ABOVE PHOTO: Former Boston Red Sox player David Ortiz speaks via video conference, right, while MLB Hall of Fame player Pedro Martinez, left, joins him during a press conference after Ortiz´s election to the baseball hall of fame in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Tuesday, Jan 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Ricardo Hernandez)
When it comes to admission to Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame, some steroids users are better than others.
By Chris Murray
For the Philadelphia Sunday Sun
On Tuesday, Boston Red Sox great David “Big Papi” Ortiz became the lone inductee into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
Ortiz was the only person on the ballot to meet the 75% threshold that the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America have set to determine eligibility into Major League Baseball’s shrine to its greats.
His selection is also proof that when it comes to the players who played during MLB’s so-called “Steroids Era”, the Baseball Writers decisions on who to admit into those hallowed halls has less to do with morality or ethics than it does likability.
I say this because Barry Bonds, the league’s all-time home run champ and Roger Clemens, who won multiple Cy Young awards for his pitching prowess, weren’t selected despite this being their final year of eligibility while Ortiz, who tested positive for performance enhancing drugs in 2003, was selected.
(Bud Selig, the commissioner of Major League Baseball who oversaw the “Steroids Era” and chose to look the other way while making billions of dollars from it, is already in the Hall of Fame. But we’re not supposed to talk about that.)
Because of a 1994 baseball strike that left fans more than a little ticked off at Major League Baseball, league executives were looking for a way to bring fans back into the stands.
Nothing does that quite like a whole bunch of baseballs flying out of stadiums, and thus the “Chicks Dig The Longball” era began. What fans didn’t know, and what executives refused to acknowledge, was the part that performance enhancing drugs in all of that.
In 1998, when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were in hot pursuit of Roger Maris’ single-season homerun record, a reporter spotted the anabolic steroid, androstenedione in McGwire’s locker. Now, this substance was banned by the NFL, the NCAA and the Olympics, but because the sport — and the people who covered it — chose to look the other way due to what it was doing to revive baseball in terms of TV ratings and ticket sales, MLB didn’t ban the substance until 2003.
In an era where steroids use was so pervasive, the question isn’t who was juicing, it was who wasn’t.
On the one hand, I am personally happy for “Big Papi” because he, like Bonds and Clemens, was one of the game’s all-time greats.
But on the other hand, Ortiz’s election to the Hall of Fame shows the power of likability, something that makes me feel that this is less about performance enhancing drugs, and more about a player’s personality.
Pettiness is an historical problem with the BBWAA. Probably the best local example of this is the fact that Phillies great Dick Allen, a man who has all of the statistical requirements needed to get into the Hall of Fame, has been kept out because of his relationship with the media.
In his latest bid to make it to the Hall of Fame through the Golden Era Committee, Allen ended up on the outside looking again by just one vote.
Despite testing positive for steroids, Ortiz was voted in because he was well-liked by certain baseball writers while Bonds and maybe Clemens to a lesser extent were not. As someone who has witnessed the prickliness and the outright nasty disposition of Bonds, I can tell you that he was not the most likeable person in the world. But that’s not a reason to keep him out of the Hall of Fame.
After this year’s vote, and the fact that Ortiz joins Texas Rangers catcher Ivan Rodriguez and Houston Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell in that group of likable players who may have dallied with performance enhancing drugs, I don’t want to hear anything else connecting the integrity of Major League Baseball to keeping Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens out of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Because it’s not about integrity. It’s about likability. It’s about who genuflected to MLB’s beat writers, and who didn’t.
If nothing else, this year’s vote revealed a lack of credibility that shows that it might be time to find another way to select baseball’s Hall of Famers.
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