The Bonds of Enshrinement: Assessing the Cooperstown Case for David Ortiz in 2022

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Earlier this year,* the Baseball of Fame passed an important threshold when Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, and Sammy Sosa each failed to secure enough votes for induction on their final year of eligibility (though various mop-up committees conceivably could change that in the future). In other news, David Ortiz was the only player selected for enshrinement this year.

In the last decade or so, the online baseball social media community quickly and unequivocally came to the unwavering position that Bonds, allegations of wrongdoing cast far aside, belongs in the Hall.** Thus, any voter supporting Bonds’ candidacy is cheered as righteous, upstanding, intelligent, and correct, while any failing to do so is an unreconstructed hypocrite. These are the only choices.

As ever with these types of social movements, it isn’t enough to be “right.” One also must be right for the right reason. Naturally, herein also enters the discussion of identifying the right reason why the wrong are wrong, perhaps so as to convert them– upon receipt of the crowd’s wise and agreed critique– to being right. Among collective critics, few devices are more seductive than the critique of hypocrisy, and boy are people who think Barry Bonds should be in the baseball hall of fame enjoying lobbing that one over the barricade right now. As enunciated by ESPN baseball “insider” and live Pinocchio puppet Jeff Passan, the latest version goes like this:

The campaign against Bonds has spanned decades, involving malfunctions of fairness and logic across multiple cohorts.

It starts with Major League Baseball and the blind eye that Selig, his office and the game’s stewards turned toward PEDs. From there came the duplicity of riding the steroid wave to new stadiums and bigger TV deals and exponential revenue growth while villainaizing the very people who fueled it.

Perhaps ironically (irony being another too-seductive critique of people expressing themselves on the internet), Passan’s thesis contains some infirmities of its own. Omission of serial commas aside, this seems to ignore the fact that the Hall is a separate entity outside the control of MLB or its commissioner or club owners. Everyone associated with baseball profited from the game’s pharmacologically driven power boom in the second half of the 1990s, and MLB still recognizes all of the statistics posted and records broken during that era. Among “the game’s stewards,” only the Hall and its electors have tried to deny laudatory acknowledgement of this period of history. The facts do not support this particular smear of Bud Selig and the owners. (Readers of this site know there are plenty of other, valid reasons to engage in that exercise.)

Nor does logic support the levying of this charge. If player-driven, sport-wide profits should buoy the Hall-of-Fame credentials of the players whose playing pushed those profits, then, the theory would hold, more support is due to, for example, the non-serving players who kept the game going during World War II (vis-a-vis the likes of Hank Greenberg and Ted Williams) or the white players, simply by virtue of their skin color, during MLB racial segregation. As concerns this sort of parsing, the far-better and generally accepted view is, of course, the opposite. Passan’s contention is too reductive to be useful.

And none of this explains Ortiz’s first-ballot election. Let’s start with the case for Ortiz. He spent most of a twenty-season career with a very successful, popular, and visible Boston Red Sox team for which he was one of the most visible faces. He was a key part of three World Series championships, adding World Series and ALCS MVP honors to ten regular-season All-Star nods. Ortiz didn’t experience much of a decline as he aged, and, as a forty-year-old, he led all of baseball in slugging (.620), OPS (1.021), and doubles (48) in 2016, his final season. He finished with 2,472 hits and 541 home runs.

I don’t lose much sleep over first-ballot (or unanimous first-ballot) status; you’re either in or you’re out. That said, here, in reverse-chronological order, is the full list of players selected for enshrinement on their respective first ballot:

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Cooperstown Kibitzing: Sheff vs. Man-Ram

Paraphrasing scripture, David Crosby wrote in reference to the months of January and February vis-a-vis the baseball media, “to every offseason there is a season, churn, churn, churn,” and so we find ourselves in that season of a season when the game is unplayed, the transactions are slow, and meta-speculation abounds. MLB is set to announce its 2019 Hall of Fame class this evening, which means everybody who’s nobody is talking about the publicized selections of everybody who’s very slightly somebody solely by virtue of having a hall-of-fame vote, which led me to the shared ballot of known typer of baseball words Bob Nightengale, whose selections were surprisingly inoffensive. These days, the things to look for to get a quick read on a voter are whether he or she included or excluded Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, and Edgar Martinez. There are a bunch of names on the ballot, and voters may vote for as many as ten, but I think the quickest way to get a feel for the type of person the voter is is to check the selections on those four players. If you somehow care, Bob was in on all four of those guys.

The selection/non-selection combination that caught my eye was the vote for Gary Sheffield and no-vote for Manny Ramirez. To be clear, I do not care about how Bob voted, and it’s a testament to the failed human experiment that is the internet (probably) how quickly the cult-like obsession around the publicization of MLB HOF ballots has dissipated into wait-was-it-ever-even-a-story? status, but this ballot pairing is interesting to me in part because it wasn’t surprising that any eligible voter would choose Sheffield over Ramirez, even though I think Ramirez probably has a better resume and, in any event, they’re pretty close. Here’s how they stack up on a series of potentially relevant factors:

sheffield ramirez

Sheffield has Ramirez by a few seasons and about a hundred hits, which, at those levels, should not be discounted, but things otherwise look pretty good for Manny. I don’t know if either of these guys deserves a plaque in Cooperstown, but if you think Sheffield does, maybe it makes sense for you to think Ramirez does too? Or maybe you just have a weird thing for mid-aughts Tigers. Maybe it’s Sheffield’s work as a World War I historian that tips the scales for today’s writer-voters. Who knows.

