The Baseball Hall of Fame gained a new member tonight but the hallowed institution still refuses to recognize several of the best to ever play the sport.
Former Red Sox slugger and Yankee killer David Ortiz got in. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, both in their 10th and final year of eligibility, did not. Ortiz received 77.9% of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s vote, narrowly surpassing the 75% needed for election. Bonds came in at 66.0% with Clemens just behind him at 65.2%. Others who fell short included Alex Rodriguez (34.3%), Scott Rolen (63.2%) and Curt Schilling (58.6%).
The Red Sox’ longtime designated hitter currently ranks 17th all time with 541 home runs and is one of just four players to hit 500 homers and win three World Series rings. Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and Reggie Jackson, the other three, all have a place in Cooperstown as well.
“I want to thank God for giving me the opportunity to be part of this very elite group of players,” Ortiz said. “That’s what pretty much every player dreams of.”
Ortiz will be enshrined July 24 in Cooperstown along with Era Committee selections Buck O’Neil, Minnie Minoso, Gil Hodges, Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat and Bud Fowler. Nobody was selected last year, with Schilling coming closest.
Ortiz becomes the 58th player elected in their first year of eligibility. Rodriguez, also in his first year of eligibility, checked in with roughly the same percentage of the vote that Bonds received in his first try. Ortiz, the 268th player enshrined in the Hall of Fame, becomes just the fourth one born in Dominican Republic.
While Ortiz’s induction represents one change in the electorate’s views (they famously made another career DH, Edgar Martinez, wait until his last year to get in), they are still holding strong against the steroid users. There is not much surprise about the steroid-tainted Bonds, Clemens and Sosa falling off the ballot, as voting members of the BBWAA are instructed by the Hall of Fame to vote “based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”
Each person will bring their own ideas of Hall of Fame integrity, sportsmanship and character. It’s obvious that for many voters, any sort of link to performance-enhancing drugs disqualifies them. Others with known character concerns are struggling to garner any support, whether it’s public racist and transphobe Curt Schilling or accused domestic abuser Omar Vizquel, who was at 49.1% last year before falling to 23.9% this year after details of his alleged sexual harassment of a batboy came to light. Vizquel was also accused of domestic violence by his ex-wife, Blanca, in 2020.
Bonds fell 39 votes short and Clemens fell just 36 votes short. While they were considered no-brainers to be elected during most of their career, their ties to PEDS have put those numbers in a new, less flattering light. Bonds has denied knowingly using PEDs and Clemens has denied taking them.
Rodriguez, who will need a major shift in thinking to get anywhere close, was banned by Major League Baseball for the entire 2014 season after violating the league’s drug policy. The former Yankees, Rangers and Mariner slugger, however, has made enormous in-roads in his campaign to rehabilitate his image. Now a broadcaster with ESPN, Rodriguez is positioning himself as an ambassador of the game.
The ugliness of his suspension, which began in 2013 and ran through the entire 2014 season, required that rehabilitation. His career numbers on their own would have been enough before he was busted, making him a lightning-rod of controversy. A-Rod is eighth all-time in career runs and fourth in RBI. The only other players with at least 2,000 runs and 2,000 RBI are Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth. He’s fourth in homers after Bonds, Aaron and Ruth.
Ortiz will enter Cooperstown with some PED baggage of his own, but which is less concrete in the eyes of many voters and fans. According to reports, Ortiz tested positive for PEDs during the initial survey testing in 2003. That was supposed to be anonymous testing and only used to determine whether MLB could begin to institute regular testing for PED. Ortiz has denied using steroids. He also got the endorsement of MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, who in 2016 said “I think it would be wrong” to exclude him from the Hall of Fame based on that lone test.
“The Red Sox, the fans, everybody around who encouraged me to be the player and the person that I came to be, it was a learning process,” Ortiz said. “Thank God everything came together at the right time, and here we are.”
Moving forward, the annual Hall of Fame discourse will be free from Bonds, Clemens, Schilling and Sosa and with the steroid era guys fading deeper and deeper into the past, a new, calmer time lies ahead for the sleepy town upstate and its much-debated museum.