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Bonds, Clemens, Sosa on Hall ballot for first time

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Bonds, Clemens, Sosa on Hall ballot for first time

NEW YORK (AP) The most polarizing Hall of Fame debate since Pete Rose will now be decided by the baseball shrine's voters: Do Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa belong in Cooperstown despite drug allegations that tainted their huge numbers?

In a monthlong election sure to become a referendum on the Steroids Era, the Hall ballot was released Wednesday, and Bonds, Clemens and Sosa are on it for the first time.

Bonds is the all-time home run champion with 762 and won a record seven MVP awards. Clemens took home a record seven Cy Young trophies and is ninth with 354 victories. Sosa ranks eighth on the homer chart with 609.

Yet for all their HRs, RBIs and Ws, the shadow of PEDs looms large.

``You could see for years that this particular ballot was going to be controversial and divisive to an unprecedented extent,'' Larry Stone of The Seattle Times wrote in an email. ``My hope is that some clarity begins to emerge over the Hall of Fame status of those linked to performance-enhancing drugs. But I doubt it.''

More than 600 longtime members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America will vote on the 37-player ballot. Candidates require 75 percent for induction, and the results will be announced Jan. 9.

Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza and Curt Schilling also are among the 24 first-time eligibles. Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines are the top holdover candidates.

If recent history is any indication, the odds are solidly stacked against Bonds, Clemens and Sosa. Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro both posted Cooperstown-caliber stats, too, but drug clouds doomed them in Hall voting.

Some who favor Bonds and Clemens claim the bulk of their accomplishments came before baseball got wrapped up in drug scandals. They add that PED use was so prevalent in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s that it's unfair to exclude anyone because so many who-did-and-who-didn't questions remain.

Many fans on the other side say drug cheats - suspected or otherwise - should never be afforded the game's highest individual honor.

Either way, this election is baseball's newest hot button, generating the most fervent Hall arguments since Rose. The discussion about Rose was moot, however - the game's career hits leader agreed to a lifetime ban in 1989 after an investigation concluded he bet on games while managing the Cincinnati Reds, and that barred him from the BBWAA ballot.

The BBWAA election rules allow voters to pick up to 10 candidates. As for criteria, this is the only instruction: ``Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.''

That leaves a lot of room for interpretation.

Bonds, Clemens and Sosa won't get a vote from Mike Klis of The Denver Post.

``Nay on all three. I think in all three cases, their performances were artificially enhanced. Especially in the cases of Bonds and Clemens, their production went up abnormally late in their careers,'' he wrote in an email.

They'll do better with Bob Dutton of The Kansas City Star.

``I plan to vote for all three. I understand the steroid/PED questions surrounding each one, and I've wrestled with the implications,'' he wrote in an email.

``My view is these guys played and posted Hall of Fame-type numbers against the competition of their time. That will be my sole yardstick. If Major League Baseball took no action against a player during his career for alleged or suspected steroid/PED use, I'm not going to do so in assessing their career for the Hall of Fame,'' he said.

San Jose Mercury News columnist Mark Purdy will reserve judgment.

``At the beginning of all this, I made up my mind I had to adopt a consistent policy on the steroid social club. So, my policy has been, with the brilliance in the way they set up the Hall of Fame vote where these guys have a 15-year window, I'm not going to vote for any of those guys until I get the best picture possible of what was happening then,'' he wrote in an email.

``We learn a little bit more each year. We learned a lot during the Bonds trial. We learned a lot during the Clemens trial. I don't want to say I'm never going to vote for any of them. I want to wait until the end of their eligibility window and have my best idea of what was really going on,'' he said.

Clemens was acquitted this summer in federal court on six counts that he lied and obstructed Congress when he denied using performance-enhancing drugs.

Bonds was found guilty in 2011 by a federal court jury on one count of obstruction of justice, ruling he gave an evasive answer in 2003 to a grand jury looking into the distribution of illegal steroids. Bonds is appealing the verdict.

McGwire is 10th on the career home run list with 583, but has never received even 24 percent in his six Hall tries. Big Mac has admitted to using steroids and human growth hormone.

Palmeiro is among only four players with 500 homers and 3,000 hits, yet has gotten a high of just 12.6 percent in his two years on the ballot. He drew a 10-day suspension in 2005 after a positive test for PEDs, and said the result was due to a vitamin vial given to him by teammate Miguel Tejada.

Biggio topped the 3,000-hit mark - which always has been considered an automatic credential for Cooperstown - and spent his entire career with the Houston Astros.

``Hopefully, the writers feel strongly that they liked what they saw, and we'll see what happens,'' Biggio said last week.

Schilling was 216-146 and won three World Series championships, including his ``bloody sock'' performance for the Boston Red Sox in 2004.

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AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley and AP Sports Writers Arnie Stapleton and Dave Skretta contributed to this report.

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Wizards GM search: Resetting the potential candidates

Wizards GM search: Resetting the potential candidates

The Wizards general manager search reset needs a reset.

We head into the holiday weekend with the local NBA team still lacking a permanent front office leader. Zero reports of interviews of any kind since last week’s meeting with Nuggets President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly.

At least we can cross off the idea of flirting with Portland’s Neil Olshey. The Blazers’ President of Basketball reportedly signed an extension one day after NBC Sports Washington reported interest from the Wizards.

For now, we wait, though be prepared for a hire any day – or not. At this point, here are the names to consider.

Tommy Sheppard – The Wizards VP of Basketball Operations began running the show on an interim basis following the firing of President of Basketball Operations on April 2. That he’s making the calls from inside the house, running the pre-draft process and showing a Wizards world with him in charge gives Sheppard an inside track over all other candidates.

