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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Rapid reaction: Mike Trout’s reported contract extension

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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:

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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.

Taylor Swift and Phish deserve 2016 World Series rings

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Taylor Swift’s influence on this year’s historic World Series is well-recognized. First, she cleared the Chicago Cubs’ path through the National League side of the playoff draw by failing to release a new album in an even year for the first time since 2006, thereby removing the true and powerful source of the San Francisco Giants’ even-year magic. Things wobbled a bit when, on the day of game three of the NLDS (in which the Cubs held a 2-0 series lead over the Giants), Swift announced that her first concert in nearly a year would take place later that month and, some thought, hinted at a new album release that would spirit the Giants to another world championship. San Francisco avoided elimination by beating Chicago that night.

Swift performed her concert, but she ultimately declined to release a new album, thereby halting the Giants’ playoff run and allowing the Cubs to advance to the World Series.

As all baseball fans know from the parable of the angels in the outfield, though, a team’s supernatural helper– be it Christopher Lloyd or T-Swizz– only will carry the team so far. In the World Series, the Cubs faltered again. Their offensive power, which had floated them to a regular-season-best 103 wins, suddenly became scarce in the playoffs, and they quickly found themselves in a 3-1 hole against Cleveland in the final round. Backs against the wall, Chicago would have to win three straight games in order to claim the title. To do that, their first baseman, Anthony Rizzo, would have to start hitting.

At twenty-seven years old, Rizzo qualifies as a wise old veteran on this young Cubs team, and he knew a change was necessary for the Cubs to have a shot at winning the series, so he made one. All year and throughout the playoffs, Rizzo had used Swift’s “Bad Blood” as his walkup music, and it had served him well. With one game left at Wrigley Field, the first of three consecutive must-wins, Rizzo hit shuffle on the jukebox, swapping “Bad Blood” for the Rocky theme. It worked. Rizzo hit a key double and scored a run, and the Cubs won 3-2, sending the series back to Cleveland, where they would win twice more, including a dramatic game-seven victory in extra innings. And it’s all thanks to Taylor Swift.

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Almost all of it, anyway. The touring phenomenon that is the band Phish has been making music together since 1983. In the more than thirty years of their existence, they have performed in Chicago numerous times. In fact, prior to this year, they’d played in Chicago twenty-eight times (I’m counting their five appearances in Rosemont), including a 1991 gig at the famous Cubby Bear bar. (For more on that storied venue’s history with music and baseball, enjoy this brief video from 1984.)

Until 2016, though, they never had performed inside the (helping) friendly confines of Wrigley Field. In the 108th year of Chicago’s north-side championship drought, however, Vermont’s finest made their Wrigley Field debut on June 24. We joined them on night two of their two-night Wrigley run, and they were excellent. The second night’s second set, in particular, was sublime.

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I don’t recall any explicit baseball references from the band that evening, but the first set offered some clues:

  • Waiting All Night (a World Series game seven preview)
  • 46 Days (sung as a reference to the days of 1946, the year after the Cubs’ last World Series appearance)
  • I Didn’t Know (You Were That Far Gone – from a World Series championship)
  • Good Times Bad Times (acknowledging that the Cubs and their fans have had their share of both)

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Are there musicians more closely associated with the Chicago Cubs than Taylor Swift and Phish? Probably. Eddie Vedder comes to mind. Michigander and ostensible Detroit Tigers fan Jack White has had his public flirtations. It is clear from the foregoing, however, that no musicians did more to help the Cubs break their various curses and claim a World Series title for the first time in 108 years than Swift and Phish. If Manny Ramirez is getting a World Series ring this year, then so should Taylor, Trey, Jon, Mike, and Page.

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