One last thought on the Baseball Hall of Fame voting before I shift back to my standard column: whimpering about the impact of the Patriots’ injuries. Or rather, maybe this is actually a premature thought on next year’s voting. Either way, the thought …
I won’t have a Hall of Fame vote for nine more years, which takes me up to my — oh, god help me, I’m ancient — age-54 season. Given that I’m just hoping to be upright and coherent at that point, and considering that the ballot could conceivably be taken away from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in the interim years, I suppose it’s possible that I won’t ever have an official vote.
Welp, that was way more morbid than I intended. But I suppose there’s a segue to be found here, for in a certain way mortality plays into the appeal of the Hall of Fame. Enshrinement renders the greatest to play immortal, keeping fans young at heart, if nothing else.
Another huge element of the Hall’s appeal is the recurring debate about who you’d vote for and who you would not include among the all-time greats — and don’t forget about those all-time very goods, too. I may not have an official ballot yet, but like every genuine baseball fan I know, I’ve comprised quite a few unofficial ones through the years, whether in a column, in my mind, or in a conversation with a fellow fan.
The annual exercise is fun and serious at once, and I do like to believe that when the day comes and I have the official ballot (because I’ll be very much alive and totally thriving — see, no longer morbid!) in my hands, I will take an earnest, honest approach. I’ll vote for the players who I’m convinced belong in the Hall, and if the backlog of worthwhile candidates remains as daunting as it was this year (at least 13 players had a strong case, with the cutoff coming after Jeff Kent), I will probably use every available spot for a player who has a shot at that special kind of Cooperstown immortality.
That’s a roundabout way of saying I would not be inclined to spend a ballot spot on someone like David Eckstein (two votes this year), or Garret Anderson (one vote) or heck, Jerry Remy (one vote in 1999). You might notice I didn’t say “never,’’ however. If those who deserve to be inducted — Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell, Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina, Edgar Martinez, and the various shunned superstars linked to performance-enhancing drugs — start clearing the 75-percent threshold in bulk over the next few years, maybe a bottom-of-the-ballot spot would open up.
In the linked column above from 2010, I threw a hypothetical vote Ellis Burks’s way. This year, had there not been so many legitimate candidates, it would have been tempting to do the same for Nomar Garciaparra, who was bounced from the ballot after garnering just eight votes in his second year of eligibility. J.D. Drew is eligible next year, and while in a just and understanding world he would surpass Ken Griffey Jr.’s record percentage of votes, the hunch is he’s probably going to come in somewhere shy of a single vote.
I know, I’m meandering in my old age. I suppose I should say that I bring all of this up because of one concern I already have in imagining what my ballot might look like nine years from now. I’m worried that Manny Ramirez — that goofy, compelling, often maddening, frequently charming hitting machine for seven-plus seasons with the Red Sox — will fall off the ballot next year, after his first of eligibility.
A player requires five percent of the vote to remain on the ballot for the following year. That’s roughly 20-25 votes. I think Ramirez will get them, even if there is a contingent of the electorate who won’t for any player, like Ramirez, linked to performance-enhancing drugs.
I understand those who want to take a stand against the PED users. It is not my stance, though — I just don’t think we know definitively who used and who didn’t, and the list of the former is a hell of a lot longer than the list of names we know as certain PED users.
Consider this: 104 players failed a confidential 2003 drug-testing screening. Four names — Ramirez, David Ortiz, Sammy Sosa, and Alex Rodriguez — from “the list’’ were revealed six years later. If we knew who the other 100 are, I suspect we’d have a completely different perspective on who was clean and who wasn’t. Just imagine the chaos that would ensue if an already ensrhined Hall of Famer were among the 100.
But Ramirez, the only player to hit 525 homers, 525 doubles, and bat .310 or higher (h/t, Joe Posnanski), wears the scarlet C for cheater, in part because he was brazen and in part, I suspect, because he wasn’t as vigilant as some of his peers when it came to masking. That’s his own fault. His damage is self-inflicted. I know that. But if the Hall voters shun him as a one-and-done candidate, that would be a shame, for Manny is exactly the kind of player who should be lauded and immortalized, a sensational performer with a personality unlike anyone else we’ve ever seen.
My small wish is that he remains on the ballot beyond 2017. My larger wish is that he hangs around until I have a vote. I’d like to say there’s a chance he’s enshrined before then, but I fear it would take nothing less than a blockbuster expose revealing that multiple Hall of Famers have slipped into Cooperstown before their past dalliances with PEDs could be revealed. And no one wants that, for such a scandal would be a reality so cruel that even the fun of bickering over our imaginary ballots would be lost. That would make all of us feel old.