If you would have told anyone in 2007 that Alex Rodriguez would be resoundingly passed over in his first year of Cooperstown consideration, the reaction would have likely been confusion, if not full consternation.
The accolades are all there: He’s likely the best shortstop of the modern era, a three-time MVP, a World Series champion, a 14-time All Star, and is ranked 16th all time in WAR, and 12th among position players. And he’s also among the most tainted athletes to ever play the game, having served a 162-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs for what MLB determined to be at least three years of his playing career. He had an alleged exemption to use testosterone in his 2007 MVP year and allegedly failed a drug test in 2003, before MLB’s full crackdown. It was little shock, then, that he got just 34.3% of the vote, and wasn’t even a possibility for induction in the days leading up to the official announcement Tuesday night.
But this is just year one of what will almost definitely be a protracted debate, and, if the voting results are any indication, it could end up being far murkier than was expected when he was handed his suspension in 2014. After all, David Ortiz, who once tested positive on an anonymous test in 2003 but has denied using steroids, made the Hall of Fame in his very first year.
And while it’s true that both Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were denied entry to the Hall in their 10th and final year on the ballot, general trends in voting show that positions are softening when it comes to PED use. Both Bonds and Clemens were on track to (barely) make Cooperstown after about half of the votes were revealed prior to the official announcement, and saw progressive gains in their decade of purgatory. Both polled at around 65%.
There’s also indication that the upcoming batch of voters — those who receive their vote after 10 consecutive years of covering the sport as members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America — are less interested in penalizing PED use.
The online Hall of Fame ballot tracker, put together by Ryan Thibodaux every year since 2016, showed Tuesday afternoon that 12 of the 14 new voters among the first 186 revealed ballots this year voted for Bonds and Clemens.
However, that isn’t the only thing standing in the way of Rodriguez’s candidacy — if it was, he’d likely be inducted in a few short years. No, Rodriguez’s career is not just tainted by the fact that he used PEDs; it’s also harmed by how prolific his use appeared to be, the era in which he used them, and his stalwart denials, which were later shown to be untrue.
Both Bonds and Clemens allegedly used steroids in the unregulated heyday of PEDs, and didn’t test positive once MLB finally enforced its PED policy. Baseball didn’t even implement randomized drug testing until five years after the famed 1998 home run race — one that was fueled by steroids, leading many to believe that MLB was simply looking the other way. Additionally, both players were essentially Hall of Famers before it’s believed that they began using steroids.
Rodriguez, on the other hand, is dogged by rumors that was even using PEDs in high school, and was suspended in 2014 for steroid use between the years of 2010 to 2012, well after MLB’s hardened stance on PEDs was codified. He even went on 60 Minutes and WFAN to deny using steroids, before eventually confessing to the Drug Enforcement Administration in 2014.
Still, the debate will no doubt rage on. For the strikes against him, Rodriguez’s vote turnout is respectable for a first-year candidate, and a decent indicator his case can get stronger — and more complicated — in the years to come.