Midweek Morosi: With ban in past, Cruz belongs in All-Star Game
MAY 28, 2014 7:59a ET
MILWAUKEE — The Baseball Hall of Fame is the eternal home of the game’s all-time greats, as defined by on-field performance and an endlessly debated trinity: integrity, sportsmanship and character.
The All-Star Game is a showcase of the sport’s greatest stars, driven by a fan vote that — aside from ritualistic ballot-box stuffing — generally results in rosters the paying customers want to see. Elections are driven by a combination of sentimentality (Derek Jeter this year) and recency (Chris Davis last year).
To state the obvious, Cooperstown is far more exclusive than the Midsummer Classic. And it stands to reason that the variability in standards between the honors should extend to the realm of performance-enhancing drugs.
Will I cast a Hall of Fame ballot for players suspended under Major League Baseball’s penalty-enforced testing program, which began in 2005? I don’t believe I will.
But should this year’s MLB home run leader be excluded from the festivities in Minneapolis because he was suspended last year? Absolutely not. And it appears that many of you agree.
When the current All-Star vote totals were released Tuesday, Baltimore’s Nelson Cruz ranked second among American League designated hitters. Considering the man ahead of him — Boston’s David Ortiz — is one of the most beloved figures in the sport, that’s not a bad start for Cruz. If fans wanted to penalize Cruz (again) for last year’s 50-game Biogenesis suspension, he would be farther than 17,622 votes behind the beloved Big Papi.
In fact, the gap could narrow once Orioles fans have the chance to vote during home games at Camden Yards; the team has had a road-heavy schedule in May.
“It’s an indication of the trust fans have in our testing system,” Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said. “You don’t believe me, walk out of this dugout after what seems like every other game. We’ve gotten to know the (drug testing) guys on a first-name basis ...
“It’s kind of our country in general. None of us would like to have our whole lives judged by our worst decision. Nelson’s always been a solid citizen, great teammate. Just made a bad decision.”
Personally, I’d like to see Cruz voted into the All-Star Game — if not by the fans, then certainly through the player vote or AL manager John Farrell. Cruz hit his 17th home run Tuesday in Milwaukee, and his fast start has shown no signs of slowing. It’s simple, really: The major-league home run leader belongs in the All-Star Home Run Derby.
That’s not to suggest that steroid users should be free of consequences beyond 50 games without pay. Baseball rules now prohibit players from participating in the All-Star Game or postseason during the same year as a PED suspension. But Cruz is a fully eligible major league player in 2014, signed to perhaps the wisest contract of the baseball offseason (one year, $8 million). And he ought to go to the All-Star Game, for what would be the third time.
“It’s always special,” Cruz told me Tuesday. “The All-Star Game is pretty rare. I got a chance to go last year. It was funny. The day (of) the media (interviews), it wasn’t about the All-Star break. It was about Biogenesis and all the stuff.
“Thank God, everything is in the past. I play for the future. Hopefully, I (will) go to the All-Star (Game).”
Toronto outfielder Melky Cabrera, who served a PED suspension of his own in 2012, ranks fifth in fan voting among AL outfielders. He has an OPS of .870 for a Blue Jays team that has won eight straight and occupies first place in the AL East. While his candidacy isn’t as strong as Cruz’s, he merits consideration, too.
Cabrera and Cruz served their suspensions. Now they’re putting up numbers and passing drug tests. If they prove that they’re among baseball’s best in 2014, they deserve to stand on a base line and hear their names called July 15 at Target Field.