To call him the favorite, however, might be a stretch at this point based simply on the fact that he has not been hired despite his in-house status. Sheppard is well respected around the NBA and league voices would tell frustrated fans they shouldn’t consider him Grunfeld 2.0.

Theory: If Sheppard gets the nod, the Wizards promote Go-Go general manager Pops Mensah-Bonsu to serve as Sheppard’s number two and then promote the benefits of their G-League investment beyond player development.

Troy Weaver –The Thunder assistant general manager met with the Wizards twice. Weaver, long considered a rising front-office star, worked with Wizards coach Scott Brooks in Oklahoma City and flashed his recruiting skills at Syracuse when he landed Carmelo Anthony. The D.C. native still has ties to the area.

Danny Ferry – Like Weaver, Ferry met with the Wizards twice in Washington. Throughout the search process, multiple league sources told NBC Sports Washington that the former Hawks and Cavaliers general manager is the best candidate for the Wizards’ opening even over Connelly. The Hawks won 60 games during the 2014-15 season and reached the Eastern Conference Finals.

Some question the strength of his candidacy based on any lingering controversy stemming from comments he made as Hawks GM regarding Luol Deng’s heritage in 2014, of which an independent investigation stated Ferry's intentions were not racially motivatedThis week former Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr. vouched for Ferry’s character on a local radio show.

Neither Ferry nor Weaver was likely to have heard back from the Wizards since Connelly’s involvement as of mid-week, according to sources familiar with the situation. Like the rest of us, they wait for news. 

Larry Harris – There’s no official reporting linking the Wizards to Golden State’s assistant GM. Washington and New Orleans both used the same consultant, Mike Forde, during their front office searches. Many of the same people have interviewed for both jobs. Harris, the former Bucks GM who joined the Warriors in 2008, met with New Orleans before the playoffs began.

That the Wizards appear patient with their search may suggest they are waiting for someone still in the playoffs.

Masai Ujiri – Speaking of an executive whose team is still in the playoffs… Ujiri’s Raptors are one game away from reaching the NBA Finals. NBC Sports Washington previously reported Ujiri showed interest in Washington. However, expectations of high salary demands and compensation from the Raptors for their President of Basketball Operations stunted any serious movement.

Bonus names -- Bucks assistant GM Milt Newton was part of the Wizards front office from 2003 to 2013. … Celtics assistant GM Mike Zarren was deemed a candidate by the New York Times early in the process. One Boston-based source believes that Zarren would prefer remaining with the team he grew up rooting for rather than pursue most open GM jobs. … Spurs assistant GM Brian Wright, another D.C. area native, just completed his third year with San Antonio. 

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Nationals win despite having to turn to little-known pitcher for pivotal start

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Nationals win despite having to turn to little-known pitcher for pivotal start

WASHINGTON -- If any bump was coming from a return home or Mike Rizzo’s public pregame words or simply being out of New York, it was not apparent Friday.

Three errors committed in the first four innings. The first reliever into the game, Joe Ross, allowed three earned runs before recording a second out. Starter Kyle McGowin barely made it through the fourth inning of an eventual and desperately needed 12-10 win.

The rally kept the Nationals from creeping toward of new level of dubiousness in this muck-filled season. They pushed 2 ½ games in front of the Marlins for the National League’s worst record. Juan Soto hit a three-run homer in the eighth. Matt Adams followed with a solo homer. Sean Doolittle had trouble, but closed the game. Those efforts kept this from being another story about the bullpen (five more runs allowed Friday).

So, here’s a different question to ponder (there are a million or none, depending on point of view) after Friday night: How did the Nationals end up with 27-year-old McGowin starting a surprisingly pivotal game?

The nuts-and-bolts version is because of injuries. Both Anibal Sanchez -- who threw a simulation game Friday -- and Jeremy Hellickson are on the injured list. The deeper answer comes from looking at the recent erosion of pitchers in Washington’s minor-league system.

McGowin made his second career start Friday because there is no one else. No hot minor-league prospect, no early-round pick who has been up and down and received another shot, no veteran stashed in the minor leagues for such situations.

Looming behind all of this is the 2016 trade of three pitching prospects to acquire Adam Eaton. Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning were all sent to Chicago for Eaton’s advanced-stats and cost-friendly contract. The departure of three starting pitchers in one shot reverberated Friday when the Nationals were forced to use McGowin in a spot start as the seventh starter of the season.

This is more a volume than quality issue. Neither Lopez or Giolito were effective in limited chances at the major-league level with Washington before being traded. Once in Chicago, Giolito became arguably the worst pitcher in baseball in 2018. No one allowed more earned runs or walks that season. Lopez had a quality season, finishing with 3.1 WAR.

The two have reversed outcomes in 2019. Giolito has rediscovered his velocity. After throwing 100 mph in the 2015 Futures Game, his velocity caved. Giolito was down to 92-93 mph with the Nationals and, initially, Chicago. Thursday, he hit 97 mph in the ninth inning of a shutout against Houston. The outing drove his ERA down to 2.77.

Lopez is struggling. His 5.14 ERA is venturing toward Giolito’s status of a year ago. His walk total -- always the concern -- is up, as are his homers allowed.

But what Giolito and Lopez have, at age 24 and 25, respectively, is potential. Giolito, who often fussed with his mechanics in Washington, has discovered a delivery to expedite his fastball and an approach to boost the effectiveness of his changeup. Lopez’s 2018 showed he can be a solid back-end rotation member. They were expected to follow behind Erick Fedde and Joe Ross in establishing a future rotation. But, those two are in Chicago, Ross is in the bullpen, where he gave up three runs Friday, and Fedde just returned to the rotation after being moved to the bullpen.

So, it was McGowin on the mound Friday. Four innings, six hits, five runs, one walk, two strikeouts, two home runs allowed. Why? No better choice is available.

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