Former Red Sox star Manny Ramirez’s Hall of Fame chances appear doomed

DENVER - OCTOBER 28: Manny Ramirez #24 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after hitting into a double play in the first inning of Game Four of the 2007 Major League Baseball World Series against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on October 28, 2007 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
DENVER - OCTOBER 28: Manny Ramirez #24 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after hitting into a double play in the first inning of Game Four of the 2007 Major League Baseball World Series against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on October 28, 2007 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images) /

The odds aren’t looking good for former Red Sox star Manny Ramirez

Manny Ramirez fell well short of the threshold required for being inducted into the Hall of Fame in the Class of 2022, receiving only 28.9 percent of the votes. While he remains eligible to appear on the ballot for up to four more years, the former Boston Red Sox outfielder’s chances for reaching Cooperstown already appear doomed.

His dwindling opportunity has nothing to do with his production on the field during his illustrious career. Ramirez hit .313 with a .998 OPS over 19 seasons. His 555 home runs rank 15th in MLB history, he’s 19th with 1831 RBI and tied for 29th with a 154 OPS+ for his career. Ramirez was a 12-time All-Star who won a batting title and nine Silver Slugger awards. He won two championships with the Red Sox and was the World Series MVP in 2004 when Boston ended their 86-year title drought.

On paper, Ramirez is a slam dunk Hall of Famer. Unfortunately, this debate is never easy under the dark cloud of the PED era.

The voters made their stance clear when Barry Bonds (66%) and Roger Clemens (65.2%) fell short of election in their 10th and final year on the ballot. While the flimsy suspicion against David Ortiz wasn’t going to spoil his induction, there’s a mountain of evidence damning both Bonds and Clemens.

If arguably the greatest hitter and pitcher in baseball history are denied access despite a lack of definitive proof, what chance does Ramirez have when he’s been caught twice? Ramirez was suspended for 50 games for violating MLB’s drug testing policy in 2009. Two years later, he retired rather than face a 100 game ban for another positive test.

Bonds and Clemens might be the poster children for the PED era but Ramirez belongs in a separate category. We have enough evidence to convince most of us that the latter pair used PEDs but we know Manny was cheating. While PEDs were technically banned, MLB turned a blind eye toward rampant drug use for over a decade. They didn’t implement strict testing policies until 2004 and neither Bonds or Clemens were ever suspended for a failed test.

Voters are punishing players who were cheating during a period when MLB had no interest in enforcing the rule. Baseball was on its deathbed in the wake of the 1994 strike. The PED-fueled home run battle between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa helped lure fans back to the game. Owners profited from the increased interest as power numbers surged. As long as the cash was rolling in, there was no reason to discourage players from using PEDs – until Congress stepped in and pressured them to make it stop.

How much blame should be pinned on the players under those circumstances? There was plenty of incentive to cheat and very little reason not to when there were no repercussions. There’s no grey area in the territory where Ramirez lands. He was caught multiple times after the testing policies were put in place, despite having seen the damage PEDs had done to the legacies of several all-time greats. Manny new the rules, knew the punishment and knew that he could get caught. He simply didn’t care.

Will voters continue to care over the next few years that Ramirez remains on the ballot? According to Jayson Stark of The Athletic, Bonds and Clemens each gained only 11 votes from returning voters over the last five years. If they were open to changing their minds about how to treat suspected PED-offenders, most of them had already done so years ago.

However, 86 percent of new voters (51 out of 59) over the last five years included Bonds and Clemens on their ballots. If this trend continues, candidates with ties to PED allegations could receive an increasing amount of support over the next several years as more new voters are added and the old guard drifts away. The question becomes if the change will be drastic enough over the next four years to matter for Ramirez. Gaining an extra 40-50 votes still won’t be nearly enough to get him to 75 percent.

Clemens has a strong case for being worthy of the Hall of Fame based only on his 13 seasons with the Red Sox. There was never any credible evidence that he was using during his time in Boston. The Rocket was in the “twilight” of his career before suddenly bouncing back with consecutive Cy Young seasons as soon as he moved on to Toronto. It’s clear when he turned to PEDs. Clemens still won three Cy Young awards and an MVP during his clean years with the Red Sox, which should be enough to get him into Cooperstown.

A similar case can be made for Bonds. We have a fairly solid idea of when he started using based on how much he bulked up later in his career while his head swelled at an alarming rate. Bonds won three MVP awards in the early 90s when he was still a skinny five-tool threat.

Both players were already on a Hall of Fame trajectory and didn’t need PEDs to reach that level. They started using due to some combination of a desire to extend their careers and their egos pushing them to reach uncharted territory.

Perhaps Ramirez will eventually be viewed in that way. The timeline of when he began using PEDs is less clear but his name being leaked from the 2003 survey could be dismissed in the same way that most voters didn’t hold it against Ortiz. Those results are sketchy and inconclusive. Granted, Ortiz spent most of his Red Sox career after testing was implemented and never failed a test. Ramirez can’t say the same.

However, are we really supposed to believe that Manny was clever enough to get away with it for years, only to get caught (twice!) near the end of his career? Anyone who ever watched Ramirez swing a bat knew the guy could hit. Whether he used PEDs to extend his career or to take it up a notch, Ramirez didn’t need to cheat in order to be great.

Ramirez should be in the Hall of Fame. It’s fair to make him sweat it out for a decade as punishment for his crimes but he should eventually get in. The Hall of Fame is a museum dedicated to baseball history. You can’t tell the story of baseball history without Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens. To a lesser extent, Manny has made his mark on this sport too.

All three of these players belong in Cooperstown but it’s already too late for two of them. If Bonds and Clemens aren’t in, how can they vote in Manny? The precedent has already been set. Even if a new wave of voters aim to change it, this will be a gradual change that probably won’t matter in time for Ramirez. There’s still the slight hope of the veterans committee admitting Bonds and Clemens at some point in the future. If Ramirez ever makes it to Cooperstown, he’ll likely need to follow that path as well.

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