more interest, being lefthanded and coming off a decent season.
7. Ricky Nolasco, RHP, Marlins, and Rick Porcello, RHP, Tigers — He may be Miami’s ace at present, but Nolasco is available. The Marlins have been in sell mode, and if they’re even considering Stanton as trade bait, you know Nolasco could be had. Porcello’s name has been bandied about all offseason and nothing has happened, but it appears the Tigers would deal him, even if he is only 24.
8. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C, Red Sox, and Elvis Andrus, SS, Rangers — We know the situation. David Ross, Ryan Lavarnway, and Salty are the catchers currently on the Sox roster, with Mike Napoli pending. There have been no takers yet for the switch-hitting power hitter, or at least the return hasn’t been to Boston’s liking. The Sox say they are willing to go into the season with their current depth. With shortstop Jurickson Profar ready for the big leagues, the Rangers have a surplus of extraordinary young players at an important position. If they want to add a power-hitting outfielder (say, Upton or Stanton) to replace Josh Hamilton, they certainly have the chips to make it happen. The potential is still there for a blockbuster.
9. Mike Morse, 1B/LF, Nationals, Justin Smoak, 1B, Mariners, and Jhonny Peralta, SS, Tigers — If the Nationals re-sign Adam LaRoche, Morse is likely to be dealt. The Nats would have suitors in Boston, Baltimore, and perhaps Toronto. Smoak was once considered a top prospect but has fizzled, and with the Mariners acquiring Kendrys Morales, he finds himself on the bench. Could be a good risk. He is a switch hitter, better from the right side. Peralta is a third baseman playing shortstop; no team has bitten on him yet. The Tigers want to improve their infield defense, especially on the left side.
From the Bill Chuck files: “Josh Reddick averaged 3.96 pitches per plate appearance last season, helped in large part by the 562 foul balls he hit, most in the majors.” Also, “The 1988 Cleveland Indians went 78-84 for manager Doc Edwards, despite Terry Francona hitting .311, John Farrell going 14-10, Bud Black going 2-3, and Ron Washington hitting .256.” . . . Happy 35th birthday, Casey Fossum.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.