My guesses for who will make the cut tonight? (you didn’t ask): Mussina, Martinez, Mariano Rivera, and Roy Halladay. Tune into MLB Network at six if you want the full scoop.

UPDATE: My guesses were correct.

From the Vault: Is Cooperstown Y2K12 Compatible? (via QuestionsPresented)

Today, Barry Larkin became a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. I first contemplated this day more than a year and a half ago, and it was one of the first stories imported to this site last August.

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Is Cooperstown Y2K12 Compatible?Yesterday, voters inducted two former players, Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven, into the Baseball Hall of Fame. While the primary subtext to the story about the 2011 class has been the low number of votes players tied to steroids– including Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro– received and the implication that players associated with performance-enhancing substances might never make it into the Hall of Fame, ESPN’s Rob Nayer is looking ahead to 2 … Read More

via QuestionsPresented

The Weekend Interview: Chris Osgood

The first newspaper I read seriously and regularly was the Wall Street Journal. A test preparation company gave me a free print subscription, and I milked it as long as I could by doing things like stopping delivery when I was away, which had the effect of tacking more issues onto the end of the subscription. When it finally dried up, a friend on his way out at Dow Jones, the family driven organization that used to control the Journal before News Corp took over, lined me up with an online subscription, which carried me another year or so. By that time, newspaper websites were in full bloom, and a subscription really didn’t mean anything. When the family split and Rupert Murdoch took over, a digital lockdown followed closely on the heels of a substantial (if sometimes misguided) increase in content. No worry, though, as a free and easy workaround makes it simple to get behind the Journal’s paywall. All you have to do is…. Well, I don’t want my cell phone hacked, but, as Jimmy Cliff said, you can get it if you really want, and frankly, it isn’t even that tough.

Uh, hockey? Right. The WSJ has a regular feature called The Weekend Interview, a full-page study of one person, accompanied by an illustrated portrait by Ken Fallin. For reasons that make sense to me, Fallin inspired my photographic selection for this post, above. Because ALDLAND is neither the Journal nor The National Sports Daily, though, more often than not, the interviews are going to have to be imagined.

Chris Osgood is the right subject for this site’s first Weekend Interview. When the Detroit Red Wing goalie retired last month, my immediate reaction registered on the sadness side of the line. It wasn’t totally shocking, although I had thought he’d be around another year or two, especially given Captain Lidstrom’s decision to stay on. And Osgood is likeable, if not a perpetual fan favorite (but few goalies are). Osgood also is the type of player for whom the immediate hall of fame question is more than an element of the motions through which to go the media has obligated itself for every retiree; for him, it’s a real question, an interesting question, a debatable question, and possibly ridiculous that it is a question at all, and like Jim Gray, I promise I’ll promise you I’ll get to that question right away. Here goes… Keep reading…

Could A-Rod be the 21st century’s Pete Rose?

From the front page of the USA Today sports section:

The New York Yankees third baseman is being investigated by Major League Baseball for participating in illegal poker games and could face suspension.

“We take this very seriously and have been investigating this matter since the initial allegation,” MLB spokesman Pat Courtney said in a statement. “As part of the investigation, the commissioner’s office will interview Mr. Rodriguez.”

The first allegation came early last month when Star Magazine published a story that several people saw Rodriguez playing in poker games that were also attended by celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.

Wednesday, RadarOnline.com alleged that drugs were used in one game, and that another game organized by Rodriguez ended when a fight not involving the slugger nearly broke out. RadarOnline.com cited unnamed “eyewitnesses.”

One subsequent article states that A-Rod faces a risk of suspension, while others report questioning of the initial story by A-Rod’s publicist and others.

In the big game of baseball legacies, Rodriguez already has two strikes against him and is fouling off pitches due to admitted steroid use, a soft reputation on the field, and a sometimes misguided personal life away from the diamond. But what if it was a gambling problem that actually knocked him out?

While there are no allegations A-Rod gambled on baseball or any other sport, it’s Pete Rose’s gambling issue alone that’s keeping him out of the hall of fame. (For more on the baseball hall of fame’s potential anomalies, click here.) Charlie Hustle has all sorts of support, even given his gambling issue. It’s tough to imagine many people clamoring in A-Rod’s defense were this yet-unexplored potential gambling issue to blow up for him. If gambling put Rodriguez out of the game and the hall, it would be the only thing he and Rose had in common.

Is Cooperstown Y2K12 Compatible? (via QuestionsPresented)

Is Cooperstown Y2K12 Compatible? Yesterday, voters inducted two former players, Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven, into the Baseball Hall of Fame. While the primary subtext to the story about the 2011 class has been the low number of votes players tied to steroids– including Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro– received and the implication that players associated with performance-enhancing substances might never make it into the Hall of Fame, ESPN’s Rob Nayer is looking ahead to 2 … Read More

via QuestionsPresented