A Cooperstown With David Ortiz but No Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens Is a Farce

Members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America who voted for Ortiz but not Bonds or Clemens should be investigated for voter fraud

January 26, 2022 9:22 am
Ex-Boston Red Sox player David Ortiz at his jersey retirement ceremony before a game
Ex-Boston Red Sox player David Ortiz at his jersey retirement ceremony before a game.
Adam Glanzman/Getty

Out of a group of steroid-aided star sluggers including Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, ex-Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz is the only one who ever tested positive for using performance-enhancing drugs during his playing days.

Ortiz, who has consistently denied ever using steroids despite a 2009 report from The New York Times that his name was included in baseball’s Mitchell Report for testing positive for PEDs in 2003, is also now the only member of that group who was deemed worthy for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The lone player elected into the Hall of Fame by the vote of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) in voting results unveiled Tuesday night, Ortiz made it to Cooperstown the first time his name appeared as a possible selection, receiving the nod on 307 of the 394 ballots (77.9%) that were submitted. A three-time World Series champion and one of the deadliest left-handed hitters of his era, Ortiz is a first-ballot selection despite playing 84.2% of his 2,408 career games as a designated hitter, a distinction that has been held against players in the past. A 10-time All-Star and seven-time Silver Slugger winner who finished in the top five of the AL MVP voting in five straight seasons, Ortiz was not held out of Cooperstown for spending the bulk of his career as a DH or for his links to PEDs. The same cannot be said for Bonds, Sosa or Roger Clemens, who are now ineligible to be voted into the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA after failing to get at least 75% of the vote in their final year out of 10 on the ballot.

Bonds, MLB’s all-time leader in home runs as well as a fairly obvious PED user, got 66% of the vote, while Clemens, who has more Cy Young awards (seven) than any player in history as well as some very strong ties to PED usage, got 65.2% of the vote in his final year on the ballot. (Sosa, a borderline Cooperstown candidate, got 18.5% of the vote.) In the same vote, Scott Rolen (63.2%), Curt Schilling (58.6% in his final year on the ballot) and Todd Helton (52.0%) were the next three names. All due respect to Rolen, Helton and even Schilling, but they don’t belong in the same sentence as Clemens or Bonds, let alone near them on a list of potential Hall-of-Fame inductees.

Ultimately, the perception that Clemens and Bonds — who were not outgoing media darlings like Ortiz — were “steroid guys” was too much to overcome, even though they both put up dominant career numbers that would’ve made them surefire Cooperstown inductees before anyone knew what a PED was. For Ortiz, the reverse is likely true.

Speaking to InsideHook in 2020, MLB.com executive reporter and MLB Network Insider Mark Feinsand, who voted for Clemens and Bonds as well as Ortiz, explained the rationale for how he votes and why Ortiz might get the call to the Hall over other more-than-qualified candidates.

“We don’t know who was using and who wasn’t. There’s a pretty good likelihood that somebody who’s in the Hall of Fame already probably used at some point,” Feinsand said before Ortiz was even on the ballot. “It’s one of those things where you just don’t know and I’m not going to play judge and jury on this one. If you put up Hall-of-Fame numbers and you were a Hall-of-Fame impact player, then I’m going to vote for you. If people want to dismiss you because of PEDs, that’s their right as well. Ortiz almost falls into the Bonds and Clemens category. A lot of people think he used, but he never got suspended. The only thing that ever linked him was The Times article from the survey list the year before using PEDs became punishable. I think some of the people who don’t vote for Bonds and Clemens might look at Ortiz differently. But I don’t know that, because I am a Bonds and Clemens voter. I will vote for Ortiz, but he will be an interesting case.”

An interesting case, but also cause for a referendum on the inconsistent standard members of the BBBWA employ to keep the doors of Cooperstown open — or closed — as they see fit.

Almost everyone likes Santa Claus, but no one over the age of 10 believes in him. The members of the BBWAA believe Ortiz didn’t take steroids about as much as they believe in Santa, but since they like Big Papi, they were able to overlook his transgressions, a kindness that wasn’t bestowed upon more prickly all-timers like Bonds and Clemens. It’s the height of hypocrisy but also a fitting joke for a sport that’s already largely become a punchline. Ortiz belongs in the Hall with company — and it ain’t Rolen or Helton.

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