Remember that scene in The Jerk, where Steve Martin starts running around screaming, “The new phonebook is here! The new phonebook is here!” Well that’s how I felt earlier this week.
The new Hall of Fame ballot is here, folks.
First, the background: I’ve been a voter since 2004, when Dennis Eckersley and Paul Molitor were inducted into Cooperstown. This is my 14th election. I’ve gotten some right and some wrong — and undoubtedly will continue to do so. I make my vote public because I feel like you have a right to know. And I’m still waiting, like you, for the three people who left Ken Griffey Jr. off their ballots last year to identify themselves.
That said, let’s get right to the information you’re looking for:
I’m a yes on Manny Ramirez. I’m a yes on Pudge Rodriguez. I’m a no on Vladimir Guerrero.
Now let me try to explain why.
Steroids were a part of the game, folks — and a bigger part than anyone really wants to admit. Quite simply, there is no way to know who used and who didn’t. What we’re left with is a guess, plain and simple, no matter what anybody says. There are voters out there who turn this into a moral issue — if you got caught using, you’re out — but common sense tells us there are already users in the Hall of Fame. If you were to ask voters whether they think Mike Piazza used steroids, I bet most of them would say yes. But the large majority of them voted for Piazza last year, anyway, and that just seems kind of dumb.
Me? I didn’t vote for Piazza, mostly because I regard him as product of the era. I feel the same of Jeff Bagwell. If that sounds terribly vague, it is, and I don’t blame you for rolling your eyes or pounding your fist. The real problem with the steroid era was that it tainted everyone, which makes voting a damn-near impossibility. The numbers don’t mean anything anymore. (Rafael Palmeiro has both 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, and he’s not in.) And the simple truth is that they shouldn’t because baseball players, owners, executives, media and fans all contributed to the pollution of the game.
So here’s what I’ve been left with: I vote with my eyes and my gut. If, as a result, you find my votes, inconsistent, so be it. My job is to tell you what I think and feel — based on my ballot — so that’s I do.
Which brings me to Manny, who will almost certainly be snubbed by a majority of the voters because of multiple steroids violations and suspensions.
Here’s what I can tell you about Manny: he was perhaps the most gifted right-handed hitter I have ever seen, right there with Edgar Martinez (whom I also vote for). From 1994 through 2000, Ramirez was a centerpiece of the Cleveland Indians lineup that led the American league in runs scored. From 2001 through the middle of 2008, he was then a centerpiece of the Boston lineup that produced more runs than any AL team other than the New York Yankees. Add it all up and get the single, best middle-of-the-order bat in the American League over what amounted to a 15-year period, and there is no more valuable skill in the game.
Was he a good fielder? No. Was he a good baserunner? No. But Manny was so elite in the batter’s box that nothing else really matters, and I’m not basing that on his individual numbers. I’m basing it on his swing, his plate discipline, his situational awareness in the batter’s box. Manny was a freak, plain and simple, and that was true whether he used or not.
Guerrero? He’s close, but he’s not quite there. He obviously had tremendous hand-eye coordination, but he lacked plate discipline. He was fast, for sure, but he was not a great baserunner. And for all of the talk about Guerrero’s arm, he was not an especially good defensive player. (Ramirez, for what it’s worth, actually has more career assists.)
So where’s my line for induction?
Apparently, somewhere between Guerrero and Ramirez.
As for Pudge, he is a most interesting case. Between his late-20s and mid-30s, when steroid testing was implemented, his slugging percentage dropped nearly 250 points. (Given the simultaneous changes in his body, that is hard to ignore.) He was never disciplined as a hitter. And yet, because he was simply dominant as a defensive player (13 Gold Gloves, including 10 in a row), Rodriguez remained a centerpiece of playoff contenders late into his career, making him one of the most well-rounded players ever to field his position. All things considered, he was even a good baserunner.
For me, that’s good enough.
Now look at the bright side:
You really don’t have to worry about the Hall of Fame ballot again until next year, when the new phonebook arrives.
Tony Massarotti is an avid Boston sports fan and has covered sports in Boston for more than 15 years for both the Boston Herald and Boston Globe. He now serves as a co-host on afternoon drive on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston. He was a two-time Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year as voted by his peers and has written four books, including “Big Papi,” the New York Times-bestselling memoirs of David Ortiz. You can follow Tony @tonymassarotti.