Yes, I understand the paradox at play. I felt that I needed to bid a proper farewell to the former Boston and Los Angeles slugger who abruptly departed the game this past weekend. Ramirez recorded a single hit in 17 at-bats for the Tampa Bay Rays before taking a couple personal days. That quickly devolved into rumor and speculation in the Twitter-verse that Ramirez had once again tested positive for a banned substance and was retiring rather than serve the requisite 100-game suspension.
After a few rounds of jokes regarding pregnancy scares, the discussion splintered into two areas. Where would the Rays find the offense they expected the veteran hitter to produce? Is Manny still a Hall of Famer?
The first is definitely up for debate, particularly with Evan Longoria still sidelined. Sam Fuld (.321 batting average) has been a highlight machine (both good and bad at the plate and in the field), but no other everyday player except for B.J. Upton is batting higher than .235. Johnny Damon is hitting .189 after a 3-for-5 night on Monday. Ben Zobrist crept past the Mendoza Line with his three-hit night.
In short, there’s a lot that needs to be fixed in this lineup for the Rays to get competitive. Desmond Jennings offers some big-time speed once he gets called up. Power in the post-Pena and Crawford era is going to be sparse.
That other question is a true head-scratcher. It comes down to the George Clooney declaration to Matt Damon in “Ocean’s Eleven.”
“You’re either in or you’re out. Right now.”
You either admit players from the PED era in or you don’t.
To try and play the guessing game about when a player became “tainted” is a fool-hearty proposition. We saw the swelling of heads, biceps and quads during the decade. We watched and applauded as the pinball-like numbers changed the record books forever. Baseball’s top executives and team management celebrated the “cha-ching” sound made at the turnstiles and the game’s new era of popularity and highlight-worthy blasts. The players were superheroes. Their tight uniforms might have well had cool logos on them. Oh, wait. They did.
The Hall of Fame voters have been looking at this for a couple years now. Mark McGwire, now an admitted user, has appeared on the ballot for several years and has never received more than 25% backing. Rafael Palmeiro appeared on the ballot for the first time in 2011 and received 11% of the vote required for election. Palmeiro’s 569 home runs and 3,020 hits normally warrant a king’s welcome. Instead, questions about his positive test (which he blamed on a B-12 shot) prompted many writers to leave him off of their ballots.
And then there’s the curious case of Barry Bonds. The jury is currently out, considering three counts of making false statements to a grand jury and one count of obstruction of justice related to questions about steroids and HGH. Bonds exited the game with 762 home runs, 1,996 RBI, 514 stolen bases and 2,935 hits.
Bonds is the poster child in this “he was in before …” debate. We know that he changed physically and became a behemoth in his later years, protected by the famous arm and shin guards (I would like some for my man-cave wall if anybody has an angle). The argument goes that Bonds was already a 300-300 player before he allegedly entered the PED netherworld.
Again, who is to say when that started? If he’s found guilty in this current trial, is Bonds still a Hall of Famer? If he’s acquitted, I don’t suspect that public sentiment changes. Do we just make our comparisons of trading card photos the line of demarcation and call it two careers?
Some make the case for Mark McGwire, but I’m not certain that I understand if we’re arbitrarily picking starting points for substance use. McGwire had ripped 220 home runs before injuries limited him to 74 games combined in the 1993 and 1994 seasons. He played in 104 games and hit 39 home runs in 1995, and the chase for his immortality was on. McGwire would hit 245 home runs in the next four seasons before injuries would run their course and limit his availability in the 2000 and 2001 seasons. He still hit a total of 61 home runs in 535 at-bats in those final two seasons.
Where are we drawing the imaginary line for McGwire? Does it go back to pre-1995? Do we look to the final two years and his struggles to get on the field? Or, does the 1998 home run race with Sammy Sosa erase everything else?
That brings me to Ramirez. If you’re trying to find the physical changes that have become the starting point for the Bonds and Sammy Sosa discussions, then you’re going to have a hard time with Manny. And the hair ….
He got popped multiple times in this hyper-vigilant era. Is he automatically disqualified from Hall of Fame consideration?
Where’s his cut-off line?
If we go to the 2009 season at Ramirez’s first failed test, then he’d already amassed 527 home runs with 1,725 RBI, 12 All-Star selections, a lifetime batting average of .315 and the two World Series rings earned in Boston (2004 World Series MVP).
That certainly seems Hall-worthy with room to spare.
Which “Manny being Manny” moment creates that distinction, that proverbial “line in the sand?” His exit from Boston was unorthodox and unpopular, but that doesn’t negate the numbers he’d accumulated.
Manny, Palmeiro and Bonds all have mighty interesting careers to try and sort through. Manny failed his tests and went on vacation. Palmeiro maintains his innocence, and people go to jail rather than speaking about Bonds.
Without that smoking gun, something fool-proof to document an early introduction of the substances, how do we pick a date by which to evaluate the candidates?
Should they all get in? Do they all stay out? After all, McGwire played under the old rules, and Manny and Palmeiro had done their damage before the new rules were implemented.
I’ll offer a compromise on McGwire. Maybe he goes in as a contributor for his 1998 heroics and the national media attention for baseball?
As for Palmeiro and Manny, I’d certainly give them the nod over McGwire, and Manny would be the leader in the clubhouse from that trio. Bonds trumps them all.
If the Hall of Fame is meant to chronicle the history of the game and celebrate the best of each era, then this era cannot get excised altogether. Everyone associated with the game and those fans who watched it ignored the shadows and lauded the accomplishments. I dust off the image of Russell Crowe shouting, “Were you not entertained?” in “Gladiator.”
I’ll be curious to see how the voters treat Frank Thomas, Ken Griffey, Jr., Mike Piazza and the next round of consideration for players such as Jeff Bagwell and Juan Gonzalez.
Don’t worry. I’ll circle back the last of this crew (for now), Roger Clemens, at a later date.