The choice by Alex Rod riguez to sit out the remainder of this season, as delivered by his publicist, Ron Berkowitz, could set in motion a very interesting timeline if his next decision is retirement.
With so much discussion lately about A-Rod’s candidacy for the Hall of Fame, if he never suits up again, that will put him on the same 2021 ballot as David Ortiz, whose charismatic Big Papi persona might help punch his ticket to Cooperstown.
We hedge on Ortiz, of course, only because of what he shares with Rodriguez: a link to performance-enhancing drugs that won’t be overlooked by the Baseball Writers Association of America, which serves as the Hall of Fame’s electorate.
Both players, as judged strictly by their on-field resumes, certainly deserve to be enshrined. The numbers are beyond debate, really, and Ortiz’s October heroics, in breaking the Curse of the Bambino, transcend his legendary status in Boston.
So here’s where it gets complicated for everyone involved, particularly the Hall of Fame and the BBWAA. What if, five years from now, Ortiz does earn the necessary 75 percent to be inducted to Cooperstown? Going by last year’s voting process, which bestowed the honor upon Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza, that would mean appearing on 330 of the 440 total ballots submitted.
Sounds within the realm of possibility, especially for those who don’t remember that Ortiz tested positive for PEDs during Major League Baseball’s survey-testing period in 2003. The results were supposed to be confidential, but Ortiz had the misfortune of being one of the few names — along with Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez — that leaked out during the BALCO investigation.
Ortiz confirmed the claim but has never said what caused the positive test, telling The Boston Globe last year that it was something everybody used during that time and could be bought over the counter.
In his mind, maybe that helps excuse Ortiz’s behavior. But it is curious to note that A-Rod has been demonized for his actions, particularly relating to the one-year suspension from his Biogenesis involvement, and Ortiz has skated away from a PED cloud that tends to darken the careers of everybody else.
Are they really all that different? Rodriguez, 41, has 696 home runs, behind only Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714). Ortiz, 40, currently has 532, good for No. 19 on the list. He’s two away from Jimmie Foxx and four from Mickey Mantle.
“David and I have been family for a long time,” Rodriguez said during his final week at Fenway Park. “And when you think about the 750 players, we’re all family. But David and I have been like brothers for a long time. And I’m very proud of the way his career is coming to the end.”
That’s what Rodriguez chooses to believe, even as Ortiz has kept him at arm’s length since the Biogenesis scandal. If Ortiz has any designs on the Hall of Fame, he’s probably better off staying out of the same photos as his “brother.” And if the writers do favor Ortiz for Cooperstown, he’ll become the first confirmed PED user to gain entry.
That’s a situation that could become a public-relations headache for the Hall’s board of directors as well as the BBWAA, whose electorate thus far has refused to admit Bonds, the sport’s all-time leader in home runs, and Roger Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young Award winner with 4,672 strikeouts.
Both Bonds and Clemens were dragged through the courts for alleged PED use, but neither flunked a test or ever was disciplined by MLB. On last year’s ballot, Clemens received 45.2 percent of the vote and Bonds was right behind at 44.3 percent.
At this rate, Bonds and Clemens will share the same ballot with A-Rod and Ortiz before disappearing, presumably. After that, they can be considered by the Veterans Committee, along with other PED-affected candidates who already are off the ballot such as Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire. By the time Ortiz comes up, however, the electorate could be more forgiving — or have a more selective memory.
“This is not a generational issue,” said BBWAA secretary/treasurer Jack O’Connell, who has overseen the voting process for years.
There is another scenario, although unlikely. The Hall of Fame’s board of directors could decide to make an amendment to the voting rules if it believes the current framework is not suitable for a sport influenced by a constantly-mutating PED environment.
Remember, Rodriguez was dealt that 162-game suspension without testing positive for any banned substance. It was due to the paper trail to Biogenesis and what MLB refers to as a “non-analytical positive.”
Under the current wording, the Hall of Fame’s guidelines say that “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.”
The inclusion of the words “integrity” and “sportsmanship” serve as catch-alls to any misconduct, on or off the field, and have been in existence, on paper, since 1944. But a player’s character always has been an important consideration for the Hall, which, for now, sees no reason to change any of the language.
“The system has worked for a long time,” said Jon Shestakofsky, the vice president of communications for the Hall of Fame. “We’re comfortable with the players who have been elected.”
Aside from that, what might be introduced to better tailor the voting for the next round of PED-tainted candidates?
There’s zero chance the Hall would ever consider dropping “integrity” from those rules, as much as some people believe that it shouldn’t necessarily apply to the PED generation. But if a large majority of players were taking some sort of questionable performance-enhancer at the turn of the century, as Ortiz himself has suggested, how can we accurately judge anyone’s level of integrity?
“I don’t know what kind of language you could put in there,” O’Connell said.
Instead, the voters will have to interpret those rules on their own and make an individual choice, as they’ve always done. There doesn’t seem to be any way around it.
Mike Piazza had been haunted by PED suspicions himself, which probably explains why it took the game’s greatest-hitting catcher four years on the ballot to finally get 83 percent. But Ortiz and Rod riguez actually tested positive — something Piazza never did — and their candidacies very well may push the Hall of Fame balloting to a place it’s never been before, perhaps sending an admitted PED offender to Cooperstown.
That day still could be five years away, but the debate already has begun.
“On the Hall of Fame, I don’t have a vote,” Rodriguez said. “I’m going to let all you guys decide. I think over time, things may look a little different. I don’t know that. But I think one of the things that I learned while I was serving my suspension is that I screwed up and screwed up in a big way. And I think acknowledging that is Step 1 . . . . I don’t know anything about numbers, or Hall of Fame. But I am happy that I’ve been able to comport [myself] in a rightful way.”
Unfortunately for A-Rod, forgiveness, for now, is a word the Hall of Fame doesn’t ask the BBWAA voters to consider.