David Ortiz took a significant step on the path to the Hall of Fame on Wednesday and he wasn’t even on the ballot.
A closer look at the results of the voting done by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America indicates that Ortiz should be viewed in a favorable light when he first comes up for a vote in 2021.
Mike Piazza was elected with 83 percent of the vote, a sharp climb from the 70 percent he received a year ago. Jeff Bagwell received 71.6 percent of the vote, just missing the 75 percent required for induction. But he went up 16 percent.
Bagwell is a near certainty to get in next season, having missed by only 15 votes.
Piazza and Bagwell have denied using performance-enhancing drugs and no direct ties linking them to drug use have ever come to light. But there have long been suspicions that both used PEDs.
Piazza talked around the subject during a conference call on Wednesday.
“The fans understand there’s no flawless institution. It’s the human condition that we all make mistakes,” he said.
Two other stars tarnished by PEDs, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, also saw their percentages rise to a lesser degree. Clemens gained 7.7 percent and Bonds 7.5 percent. They remain well out of range regardless.
These new voting trends are clearly a result of a different electorate.
A change in the rules by the Hall of Fame resulted in 440 ballots being submitted, a big drop from 549 last year. For the first time, the Hall went through the list of voters and culled many of those 10 or more years away from actively covering the game.
The review process is expected to continue over time, although not to a point where so many voters are dropped at once.
It’s unfair to paint the approximately 100 people dropped with the same brush. But based on ballots made public over the years, older voters are moralists and tended to be against players linked to PEDs even peripherally.
They also tended to vote for fewer players.
Younger voters, again based on ballots made public, seem to view steroid use in the context of the era and not as a moral issue. They also tend to vote for more players, often to the limit of 10.
By the time Ortiz reaches the ballot, the voting body will have shifted some more. The BBWAA has changed dramatically in recent years with a more diverse membership that includes journalists from non-traditional forms of media. Those newcomers are getting close to the 10 years of membership required to vote in the Hall of Fame election.
The organization, once a bastion of self-righteous newspaper writers, has been dragged into modern times.
Again, not everybody in the same age bracket thinks in unison. But those BBWAA members who will gain a vote by 2021 seem far less likely to view PED use as a barrier.
Let’s not forget, too, that Ortiz’s connection to PEDs isn’t exactly concrete.
An anonymous source told the New York Times in 2009 that Ortiz failed a survey drug test six years earlier and was on a list compiled by federal investigators.
The survey test, which was supposed to be anonymous, screened for a variety of drugs beyond steroids, including some that were legal supplements at the time. MLB and the MLB Players Association also released statements saying that fewer players failed tests than the Times reported.
Come 2021, a possibly failed drug test in 2003 may not resonate with enough voters as a reason to exclude Ortiz. If in six years the Hall of Fame includes Piazza, Bagwell, and other players representative of the Steroid Era, keeping Ortiz out will be difficult to justify for even the crankiest old crank.
Beyond the drug issue, it’s also worth noting that Edgar Martinez saw his vote total soar from 27 percent to 43.4 percent in his seventh year on the ballot and now stands a chance of getting in.
That would seem to be a sign that voters now look more favorably on designated hitters than before. That also should benefit Ortiz.
Ortiz (.925 OPS) and Martinez (.933 OPS) are comparable players statistically with Ortiz adding the kicker of historic postseason performances and three World Series rings.
Ortiz is almost assuredly not a first-ballot Hall of Famer. But Wednesday was a sign that his day is going to come.
|Player||Vote %||Votes (of 440)||Ballot year|
|Ken Griffey Jr.||99.30%||437||1st|
|Missed 75 percent cutoff:|
|Removed from future ballots:|
A few other thoughts on the Hall of Fame:
■ It’s a shame Ken Griffey Jr. fell three votes shy of a unanimous selection. But the players get less worked up about such things than fans and media do. It seemed stunning that Pedro Martinez received only 91 percent of the votes last season, but he was overjoyed just to get in.
■ Griffey hated the Yankees, which might help explain his career .311/.392/.595 numbers against them.
Why? When his father played for the Yankees from 1982-86, George Steinbrenner did not allow the players to bring their sons into the clubhouse or on the field for batting practice. Young Junior was incensed and never forgot it.
■ Piazza was an interesting guy to cover. He would read the New York Times every day and enjoyed discussing current events, particularly politics, with the writers. He liked nothing more than an impassioned discussion about big issues.
He also is a big music fan, particularly heavy metal, and could talk for an hour about certain bands or guitar players.
Piazza was a remarkable power hitter to the opposite field and a much better catcher than people gave him credit for. He did not throw particularly well, but he handled pop-ups with great ease and wasn’t afraid to block the plate. He knew how to read swings and call a game.
During spring training one year, Piazza went to a practice field with the other catchers to take batting practice after the workout.
At the Mets complex, there was a Port St. Lucie DPW facility on the other side of the fence at this particular field and several trucks were off in the distance, about 450-500 feet away.
“They should move those,” Piazza said.
One of the coaches tried to get the attention of a worker, but the DPW guys were getting off work for the day and waved it off.
Piazza proceeded to pepper the trucks, breaking several windows. A few writers were standing behind the cage laughing and after a while he took to calling his shot and actually hit a few of the targets he was aiming for.
Piazza’s most noted home run was on Sept. 21, 2001 against the Braves. In the first game in New York after the Sept. 11 attacks, he crushed a Steve Karsay pitch to left-center field in the eighth inning that gave the Mets the lead against the Atlanta Braves.
It was a rocket, high and deep into the night and old Shea Stadium was shaking. There were people crying their eyes out in the stands.
The city was in shock, the ruins of the World Trade Center still smoldering only a few miles away. But that game and that home run seemed to say that we could eventually get back to normal.