When it comes to the Hall of Fame, time might be on David Ortiz’s side.
I say “might,” because I honestly have no idea if my brethren in the Baseball Writers Association of America will change their voting patterns in the future.
Ortiz, though, will not be eligible for election anytime soon. He will play at least one more season even if he hits the five homers he needs for 500; his option for 2016 vested last month and the Red Sox hold an option on him for ’17. Once he retires, he must wait five years to get on the ballot. And once he gets on the ballot, he has 10 years to get elected.
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In other words, Ortiz likely will not appear on the ballot until at least ’21, and likely not drop off it — if he falls short of the 75 percent minimum necessary for election — until at least ’31.
That’s a long time, folks.
Time, perhaps, for the voters to reconsider their views on players alleged to have used performance-enhancing drugs, as Ortiz was in 2009 when the New York Times reported that he was on a list of 104 players who had tested positive in ’03.
Ortiz, who turns 40 on Nov. 18, faces another significant obstacle: 87 percent of his career plate appearances have come as a designated hitter; Frank Thomas is the only player to be elected to the Hall after spending the majority of his career as a DH.
I’m not sure Ortiz could overcome the stigma of being mostly a DH, even though he has the same career OPS-plus as Reggie Jackson and has helped the Red Sox to three World Series titles. His alleged positive test further compromises his candidacy, at least based upon the way candidates are judged at the present time.
The testing in ‘03 was supposed to remain confidential, but certain names leaked after the U.S. government seized samples and records as part of their BALCO investigation into Barry Bonds and others.
The late Michael Weiner, then the head of the players union, raised doubts about whether some of the players on the list actually had tested positive. Ortiz said he had been careless about using over-the-counter supplements and vitamins, but denied using steroids.
All these years later, most fans don’t want to hear nuance. Most have made up their minds on whether Ortiz used PEDs. And so, presumably, have most voters.
The evidence against Ortiz is essentially the same evidence against Sammy Sosa, minus Sosa’s embarrassing appearance before Congress. And Sosa, eighth on the all-time list with 609 home runs, has declined from 12.5 percent to 7.2 to 6.6 in his three years on the ballot.
So, why might Ortiz stand a chance?
Not because he is accommodating to media; the vote is not a popularity contest. Players who are cooperative should not be rewarded. Players who are uncooperative should not be penalized. (Case in point: Eddie Murray once threatened to sue me and I voted for him on the first ballot; one thing had nothing to do with the other).
No, my hunch on Ortiz stems from my belief that the voters’ stance against alleged PED users will soften over time, even though the current voting patterns suggest no such thing.
Confirmed users such as Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez might never get elected due to their vast misconduct. But as someone who has yet to vote for a player linked to PEDs, I will repeat what I’ve said before: I’m conflicted. And I’m going to be even more conflicted when a player suspected of using PEDs, but with no tangible evidence against him, is elected to the Hall. Mike Piazza fits that description. I vote for him, given the lack of evidence. But I know that a number of my colleagues don’t, because of you-know-what.
What if we learn that a player already enshrined in Cooperstown used PEDs? At what point do we stop splitting hairs? My point is this: Withholding votes from Bonds, Roger Clemens and others soon could become more difficult to justify. The problem all along — well, one problem — is that we do not know who did what, and to what extent.
My rationale for excluding Bonds, Clemens and Co. is that they gained an unfair competitive advantage, knowingly cheating non-users (we do not need proof; this is not a court of law). As I’ve written before, election is not a right; it is a privilege. To me, certain players abandoned that privilege, and the instructions from the Hall to consider character, integrity and sportsmanship encourages voters to take a subjective approach.
I understand the other side; I’ve always understood the other side. In truth, the only people I don’t understand are the absolutists, those on either side who are self-righteous and strident and totally convinced they are correct. Every position is flawed, every path includes a trap door.
Meanwhile, the electorate is turning over. Younger writers, who often are more forgiving of alleged PED users, are gaining ballots as 10-year BBWAA members. And in July, the Hall announced that members who are more than 10 years removed from active status no longer will be eligible to vote.
Will all that lead to new voting patterns? Your guess is as good as mine.
I’ve got my own beef: the Hall’s decision in July 2014 to reduce a player’s stay on the ballot from 15 to 10 years. That change might help clear the logjam of candidates, but it also robs voters of the one thing that might help them sort through the current noise and confusion: time.
Bonds and Clemens have only seven years left on the ballot, and they’re barely halfway home; neither has cleared 38 percent of the vote. Maybe the five years of additional eligibility would have helped them, maybe not. But the further we get from the so-called Steroid Era, the clearer our perspectives will be.
On David Ortiz. On everyone.
That’s Ortiz’s best hope. By the time he is on the ballot, we might be having a different conversation.