With Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz setting a new record for career hits as a designated hitter, thoughts of Big Papi one day being enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame have danced in the heads of Sox fans everywhere. Ortiz has been a fixture in the BoSox lineup for a decade and his frequent and timely hitting throughout his tenure in Boston, most notably in the 2004 playoffs when he helped the Red Sox win their first championship since 1918, has made him a fan favorite. In this decade of dominance that the Boston sports teams have enjoyed, David Ortiz has been arguably the most popular individual athlete in the city, with the possible exception of some guy named Tom Brady. Normally with a guy like this, I would be a lot more comfortable saying that he is a definite Hall of Famer, but baseball is a lot more complicated than it used to be.
The biggest thing preventing Ortiz from getting to Cooperstown is the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA). They are the voting body that determines who gets into the Baseball Hall of Fame, as well as the MVP, Cy Young Award, and Rookie of the Year. The BBWAA has yet to vote a full time DH into the Hall, despite compelling cases for Edgar Martinez and Harold Baines. They, as a whole, seem to think that the DH position is not an important enough because it didn’t exist before 1973, and still doesn’t exist in the National League. To me, the designated hitter issue is the same as the Ray Guy argument with the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Ray Guy is the best punter in the history of the NFL, but people think the punter position isn’t important enough to the game of football to let the best player of the position into the Hall.
The other issue the BBWAA has with Ortiz and players of his generation is the whole steroid thing. This is the issue that really bothers me with the baseball writers. To be a Hall of Fame voter, you need to cover the major leagues as a beat reporter for at least ten years. These reporters were as oblivious as the rest of us in the late 90s, and since then, they’ve overreacted by keeping some of the best players the game has ever seen on the grounds of morality.
Really? Steroids in baseball needs to be a moral issue? Come on. I first got into baseball with the 1998 season. The Red Sox made the playoffs on the back of Nomar Garciaparra, Mo Vaughn, Pedro Martinez, and Tom “Flash” Gordon. Baltimore’s Cal Ripken Jr. decided to take a day off that summer, ending a streak of 2,632 consecutive games played–502 more than Lou Gehrig. In the National League, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa chased and passed the single season home run record of 61 dingers held by Roger Maris since 1961. Sosa finished the season with 66 and McGwire hit 70. All of this was four years removed from the World Series getting cancelled when the players went on strike in 1994. Heading into 1995, interest in the National Pastime was at an all time low. Baseball players, owners, and writers alike needed a season like 1998 or the could lose an entire generation of young fans. Steroids saved baseball for a time. It made the game fun again after decades of labor unrest. While regulating steroids now is a good idea, punishing the players that used what was available to them to be better at their jobs isn’t the right way of going about it either. Sure, everyone was juiced up, but it was a fun ride and you’re lying to yourself if you think it ruined baseball.
There have been far worse stains on baseball than performance enhancing drugs. Baseball had rampant gambling problems throughout its history. The 1919 World Series was fixed by the soft-spoken New York kingpin from Boardwalk Empire. When Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs, he did so without ever facing a black or Hispanic pitcher. When Cy Young won 511 games, he did so without ever facing a black or Hispanic hitter. Josh Gibson should have been in the discussion with Ruth, Young, Ty Cobb, and Walter Johnson as one of the best players in Major League Baseball’s early history, but he isn’t because he was never allowed to play in the National or American League because of the color of his skin. Gambling, racism, and segregation are much greater black eyes on baseball’s history than guys bulking up and hitting home runs for a few years.
Now the BBWAA is picking and choosing the guys they think did or did not use steroids. It should be based on who the best players were, regardless of the era they played in. Any Hall of Fame that admits Craig Biggio before they let Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez, and David Ortiz is a joke. Hopefully, they will see the error of their ways before it alienates baseball fans.