After wading through the muck of steroids cheats, drug dealer associations, lurid sexual harassment charges, and an alt-right extremist who once called for their lynching, the Baseball Writers Association Tuesday bid good riddance to Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Curt Schilling on their ballot, dealt a major body blow to Omar Vizquel, and elected only one player to the Hall of Fame.
Unfortunately, David Ortiz, who squeaked in with 77.9 %, just over the 75% needed for election in his first year on the ballot, may just be in a league of his own when it comes to the character/integrity clause in the Hall of Fame voting instructions – but he can nevertheless thank his election to Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred. The one public stain on Ortiz’s candidacy had been the revelation a few years ago that he had been one of 104 players who’d tested positive for steroids in the 2003 anonymous survey conducted by MLB and the Players Association to determine just how widespread steroid use was in baseball. However, Ortiz was exonerated in 2016 by Manfred, who said: “Even if your name was on that list (of 104) it’s entirely possible that you were not a positive,” adding that he felt it would be unfair for Hall-of-Fame voters to use that positive test against Ortiz.
But what has not been public knowledge was Ortiz’s compromising behavior off the field that went right to the heart of the integrity of the game – and for which he was also let off the hook by Manfred. In his 2018 book “Baseball Cop”, Eddie Dominguez, a high ranking Boston police detective and former FBI and DEA task member who was part of MLB’s since-abolished internal investigation unit, chronicled his three-year investigation of Big Papi and the Red Sox’s DH’s close association with an alleged Dominican drug dealer called “Monga,” who was in the U.S. illegally.
As part of the investigation of “Monga” and his involvement with PEDs, it was discovered that he was a frequent visitor to a Dominican barbershop in Boston with a gambling parlor in the basement, where witnesses said, he was placing large bets on Red Sox games in 2005. Just after Ortiz was presented with this information by MLB investigators, the barbershop abruptly closed. Dominguez reported that he was finally able to get “Monga” banned from the Red Sox clubhouse (where he’d been Ortiz’s constant companion), only to see him on TV, on the field at the 2006 All-Star Game Home Run Derby in Pittsburgh, toweling off Big Papi and the other Dominican players. When Dominguez voiced his outrage to his superiors at MLB, he was informed that Ortiz had told then-Commissioner Bud Selig and his deputy, Manfred, that if “Monga” and his posse were not allowed on the field, he would not participate in the Home Run Derby. Not long after, “Monga” was arrested at Ortiz’s house, where he was staying, and deported for immigration violations.
And then, of course, there was the infamous assassination attempt on Ortiz in the Dominican Republic on June 9, 2019, reputedly ordered by another Dominican drug lord, a situation that is still being sorted out. Amazingly, with all this PED and Dominican drug baggage, Big Papi is hailed as a hero in Boston and considered an exemplary citizen by baseball – and now a Hall-of-Famer.
Not so fortunate were the most notorious steroids cheats: Bonds, Clemens and Sosa, who all failed to gain election in their final year on the writers ballot and will now report directly to the Today’s Game Era Committee, which meets next December — as well as Alex Rodriguez, who attained only 34.3% in his first year on the ballot. And after gradually trending toward eventual election, Vizquel ran smack into the character clause last year when his ex-wife accused him of domestic violence, and a former batboy with autism for the Birmingham Barons (who he managed in 2019) sued him for sexual harassment. As a result, Vizquel plummeted from 49.1% in the voting last year to 23.9%.
In the case of Schilling, despite being one of the most dominant postseason pitchers ever, he did everything possible to alienate the writers with his extreme rhetoric and outspoken contempt for them. After coming the closest of anyone to election last year with 71.1%, Schilling asked that his name be taken off the ballot so he could defer to the Era Committee “whose opinions actually matter.” Apparently a lot of writers (like myself), grew weary of his hate speech and his whining and took him up on that. He dropped to 58.6%,.
As for my ballot, aside from taking the integrity/character/sportsmanship clause seriously, I have one very simple criterion: “Did this player dominate the game at his position?” Once I had eliminated Vizquel, Schilling and all the PED cheats, there was only one player left who met that standard and that was Jeff Kent, the 2000 NL MVP who’s never been connected with any PED use and was not only the dominant second baseman of his own time but in many ways all time. He is the career leader for home runs and 100 RBI seasons (8) for a second baseman and even most games batting cleanup. And despite the prevailing opinion that he was below average defensively, through 18 years in the big leagues and four different teams in the postseason, no manager ever felt compelled to take Kent off second base.
It’s a mystery why Kent gets so little love from the BBWAA, other than maybe he was a bit of a curmudgeon personality-wise. He improved only a tick from 32.4% last year to 37.7%, and now with one year left on the ballot, he will likely have to wait for the Today’s Era Committee to get his Hall-of-Fame due a couple of years down the road.
In the meantime, Big Papi now gets his day in the sun in Cooperstown next July, alongside Jim Kaat and Tony Oliva, and, in his case, it is perhaps most appropriate that the man presenting his plaque to him will be Rob Manfred.