Barry Bonds

Baseball Hall of Fame voter reveals why he's yes on Curt Schilling, no on Manny Ramirez

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Baseball Hall of Fame voter reveals why he's yes on Curt Schilling, no on Manny Ramirez

Two developments in the groupthink that has corroded Hall of Fame voting over the last decade leave me genuinely flummoxed.

The first is the slavish devotion to WAR as the primary arbiter of worthiness.

WAR is a perfectly useful tool. But relying on it to the exclusion of everything else is like judging an actor on box office and not charisma. There has to be room for subjectivity. Otherwise, we might as well just load up the 2020 ballot on Baseball Reference, sort by WAR, and call it day.

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Welcome to Cooperstown, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, Larry Walker, and Scott Rolen. Sit tight, Todd Helton and Bobby Abreu. You'll get your write-in campaigns, eventually, too.

The second change is the sudden certitude that the Hall is too small, and there are too many worthy candidates, and the 10-man ballot is anachronistic, and I'D VOTE FOR 21 MEN IF I COULD, DON'T MAKE ME CHOOSE!!!! This leads to voters submitting "strategic" ballots where they leave off, say, Derek Jeter, in order to help Andruw Jones or Cliff Lee meet the minimum five percent threshold to do it all again next year.

To my fellow voters: 10 is plenty. If you consistently feel there are 12 or 15 or 18 players worthy of enshrinement, you should reevaluate your standards. It's supposed to be an exclusive club; we're not handing out Costco memberships. (That's the Veteran's committee's job, unfortunately.)

Anyway, after examining this year's ballot, I am comfortable checking five names: Bonds, Clemens, Jeter, Schilling, and Gary Sheffield. Allow me to explain each decision in capsule form.

Derek Jeter — First ballot, obvious, no need to discuss. It turns out that Nomar wasn't, in fact, better.

Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens — There's a great line in the classic sitcom "Arrested Development" when a known arsonist is not so much asked as told that he burned down a storage unit.

"Oh, most definitely," he replies without hesitation, shame, or misdirection. That's how I feel about Bonds and Clemens when it comes to PEDs.

There's no reason to pretend either case is worth deliberating. But unless and until baseball removes them from the ballot, I'm not going to treat them differently than other players no more deserving of the benefit of the doubt who have nonetheless received it. They were a product of their era, which was dirtier than a dip cup, and they dominated it like no other.

If MLB doesn't want them in Cooperstown, that's not my problem.

Curt Schilling — This can't be simply about Schilling's politics, which became abhorrent somewhere between John McCain and Sarah Palin. Schilling seems like the one player who's still being judged by the old standards, because his WAR (79.5) ranks third on the ballot. Checkmarks against him include not enough wins (216), All-Star berths (6), or Cy Young Awards (0).

But Schilling is a classic example of someone whose greatness needed to be seen in real time to be appreciated.

At the height of Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Clemens, Roy Halladay, and every other contemporary great, Schilling stood above them all (my opinion) as the man you'd want on the mound in a must-win game.

He is without question the best big-game pitcher of the last 50 years — if not ever — and that 11-2, 2.23 postseason resume is no mirage. He made 19 playoff starts and allowed two runs or fewer in 16 of them while pitching in the heart of the juiced era.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: If my life depended on winning one game, I'd hand the ball to Schilling and sleep like a baby.

Gary Sheffield — Here's a player WAR hurts, because it penalizes him for deficiencies that shouldn't override his strengths.

To wit: Sheff wasn't much of a defender at third, short, left, or right. His defensive shortcomings end up hammering his lifetime WAR.

To this I say: so what? Defensive metrics remain notoriously unreliable, so why should their role in WAR be treated as unassailable? (As but one example, consider Jacoby Ellsbury, whose defensive runs saved flipped from positive in 2008 to negative in 2009. The Red Sox determined that most of the difference could be attributed to right fielder J.D. Drew's penchant for cutting in front of him to catch every lazy fly ball to right-center. Ellsbury wore each of them as a demerit, even though he was standing right there, too.)

Anyway, I'm not here to argue that WAR denies Sheffield his due as a great defender so much as it may overstate the case of other candidates — like this year's cause du jour, Larry Walker. If we toss the defensive portion of Sheffield's WAR and focus solely on offense, we're suddenly looking at a top-35 slugger, his 80.8 lifetime offensive WAR between Hall of Famers Rod Carew (81.0) and Frank Thomas (80.5). All 34 players ahead of him on the list are either in Cooperstown, still active (Albert Pujols), or named Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, or Manny Ramirez (81.8). (For those wondering, Walker ranks 79th at 62.8.)

