David Ortiz has best chance, but three others get my Baseball Hall of Fame vote


David Ortiz’s Hall of Fame candidacy shares similarities with Mariano Rivera. 

They are specialists — a designated hitter and a closer — and voters have tended to hold those with limited jobs to a higher standard. As a voter, I do. But I think, like Rivera, Ortiz reached the higher standards. 

Rivera and Ortiz were not just specialists. They are arguably the best reliever and the best DH ever. 

They are on the short list of greatest postseason performers ever. Rivera is the biggest difference-maker in the Yankees’ five most recent championships. Ortiz is the face of breaking The Curse in 2004 while remaining as vital as anyone to Red Sox titles in 2008 and ’13. 

If you had to have one person ever close out a World Series game, would you pick anyone before Rivera? If you had to pick anyone to take a huge October at-bat, Ortiz would be in strong consideration. 

Ortiz’s major Hall hurdle is that his name surfaced in a 2009 New York Times report as having failed the 2003 survey testing for performance-enhancing drugs. In 2016, commissioner Rob Manfred said that more than 10 of those positives were potentially false positives because they involved substances that were sold legally over the counter. Manfred also revealed that Ortiz never failed a test from 2004 to the end of his career, a period when testing was implemented then strengthened over time. 

David Ortiz, Mariano Rivera
David Ortiz’s (left) hall of fame candidacy is similar to Mariano Rivera’s (right).
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That differentiates him from, for example, Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez, who failed tests after 2003. I liken it to a stretch of road in which speeding is abundant. The police then announce radar will be a permanent feature on that stretch. If you are caught, you can no longer claim everyone is doing it. Up until 2003, players could argue that MLB rules were flimsy — though prescription-free steroid use was illegal in the country. But from 2004 onward, the rules were understood. The “everyone was doing it” alibi became unacceptable. 

There’s no joy in excluding them from my vote. Ramirez is on my short list of favorite at-bats to watch — I don’t think he ever came to the plate in his prime when I did not think he would get a hit. Rodriguez was among the most gifted players ever. His biggest enemy was always Alex Rodriguez. What a shame. 

I did put a check mark next to Ortiz. Do I have concerns about his legitimacy? You bet. Just like Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza and Pudge Rodriguez, who already are in Cooperstown. Ortiz did not have his first Hall-worthy season until age 27. But we have seen late bloomers. Jeff Kent, who is on this ballot, did not have his first elite season until age 29. And Rivera was a decent, but not great, prospect throwing 90 mph who the Yankees were considering trading in 1995 for David Wells. Suddenly, the righty’s fastball jumped to 95 mph. The next season, at age 26, he broke out and began his assault toward immortality. 

David Ortiz
David Ortiz elevated his game in the postseason.
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Ortiz is likely the only candidate with a chance to reach the 75 percent necessary when voting is announced Tuesday. Another four to six likely will exceed 50 percent. It accentuates how difficult being elected is — a majority doesn’t do it. I voted for four players altogether (rules allow anywhere from 0-to-10). The others were Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling. Those three are in their 10th and, thus, final year on the writers’ ballot. I voted for each in all 10 years. 

They will be eligible for the Today’s Game Era Committee as early as next December — a reminder of a check and balance on the writers. That is a positive. So is the oversight of fans, especially on social media. As popular as the NFL is, there is little debate, furor and controversy around the football Hall of Fame. That there is so much around the baseball version is the good news, not the bad. That passion means our votes are going to be scrutinized and criticized. That is the price for voting. The other price should be explaining your vote. Thus, the reasons for my other check marks: 

Barry Bonds

I know there is inconsistency with my steroid-related voting. But I believe that Bonds did not cheat through the 1998 season. At that point, he looked around, saw Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa getting all the juiced-up love and money and made a different decision. It is Greek tragedy — the best player falling victim to ego and greed; by the way, an ego and greed I believe many of us would have crumbled before. 

But through 1998, Bonds is the best baseball player I’ve ever seen. By that point, he had become the first and still only 400-homer/400-steal player. His numbers through then, his age-33 season, were .290/.411/.556 in 8,100 plate appearances, 164 OPS-plus, 411 homers, 445 steals, eight Gold Gloves. His godfather, Willie Mays, through age-33: .313/.388/.588 in 8,051 plate appearances, 161 OPS-plus, 453 homers, 267 steals, eight Gold Gloves (that distinction did not begin until 1957 or else Mays would have had more). 

Barry Bonds
Barry Bonds
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Mays might be the best player ever and if his career ended at that point, he is in easily. Bonds had three of his seven MVPs by 33. It is enough for me to see him as a slam-dunk Hall of Famer. 

Roger Clemens

I am not as comfortable that Clemens did not cheat earlier in his career. But it gets really fishy after he leaves Boston for Toronto following the 1996 season. By that point, he had pitched more than 2,700 innings, had amassed three (of his record seven) Cy Youngs, one second, one third, an MVP and recognition as one of the greatest power pitchers ever. It is enough for me. 

Roger Clemens
Roger Clemens
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Curt Schilling

He offends me in many ways, including his “joke” that journalists should be lynched. He said he wanted off of the ballot when he didn’t get in last year and wanted to be judged by former players on the Today’s Game Era Committee. First, more than 70 percent of the writers he said knew nothing, voted for him. Second, there are writers on the Today’s Game Era Committee. 

But this isn’t a popularity contest. This is: are you a Hall of Famer? Schilling is one of the best power pitchers, one of the best control artists and one of the best postseason pitchers ever. That equals Hall of Fame. 

Curt Schilling
Curt Schilling
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That last one, by the way, should not be ignored. So many current metrics have “Win” in their titles. But to me actually having lots to do with winning titles is currently given too little love. Ortiz and Schilling were central to championships (plural). As good a candidate as Billy Wagner is, he appeared in 14 postseason games and had the biggest negative play in three of them. In another, NLCS Game 6, he allowed two ninth-inning runs in a game the Mets won. But did that dissuade then-manager Willie Randolph from using him in the ninth inning of Game 7 rather than Aaron Heilman for a second inning; in which he gave up the pennant-clinching homer to Yadier Molina? 

Wagner was like the old Colts’ kicker Mike Vanderjagt — among the best ever in the regular season, but not reliable in the biggest games. Give me Adam Vinatieri. 

Wagner had one of those jobs, like Rivera and Ortiz, in which postseason results matter more because theirs are limited roles. Still, I hate to bring up the negatives because he is a borderline case, which means he is better than 98 percent of players who have played. The same with candidates such as Kent, Todd Helton, Andruw Jones and Gary Sheffield. I believe in a small Hall. But can see the case why others would have a different borderline. 

Ultimately, we are deciding on a borderline and who crosses it. For me, this year, it is Bonds, Clemens, Ortiz and Schilling.



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