FORT MYERS, Fla. — When David Ortiz was signed to a contract extension on Sunday, Red Sox owner John Henry was quoted on the press release saying, “We are so proud to have this ambassador of our game with us as he continues on this road to Cooperstown.”
On Twitter and elsewhere, it was immediately pointed out that Ortiz was once tied to the use of performance-enhancing drugs and such players have so far been denied induction in the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
True enough. But Henry’s statement may yet prove prophetic. Here are some theories why:
(First, a few disclosures. John Henry also owns the Globe and I’m a BBWAA member with Hall of Fame voting rights. Just so we’re clear.)
• If Ortiz plays two more seasons, he would not be on the ballot until 2020. In those seven years, the group of BBWAA members who are eligible to vote for the Hall of Fame will have changed considerably.
Ten years of membership is required before voting rights are awarded. By 2020 or 2021, the voting bloc will be younger, perhaps considerably so. Those voters, having grown up watching baseball in the Steroid Era, would seem more inclined to vote for players tied to PEDs.
The BBWAA also has added more internet writers to its rolls in recent years, a trend that will only continue to rise. This group, too, is more likely to judge a player by the context of his era and his statistics than by a vague moral code written decades ago.
There is also debate within the BBWAA about narrowing the field of voters because, frankly, we have too many people voting who haven’t laid eyes on a baseball game in 15 years.
• In the next seven or eight years, a player like Jeff Bagwell or Mike Piazza is likely to be elected. Neither has been formally tied to PEDs, but they have been denied votes based solely on suspicion. Bagwell received 54.3 percent of the votes last season and Piazza 62.2.
Once those players and others like them get in, mustering up reasons to keep others out will be more difficult.
• It seems inevitable that eventually a member of the Hall of Fame will be tied to PED use. When that day comes, the idea that a room in a museum in upstate New York is some sort of sacred shrine to morality will lose a lot of its luster.
The Hall has assorted bigots, felons, wife-beaters and cheaters. A few PED users probably won’t cause the walls to collapse. Once all the hand-wringing is over with, claiming the moral high ground will be a lot harder.
• When Ortiz makes the ballot, research of his PED ties will reveal that he was on a list of players found to have tested positive in 2003 before the start of baseball’s formal drug program. That substance is to this day unknown. The list was leaked to the New York Times six years after the fact, likely to embarrass Ortiz.
The MLB Players Association has said the number of players on that list exceeded the number of positive samples. The union also has said that some legal supplements available at the time could have triggered a positive test result.
So while Ortiz is tied to drug use, it’s hardly a lockdown case. He was on a list for taking something that was leaked to a newspaper. In a court of law, that wouldn’t be much to go on.
I think Ortiz probably took some kind of PED and knew what he was doing. The same was true of hundreds of players in that era. But in the decade since, baseball has made progress in changing that.
• That no designated hitter has yet been elected is a hurdle. But Ortiz is the best DH in the history of the game and was a significant part of three World Series champions. His playing credentials stand up.
• Finally, contemporaries of Ortiz will soon be elected to the Hall, Pedro Martinez being one of them. They’re going to campaign for his induction and their words will be heard.
I’m not suggesting Ortiz makes it on the first ballot. But the climate in seven or eight years will be a lot different than it is now. What seems tainted now may seem quaint then.