Add defense and baserunning, and Sheffield's overall WAR drops to 60.5, which makes him much more of a borderline case. But do we judge Einstein on his writing or his science? Sheffield was an offensive monster who also managed to steal over 250 bases. Add subjective criteria — you always scanned the opposing lineup to see where he was hitting — and he's an easy yes for me.

And finally, a note on a couple of no's.

I consider Walker a great player who's nonetheless a Coors Field creation (he hit 60 points higher at home than on the road for his career).

The slugger I wrestle with the most is Ramirez. I may eventually come around to yes, but for now, I can't ignore the fact that he was busted for PEDs twice after appearing on the infamous 2003 doping list. If he didn't care about his legacy, why should I?

 

Red Sox lefty Eduardo Rodriguez does his best Barry Bonds' impression at plate

Red Sox lefty Eduardo Rodriguez does his best Barry Bonds' impression at plate

Eduardo Rodriguez is still searching for that elusive first major league hit (he's 0-for-17, including the World Series last year) so when he strode to the plate for the first time Friday night, he had a home run king's accessory with him.

It didn't help.

As he documented on Instagram, Rodriguez had a Barry Bonds-like cross earring hanging from him when he batted in the second inning (he said fellow pitcher Chris Sale put him up to it). Alas, no dingers, not even a seeing-eye single for the Red Sox lefty from Venezuela.

Still, Rodriguez did manage to reach on an error and score his first major league run, he also laid down a sacrifice bunt in the Sox' 11-0 rout of the Padres at Petco Park. Sox pitchers have been taking batting practice as they get to hit in NL parks on this trip to San Diego and Colorado.

Teammate J.D. Martinez, whose two-homer, seven-RBI night backed E-Rod's stellar pitching (seven scoreless innings), had a harsher critique of E-Rod's swing than he did of the Sox' all-black Players Weekend uniforms.

"I mean, he's bad. I think the catcher was laughing at him at home plate today. That's what he was saying: `You can't hit, man, not with that swing.' "

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HOFer Joe Morgan's letter urges voters to keep steroid users out of Hall

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HOFer Joe Morgan's letter urges voters to keep steroid users out of Hall

Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan is urging voters to keep “known steroid users” out of Cooperstown.

A day after the Hall revealed its 33-man ballot for the 2018 class, the 74-year-old Morgan argued against the inclusion of players implicated during baseball’s steroid era in a letter to voters with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. The letter from the vice chairman of the Hall’s board of directors was sent Tuesday using a Hall email address.

Read the full text of Morgan's letter here. 

“Steroid users don’t belong here,” Morgan wrote. “What they did shouldn’t be accepted. Times shouldn’t change for the worse.”

Hall voters have been wrestling with the issue of performance-enhancing drugs for several years. Baseball held a survey drug test in 2003 and the sport began testing for banned steroids the following year with penalties. Accusations connected to some of the candidates for the Hall vary in strength from allegations with no evidence to positive tests that caused suspensions.

About 430 ballots are being sent to voters, who must have been members of the BBWAA for 10 consecutive years, and a player needs at least 75 percent for election. Ballots are due by Dec. 31 and results will be announced Jan. 24.

Writers who had not been covering the game for more than a decade were eliminated from the rolls in 2015, creating a younger electorate that has shown more willingness to vote for players tainted by accusations of steroid use. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens each received a majority of votes for the first time in 2017 in their fifth year on the ballot.

Morgan said he isn’t speaking for every Hall of Famer, but many of them feel the same way that he does.

“Players who failed drug tests, admitted using steroids, or were identified as users in Major League Baseball’s investigation into steroid abuse, known as the Mitchell Report, should not get in,” Morgan wrote. “Those are the three criteria that many of the players and I think are right.”

Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez were inducted into the Hall of Fame in July. They were joined by former Commissioner Bud Selig and retired Kansas City and Atlanta executive John Schuerholz, who were voted in by a veterans committee.

Some baseball writers said the election of Selig, who presided over the steroids era, influenced their view of whether tainted stars should gain entry to the Hall.

Morgan praised BBWAA voters and acknowledged they are facing a “tricky issue,” but he also warned some Hall of Famers might not make the trip to Cooperstown if steroid users are elected.

“The cheating that tainted an era now risks tainting the Hall of Fame too,” he wrote. “The Hall of Fame means too much to us to ever see that happen. If steroid users get in, it will divide and diminish the Hall, something we couldn’t bear.”

© 2017 by The Associated Press