My 2020 Mock Hall of Fame ballot: Former Red Sox players get the call
By Sean Penney
Let’s address the elephant in the voting room. Everyone’s ballot boils down to how they feel about players who were caught or heavily suspected of using performance enhancing drugs. Ballots can look completely different depending on if the writer excluded all alleged cheaters or focused only on their accomplishments.
Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle while leaning toward the latter. The Hall of Fame is a museum celebrating the history of the game. We can’t simply ignore the ugly parts of that history that have been tainted by rampant PED use.
Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds both made my ballot. We don’t need a deep dive into analytics to explain why a 354-game winner with 7 Cy Young Awards and the all-time home run king with 7 MVP Awards warrant recognition among the best in baseball history.
These two were rightfully vilified as the poster children of the steroid era but I didn’t let the stain on their legacies cloud my judgement. The stage of their respective careers when they started abusing PEDs is clear and both were already established superstars by that point. They would both be worthy of Cooperstown if we only counted the clean years Clemens spent with the Red Sox or when Bonds played for the Pittsburgh Pirates. They didn’t need steroids to be Hall of Fame-caliber players, they used them to prolong their extraordinary careers.
I was less lenient towards Sammy Sosa, an above-average power threat who struggled to get on base before his production exploded at the peak of the steroid era. We can be fairly confident that Sosa was on PEDs during his prime years when he was swatting 60+ homers but there’s nothing about his early-career production that suggests he’d be anywhere near that type of hitter without the artificial enhancement.
Manny Ramirez was a more difficult case. His numbers are clearly worthy with 555 home runs, 1831 RBI and a 154 OPS+ for his career. Unfortunately, he’s the rare case of a player on the ballot who actually got caught and suspended for PEDs – twice!
I was honestly torn on this one, figuring that getting caught after MLB started cracking down with strict drug testing policies is a more egregious offense than cheating when the league was willing to look the other way. Ultimately, I put Manny on my ballot. He had a prolonged period of excellence that began early in his career and lasted through over a decade of being a perennial All-Star. The failed drug tests came at the tail end of his career when he was washed up and simply trying to stay in the game.
You can be skeptical about whether or not Ramirez was using long before he got caught. That’s fair, although I’m not jumping to that conclusion based on the unreliable Mitchell Report. We know Manny cheated but I have a hard time believing that he was using for the majority of his career. If you ever watched Manny swing the bat or put in the work to prepare for games, you know that his accomplishments can’t be chalked up to steroid use.
The toughest cut from my ballot was Gary Sheffield, an admitted PED user who was already great before he started using. That should put him in the same boat as Manny but he fell just short in my mind. Sheffield was a feared slugger who topped 500 career home runs but his value was limited to what he did at the plate. His 60.5 career WAR is well behind several candidates, including Ramirez (69.4 WAR), as is his 140 OPS+. He will probably get voted in eventually but he’s not on my ballot this year.