If it hadn’t happened while Barry Bonds was on trial, Manny Ramirez might have made the Hall of Fame.
As you’ve heard by now, Manny’s career is over. Late last week Major League Baseball released a statement confirming what many had been whispering about: Ramirez was in some violation of baseball’s drug policy. (The specified punishment for a two-time offender is a 100-game suspension.) Ramirez chose instead to pack it all in.
And so ends one of the oddest and most tempestuous careers in baseball history, not to mention one of the greatest.
Saddest of all, it looks as if Ramirez will be denied entrance to the Hall of Fame when he’s eligible in 2017. Here’s what former New York Times columnist and current blogger Murray Chass wrote today:
“Thus, on the Hall of Fame plaque he is virtually certain never to have in Cooperstown, it could list his .312 career batting average, his .411 on-base percentage, his .585 slugging percentage, his 1,831 runs batted in, his 555 home runs and his status as the first two-time drug loser at the cost of 150 games.”
ESPN’s Buster Olney, who is becoming the biggest self-righteous prig in the sports media, announced last night during the telecast of the Red Sox-Yankees game that “I absolutely will not vote for Manny Ramirez for the Hall of Fame.” This was after Olney acknowledged he had voted for Mark McGwire,even though McGwire not only used performance enhancing drugs but refused to admit as much before a Congressional hearing and then lied about it publicly.
Olney is merely one of numerous sportswriters who have come out against Manny’s admission into Cooperstown.
Before this gets even more out of hand, there’s a couple of points which should be made. First, anything Manny Ramirez used before the 2004 season is not only unproven, it is irrelevant: there were no restrictions on drug use in MLB before then, so nobody has any business passing judgment. By 2003, Manny had played for the big leagues eleven years — ten of them full seasons and one in which he played 91 games — and had clearly established himself as a Hall of Fame-level player with a .320 batting average, 345 home runs, and eight seasons of 107 or more RBIs. He had lead the league in slugging twice, on-base percentage twice, and batting and runs batted in once.
Second, as I never tire of pointing out, there isn’t any real evidence that 90% of the PEDs that are known to exist have any real effect at all on baseball performance. Barry Bonds might be the only ballplayer who can be clearly shown to have gained a substantial boost from the use of PEDs, and he was a virtual laboratory rate for BALCO.
Manny Ramirez did not, as Barry Bonds did, become a greater ballplayer in his mid-to-late thirties. In fact, after hitting well over .300 in eight of his previous nine seasons, after 2004, when he turned 32, he hit over .300 just three times the next seven seasons. He did not get faster, either. His fielding and base running, which were both dreadful, got even worse as he got older. (And in 2009, when he was suspended for 50 games after failing a drug test, he wound up just .290, his lowest batting average since 1994.)
I was never a fan of Manny’s antics and slovenly style of play, but I have to admit it was a more interesting game when he was out there. I guess I’m going to miss him, and so are the Tampa Bay Rays, who now are faced with the daunting task of finding a new DH. (Though Manny, now 39, had picked up just one hit in 17 at-bats so far this season.)
But I can find no reason for keeping him out of Cooperstown. Drug use in MLB isn’t proof of criminality; it’s a relative misdemeanor for which there are prescribed punishments. Manny paid his debt the first time and is paying an even bigger one now. That should be all that matters to HOF voters. My guess is that between now and 2017, when his name goes on the ballot, most of the writers who are damning him will forget about their anger and remember all the things he did to crack up everyone in the clubhouse.